Unpredictable Talladega Superspeedway Playoff weekend arrives For The Cup Series

Getty Images

Known as one of the biggest hurdles in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, Talladega Superspeedway opens the gates and unleashes the postseason contenders to battle it out in Sunday’s YellaWood 500 at 2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90). Expect the unexpected in this weekend’s event at Talladega as it is literally anyone’s to win and with the stakes so high and the Playoff standings so tight, the competition could reach new heights. 

This season marks the fifth consecutive year Talladega Superspeedway will host the fifth race in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs (2017-2021) – race No. 31 of the season. Talladega is the third different track to host the fifth race in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs; joining Charlotte Motor Speedway (2004 – 2014) and Kansas Speedway (2015 – 2016). The 2.66-mile track is the largest paved oval the series competes on with 33 degrees of banking in the turns.

Talladega Superspeedway has participated in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs since its inception into the series in 2004 and has occupied five different spots on the postseason schedule. Talladega has hosted the third race of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs (2004 – 2005); the fourth race (2006 – 2008 and 2012); the fifth race (2017-2021); the sixth race (2011, 2013 – 2016); and the seventh race (2009 – 2010).

A total of 13 different drivers have won the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff races at Talladega Superspeedway; five of the 13 are active this weekend. Brad Keselowski (2017, 2014), Clint Bowyer (2010-2011), Jamie McMurray (2009, 2013) and Joey Logano (2015-2016) lead the NASCAR Cup Series in Playoff wins at Talladega Superspeedway with two postseason victories each. 

Talladega Superspeedway Playoff Race Winners
TrackRace WinnerDate
TalladegaDenny HamlinSunday, October 4, 2020
TalladegaRyan BlaneySunday, October 13, 2019
TalladegaAric AlmirolaSunday, October 14, 2018
TalladegaBrad KeselowskiSunday, October 15, 2017
TalladegaJoey LoganoSunday, October 23, 2016
TalladegaJoey LoganoSunday, October 25, 2015
TalladegaBrad KeselowskiSunday, October 19, 2014
TalladegaJamie McMurraySunday, October 20, 2013
TalladegaMatt KensethSunday, October 7, 2012
TalladegaClint BowyerSunday, October 23, 2011
TalladegaClint BowyerSunday, October 31, 2010
TalladegaJamie McMurraySunday, November 1, 2009
TalladegaTony StewartSunday, October 5, 2008
TalladegaJeff GordonSunday, October 7, 2007
TalladegaBrian VickersSunday, October 8, 2006
TalladegaDale JarrettSunday, October 2, 2005
TalladegaDale Earnhardt JrSunday, October 3, 2004

During the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Era (2004-Present), the winner of the Talladega Superspeedway Playoff race has never gone on to win the title in the same season. But twice the Talladega Playoff race winner has finished runner-up in the championship standings at the end of the season: Jeff Gordon (2007) and Joey Logano (2016). Last season’s Talladega Playoff race winner Denny Hamlin finished the season fourth in the final standings. 

A total of 13 different drivers have won the NASCAR Cup Series fifth race in the Playoffs; six of the 13 are active this weekend. Jimmie Johnson leads the NASCAR Cup Series in wins during the fifth race of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with three victories (2004, 2005, 2009 – all at Charlotte Motor Speedway).

NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Race No. 5 Winners
TrackRace WinnerDate
TalladegaDenny HamlinSunday, October 4, 2020
TalladegaRyan BlaneySunday, October 13, 2019
TalladegaAric AlmirolaSunday, October 14, 2018
TalladegaBrad KeselowskiSunday, October 15, 2017
KansasKevin HarvickSunday, October 16, 2016
KansasJoey LoganoSunday, October 18, 2015
CharlotteKevin HarvickSaturday, October 11, 2014
CharlotteBrad KeselowskiSaturday, October 12, 2013
CharlotteClint BowyerSaturday, October 13, 2012
CharlotteMatt KensethSaturday, October 15, 2011
CharlotteJamie McMurraySaturday, October 16, 2010
CharlotteJimmie JohnsonSaturday, October 17, 2009
CharlotteJeff BurtonSaturday, October 11, 2008
CharlotteJeff GordonSaturday, October 13, 2007
CharlotteKasey KahneSaturday, October 14, 2006
CharlotteJimmie JohnsonSaturday, October 15, 2005
CharlotteJimmie JohnsonSaturday, October 16, 2004

