Kurt Busch didn’t lose any sleep on Saturday night.
Neither did Kevin Harvick or Denny Hamlin. All three drivers are safe entering the YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway and secure in advancing to the NASCAR Cup Round of 8.
But what about the remaining nine candidates looking to keep their Playoff hopes alive at the 2.66-mile track?
“It’s been up and down for me,” said Brad Keselowski, who is currently third in the standings but fourth on the Playoff grid following Busch’s win at Las Vegas. “The last few races have probably been down. Last fall I thought we were gonna win the race. With two or three to go we were making the pass for the lead and the next thing I know we’re all wrecked. I was kind of like, ‘Man.’
“It’s a love-hate affair with that track, for sure, and hopefully we’ll love it I feel like we’re due for a good finish there. I’ve ran up front the last few races and the finish had eluded us, so I’m pumped and ready to go.”
Keselowski is being a tad bit modest. After all, his five career wins at Talladega are his most at any track. Keselowski also leads all current drivers for most victories at the Alabama venue. But the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford hasn’t visited Victory Lane there in his last five starts.
Still, he has an innate sense for NASCAR’s largest superspeedway even though the dynamic has changed throughout the years.
“You build a feel for it over time,” Keselowski said. “It’s not an exact science. There have been times where I’ve kicked myself and said, ‘Oh my God, I got in a wreck and I could see it coming. Brad, you should have known better.’ There have been times where I’ve backed down and said, ‘Oh, they’re gonna wreck,’ and they don’t wreck.
“It’s an inexact science, but generally speaking you have a pretty good clue over the years of people running places they shouldn’t be running and things of that nature, and it builds up like a mother’s sense about their children. It’s the same thing.”
Ford Performance has been dominant at Dega over the last nine years and no team has delivered more W’s than Penske. Of the 12 wins scored by the Blue Oval drivers, Keselowski, Logano and Blaney have accounted for eight—every year since 2015. While Blaney has won the last two, he’s no longer in the Playoffs. But Logano, who is fourth in the standings and sixth on the Playoff grid with an 11-point advantage above the cutline, has two victories in this race as well as a spring win.
Among the other drivers still alive in the post-season, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott and two of the Stewart-Haas racers—Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola have victories in the Yellowhammer State. Elliott won the spring race last year while Almirola pulled off the October surprise two years ago to advance to the Round of 8. The driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford is currently 11th on the Playoff grid, seven points behind Bowyer and 27 points below the cutline.
Almirola’s only two Cup wins have come on superspeedways. He hasn’t finished worse than ninth in his last eight Dega starts. Can Almirola duplicate his 2018 feat on Sunday?
“That was such an incredible day,” Almirola said. “Our first year at SHR and we win at Talladega to advance to the Round of 8. We finished fifth in the overall standings that year, and I think we have an even better team this year.
“If we can get it done this weekend, or give ourselves the chance to race our way in at Charlotte next weekend, we’ll be serious competitors for the championship.”