This weekend is one of the “Wild Card” races on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. It is the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
The race is considered a “Wild Card” because of the nature of racing at Talladega. Cars will get in huge packs to take advantage of the draft. That allows the group of cars to reach speeds of over 200 mph. They do these speeds with just inches between the bumpers and the doors of the cars around them.
The problem comes when even the slightest mistake is made by one of the cars in the pack. When a car is going that fast, even a small mistake can send that car sliding and spinning. The cars around are so close and going so fast they cannot react quickly enough to avoid hitting the car that is spinning. This often creates a chain reaction that collects many cars. The number of cars in a crash can reach double digits and is then called the “big one.” There can be (and has been) more than one “big one” in a race at Talladega. A car that was good enough to win the race can be taken out of the race in one of these incidents at no fault of their own.
Because of the draft, a car that perhaps is not the fastest could be in the right place at the end of the race. That car could time a pass just right to use the draft to sling-shot to the front of the pack and win the race. This is another reason this race is considered a “wild card.”
Here’s the data for the track and the race.
Talladega Superspeedway Track Data:
Track Size: 2.66-miles
Banking/Turn 1 & 2: 33 degrees
Banking/Turn 3 & 4: 33 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 16.5 degrees
Banking/Backstretch: 2 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 4,300 feet
Backstretch Length: 4,000 feet
GEICO 500 Data:
Season Race #: 10 of 36 (04-23-23)
Race Length: 188 laps / 500 miles
Stage 1 & 2 Length: 60 laps (each)
Final Stage Length: 68 laps
The active drivers that have won a Cup Series race at Talladega are…
|Brad Keselowski||6 Wins||2021, 2017, 2016. 2014, 2012, 2009|
|Joey Logano||3 Wins||2018, 2016, 2015|
|Chase Elliott||2 Wins||2022, 2019|
|Ryan Blaney||2 Wins||2020, 2019|
|Denny Hamlin||2 Wins||2020, 2014|
|Ross Chastain||1 Win||2022|
|Bubba Wallace||1 Win||2021|
|Aric Almirola||1 Win||2018|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr||1 Win||2017|
|Kevin Harvick||1 Win||2010|
|Kyle Busch||1 Win||2008|
With the nature of racing at Talladega, speculating who will win is really a pointless act. Brad Keselowski could be a safe bet because of his six wins at the track. However, if he is caught in a “big one” he won’t win.
Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin all have multiple wins. Chase won the last time NASCAR was at the track during the Playoffs last year. This is his second race back after breaking his leg. He could be a good bet to win … However … What if the “big one”?
Last year in THIS race, Ross Chastain found himself in the scenario I spelled out earlier at the end of the race. Being in the right place on the last lap allowed him to win. The same thing could happen for him or anybody in the field of drivers still running in the end.
We will see what does indeed happen when the green flag waives and draft forms in the GEICO 500 Sunday, April 23rd at 2 p.m. central time (3 p.m. eastern time) at Talladega Superspeedway.
By: Buck Stevens