Twice the winner of the fifth race in the Playoffs has gone on to win the title later that season; both happening at Charlotte Motor Speedway (2004-2014). In 2009, Jimmie Johnson won the fifth race of the Playoffs from the pole at Charlotte Motor Speedway and then went on to win his fourth consecutive NASCAR Cup Series title – it was his third of four wins in the 2009 postseason. Then in 2014, Kevin Harvick won the fifth race of the Playoffs from the seventh starting position at Charlotte Motor Speedway and went on to win his first career NASCAR Cup Series title – it was his first of three wins during the 2014 postseason.

The worst finish in a NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway by a driver that went on to win the title that same season was 24th by Jimmie Johnson in 2006. Last season’s champ, Chase Elliott finished fifth in the fifth race of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs at Talladega Superspeedway.

Five times a non-Playoff driver has won the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway:

  • In 2005, Dale Jarrett won the Playoff race at Talladega; he was 14th in points.
  • In 2006, Brian Vickers won the Playoff race at Talladega; he was 16th in points.
  • In 2009, Jamie McMurray won the Playoff race at Talladega; he was 22nd in points.
  • In 2011, Clint Bowyer won the Playoff race at Talladega; he was 13th in points.
  • In 2013, Jamie McMurray won the Playoff race at Talladega; he was 14th in points.

Twice a non-Playoff driver has won the fifth race in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs:

  • In 2010, Jamie McMurray won the fifth race in the Playoffs at Charlotte; he was 14th in points.
  • In 2013, Brad Keselowski won the fifth race in Playoffs at Charlotte; he was 16th in points.

In total, there have been 104 NASCAR Cup Series races at Talladega Superspeedway, one Cup event in 1969, and two races per year since 1970. Among the 104 events, the track has hosted 17 Playoff races in the NASCAR Cup Series. 

Overall, 44 different drivers have qualified on the pole at Talladega Superspeedway, 23 of the 44 have done it multiple times and six of the 44 NASCAR Cup Series pole winners at Talladega are active this weekend. 

Active Pole WinnersPolesSeasons
Chase Elliott22019, ’16
Kevin Harvick22018, ’05
Austin Dillon12019
Kurt Busch12018
Ricky Stenhouse Jr12017
Martin Truex Jr12016

NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott lead the NASCAR Cup Series in poles at Talladega Superspeedway with eight (1985 sweep, 1986 sweep, 1987 sweep, spring 1990 and fall 1993). Kevin Harvick (2005, 2018) and Chase Elliott (2016, 2019) lead all active NASCAR Cup Series drivers in poles at Talladega with two each.

This weekend’s starting lineups was decided by Metric Qualifying and as a result Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin will start on the pole and Kyle Busch will join him on the front row.

The 104 Cup races at Talladega have also produced 49 different NASCAR Cup Series winners at the 2.66-mile track. NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt leads the series in wins at Talladega with 10 victories (1983, 1984, 1990 sweep, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1999 sweep and 2000).

Nine of the 49 NASCAR Cup Series race winners at Talladega Superspeedway are active this weekend, led by Brad Keselowski leads all active NASCAR Cup Series drivers in wins at Talladega Superspeedway with six victories (2009, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2021); followed by Joey Logano with three wins (2015, 2016, 2018).

Active Race WinnersWinsSeasons
Brad Keselowski62021, ’17, ’16, ’14, ’12, ’09
Joey Logano32018, ’16, ’15
Denny Hamlin22020, ’14
Ryan Blaney22020, ’19
Chase Elliott12019
Aric Almirola12018
Ricky Stenhouse Jr12017
Kevin Harvick12010
Kyle Busch12008

Clinch Scenarios: Trying to advance at Talladega

Just two races left for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff challengers in the Round of 12 to secure their spot in the Round of 8. Denny Hamlin, with his win last weekend at Las Vegas, is the only driver locked into the next round, leaving seven spots still up for grabs as the series heads to Talladega Superspeedway this weekend for the YellaWood 500 (Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) the fifth race of the 2021 postseason. 

Already Clinched

The following driver has clinched a spot in the eight-driver field of the next round: Denny Hamlin.

Can clinch via points

If there is a repeat winner or a win by a driver who cannot advance to the next round, the following drivers could clinch by being 56 points above the 7th winless driver in the standings. The same point requirements listed below would hold true if a new win comes from among Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott or Joey Logano.

  • Kyle Larson: Would clinch with 54 points (55 points if Joey Logano wins)
  • Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Joey Logano: Could only clinch with help this weekend.

If there is a new winner from Brad Keselowski or another winless driver lower in the standings but still eligible to advance to the next round, the following drivers could clinch by being 56 points above the 6th winless driver in the standings.

  • Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Joey Logano: Could only clinch with help this weekend.

Can clinch via win

The following drivers would clinch on their win alone: Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, William Byron, Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell

NASCAR Cup Series Driver Playoffs Outlook Following Race No. 30
RankDriverPointsRace WinsStage WinsPlayoff PtsPts From Cutoff
1Denny Hamlin (P)3,08221030In On Wins
2Kyle Larson (P)3,0966156057
3Kyle Busch (P)3,074252235
4Martin Truex Jr. (P)3,070452931
5Ryan Blaney (P)3,063342424
6Chase Elliott (P)3,061232122
7Joey Logano (P)3,04515136
8Brad Keselowski (P)3,0431284
9William Byron (P)3,0391314-4
10Kevin Harvick (P)3,036002-7
11Alex Bowman (P)3,0303015-13
12Christopher Bell (P)3,018105-25
13Tyler Reddick2,118033Eliminated from the Playoffs
14Kurt Busch2,104138
15Aric Almirola2,093105
16Michael McDowell2,044105

Denny Hamlin can rest easy the next two weeks

The one driver resting easy over these next two weeks of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs is Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin, who secured his spot in the Round of 8 by winning the opening race to the Round of 12 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This is the sixth time in his NASCAR Cup Series career he has advanced out of the second round of the Playoffs (2014, ’16, ’17, ’19, ’20, ’21). Now the 40-year-old from Chesterfield, Virginia, can focus on racking up more Playoff points and wins with little regard for his postseason status; which doesn’t bode well for the competition as he is also the defending winner of last season’s Talladega Playoff race.

This season, Denny Hamlin has posted two wins (Darlington, Las Vegas), 16 top fives and 21 top 10s. His average starting position this season is 7.1 and his average finish is 8.3. He has led the second-most laps this season at 1,366 laps led; his second consecutive season and fifth season overall in his Cup career he led more than a 1,000 laps in a season. He is also ranked second in season-to-date Driver Rating with a 110.3; just behind series leader Kyle Larson at 111.6. 

Hamlin is one of nine active drivers this weekend at Talladega with a previous victory at 2.66-mile facility. He has made 31 series career starts at Talladega posting two wins (2014, 2020 Playoff race), nine top fives and 13 top 10s. He has also led 389 laps at Talladega – second-most among active drivers.

Playoff Bubble: Round of 12 provides plenty of unpredictability

While the unpredictability of the close quarters racing at Talladega, or the twists and turns of the Charlotte ROVAL are enough to keep the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff teams up at night, they should find some solace in knowing it could be those same track attributes that help get them to Victory Lane over these next two weekends.

Since the inception of the elimination-style format in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in 2014, the driver that wins at Talladega Superspeedway in the postseason has clinched a needed spot in the next round in six of the seven races held (2014-2020). Joey Logano in 2015 is the lone winner at Talladega since 2014 that had already clinched his spot in the next round prior to competing at the 2.66-mile track – Logano swept the Round of 12 in 2015 winning all three races that season (Charlotte, Kansas, Talladega).

Talladega Superspeedway Playoff Race Winners Since 2014
TrackRace WinnerClinch Status Heading Into ‘DegaDate
TalladegaDenny Hamlin2nd in PointsSunday, October 4, 2020
TalladegaRyan Blaney12th in PointsSunday, October 13, 2019
TalladegaAric Almirola9th in PointsSunday, October 14, 2018
TalladegaBrad Keselowski10th in PointsSunday, October 15, 2017
TalladegaJoey Logano8th in PointsSunday, October 23, 2016
TalladegaJoey LoganoClinched On WinsSunday, October 25, 2015
TalladegaBrad Keselowski10th in PointsSunday, October 19, 2014

This weekend, William Byron (ninth), Kevin Harvick (10th), Alex Bowman (11th) and Christopher Bell (12th) find themselves south of the NASCAR Cup Series Round of 8 cutline as they head into this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. 

Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron (3,039 points) is currently just four points back from Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski (3,043 points) in eighth in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs standings – the final transfer spot to the Round of 8. Byron posted his best finish at Talladega back in April when he finished runner-up to Keselowski. Byron is looking to advance out of the second round of the Cup Playoffs for the first time in his career. 

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick (3,036 points) is seven points back from the Playoffs’ Round of 8 cutoff. Harvick is one of nine drivers with former wins at the track but hasn’t been to Victory Lane at Talladega since 2010. Harvick has advanced out of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs’ Round of 12 in every postseason since the inception of the elimination-style format in 2014, and is looking to make it eight consecutive seasons this year.  

Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman (3,030 points) in 14th is 13 points back from the Playoffs’ Round of 8 cutline. Bowman has yet to win at Talladega but has posted a best finish of runner-up in (April) 2019. 

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell in his first appearance in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs finds himself in the 12th and last position in the Round of 12 standings. Bell has yet to win at Talladega, but in his three series career starts at the 2.66-mile track he has posted a best finish of 17th earlier this season.

Cup Series’ Playoff Dozen at ‘Dega

Seven of the nine active NASCAR Cup Series Talladega Superspeedway winners entered this weekend are still in the Playoffs vying for a shot at the title. Below is a look at the Playoff dozen their career NASCAR Cup Series statistics at Talladega. 

Drivers are ordered by current Playoff Round of 12 standings position:

Kyle Larson (No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) has made 13 series starts at Talladega posting two top-10 finishes. His average finish at the 2.66-mile track is 23.5. His pre-race driver rating at Talladega is 73.9.  

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) has made 31 series starts at Talladega posting two wins, nine top fives and 13 top 10s. His average finish at the 2.66-mile track is 17.2. His pre-race driver rating at Talladega is 83.8.  

Kyle Busch (No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) has made 32 series starts at Talladega posting one win, six top fives and eight top 10s. His average finish at the 2.66-mile track is 20.8. His pre-race driver rating at Talladega is 81.5.  

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) has made 33 series starts at Talladega posting two top fives and eight top 10s. His average finish at the 2.66-mile track is 21.8. His pre-race driver rating at Talladega is 76.2.  

Ryan Blaney (No. 12 Team Penske Ford) has made 14 series starts at Talladega posting two wins, three top fives and five top 10s. His average finish at the 2.66-mile track is 17.4. His pre-race driver rating at Talladega is 91.1  

Chase Elliott (No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) has made 11 series starts at Talladega posting one win, four top fives and five top 10s. His average finish at the 2.66-mile track is 15.7 (second-best among Playoff drivers). His pre-race driver rating at Talladega is 88.1.

Joey Logano (No. 22 Team Penske Ford) has made 25 series starts at Talladega posting three wins, eight top fives and 10 top 10s. His average finish at the 2.66-mile track is 17.5. His pre-race driver rating at Talladega is 90.9.  

Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Team Penske Ford) has made 25 series starts at Talladega posting six wins (series-most among active drivers), eight top fives and 12 top 10s; including his first career Cup win. His average finish at the 2.66-mile track is 15.6 (series-best among Playoff drivers). His pre-race driver rating at Talladega is 91.0.

William Byron (No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) has made seven series starts at Talladega posting two top fives. His average finish at the 2.66-mile track is 17.1. His pre-race driver rating at Talladega is 85.7. 

Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford) has made 41 series starts at Talladega (series-most among active drivers) posting one win, eight top fives and 17 top 10s. His average finish at the 2.66-mile track is 15.8 (third-best among Playoff drivers). His pre-race driver rating at Talladega is 80.5. 

Alex Bowman (No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) has made 12 series starts at Talladega posting one top five and three top 10s. His average finish at the 2.66-mile track is 24.6. His pre-race driver rating at Talladega is 73.1.  

Christopher Bell (No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) has made three series starts at Talladega (fewest among Playoff drivers) posting a career-best finish of 17th earlier this season. His average finish at the 2.66-mile track is 28.3. His pre-race driver rating at Talladega is 60.8.