In Monday’s regular-season finale for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS), Brad Keselowski captured his second straight MENCS triumph after winning the Brickyard 400. The 16-driver field is now set for the MENCS Playoffs, which will include a visit to Talladega Superspeedway for the second race (of three) in the Round of 12 on Oct. 14 for the 1000Bulbs.com 500.
This year’s playoff contenders offer a range of postseason experience, from NASCAR young guns Erik Jones and Alex Bowman to long-time veterans like Jimmie Johnson, who is the only driver in contention to have qualified for the MENCS Playoffs every season since its inception in 2004. Seven competitors have earned at least one premier series victory at the 2.66-mile tri-oval including Keselowski who won the 1000Bulbs.com 500 a year ago and Joey Logano who claimed the GEICO 500 this past spring. More than half of the field, which includes MENCS champions, has at least one win at the track in other motorsports events.
There is always high anticipation for Talladega’s annual playoff race because many drivers view the event as a "wild card" that can considerably strengthen or dash a driver’s hopes of moving on to the Round of 8 and ultimately winning the season championship. The future is so unforeseeable at Talladega that no driver in the field has an average finish inside the top 10 at the track and, for several competitors, the famous Alabama superspeedway is one of their worst playoff tracks in the average finish category.
The 10-race run for the championship begins in Las Vegas this weekend. If a playoff driver advances to the Round of 12 and wins the 1000Bulbs.com 500, he will automatically gain a spot in the Round of 8. The field of 12 drivers will be trimmed to eight after the Kansas Speedway event the following week.
Below are thumbnails on each of the championship contenders, along with their seeding/starting playoff points and resume at Talladega Superspeedway (TSS).
- Kyle Busch, No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (2050 points/11th playoff appearance): In 26 Cup starts, the 2015 MENCS Champion has one victory (2008) and six top-five finishes. Busch holds the record at TSS as the only active driver to visit Gatorade Victory Lane in all three of NASCAR’s top-tier series, having won in the NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) in 2011 and back-to-back Talladega 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) events in 2009 & 2010. Out of the ten tracks in the playoffs, NASCAR’s Most Competitive track is his worst with an average finish of 20.5.
- Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (2050 points/12th playoff appearance): Harvick is on a hot streak this season, winning five of the first 12 races, three of those coming consecutively out of the first four races he ran. The 2014 MENCS Champion has one win at Talladega (April 2010) and has recorded seven top-five and 15 top-10 finishes in 35 races. His average finish is 15.1.
- Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota (2035 points/sixth playoff appearance): Truex is still looking for his first TSS win in 27 MENCS starts. The 2017 MENCS Champion has recorded one pole award and eight top 10s. Unfortunately, Talladega is Truex’s worst playoff track (average finish 21.3). In the NXS, he has been to Gatorade Victory Lane a record three times, all of which were consecutive from 2004-2006.
- Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Team Penske Ford (2019 points/seventh playoff appearance): The defending 1000Bulbs.com 500 victor has more wins at TSS than any other track in his series career with five, including his first Cup victory in 2009 and his 2014 triumph when he was in a must-win playoff situation. In 19 Cup starts at TSS, the 2012 MENCS Champion has totaled seven top-five and 11 top-10 performances for an average finish of 15.1. He also visited Gatorade Victory Lane following a win in the 2010 NXS race at TSS.
- Clint Bowyer, No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (2015 points/seventh playoff appearance): The 2012 MENCS championship runner-up will be making his 26th series start at TSS this fall. He will be looking to add a third TSS win to his resume to go along with his victories in both the 2010 and 2011 fall events. He has tallied six top-five and 12 top-10 performances (his average finish is 16.1) at the Cup level, and he has also earned one pole and two top-10 finishes in eight NXS races at the superspeedway.
- Joey Logano, No. 22 Team Penske Ford (2014 points/fifth playoff appearance): Talladega’s most recent winner in the GEICO 500 posted his first TSS victory in the 2015 1000Bulbs.com 500. Logano made his TSS debut in an ARCA race in 2008, and in 19 MENCS career starts, he has two wins, six top-five finishes and an average finish of 17.7. He also has two NXS wins and seven top-five finishes in eight career races at TSS.
- Kurt Busch, No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (2014 points/12th playoff appearance): The 19-year veteran scored a victory at TSS in the 2003 International Race of Champions (IROC) event, but he is still searching for his first Cup triumph after 35 starts at the track. With an average finish of 15.5, along with eight top fives and 19 top 10s, TSS is statistically one of Busch’s better playoff tracks. The 2004 MENCS Champion has come close to earning a trip to Gatorade Victory Lane several times, including a runner-up finish in this year’s GEICO 500 and four previous third-place results. He has also been strong in his three combined NXS and NCWTS races at TSS, posting no worse than seventh place.
- Chase Elliott, No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (2008 points/third playoff appearance): In five MENCS starts at TSS, the 2016 series Rookie of the Year has produced two top-five results, including a third-place finish earlier this season in the GEICO 500, and averages a finish of 13.2. His other top five came in his first series race at TSS in the 2016 GEICO 500, a race in which he also started on the pole. He has also competed at TSS in the NXS three times, including a ninth-place finish in 2016.
- Ryan Blaney, No. 12 Team Penske Ford (2007 points/second playoff appearance): In eight MENCS races at TSS, Blaney has captured two top-10 finishes, including a fourth-place finish in the 2015 GEICO 500, and has an average finish of 20.5. Blaney has also brought home two top-10 results at TSS in the NCWTS under his former car owner and current Cup teammate Brad Keselowski.
- Erik Jones, No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (2005 points/first playoff appearance): The 22-year-old broke through for his first MENCS victory earlier this season at Daytona. The 2015 NCWTS Champion has competed at TSS in all three series, with his best result being a fourth-place finish in the Talladega 250 during his title season. In five combined TSS starts in the NXS and NCWTS, Jones has finished in the top 10 three times. He is still trying to duplicate that kind of performance in a Cup car at TSS, where he has finished no better than 33rd in three races and has an average finish of 36.0, which is his personal worst among all MENCS tracks.
- Austin Dillon, No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet (2005 points /third playoff appearance): He has yet to visit Gatorade Victory Lane at TSS in the iconic No. 3 he pilots for his grandfather Richard Childress, who has a Talladega record 12 Cup victories as a team owner. In 10 MENCS starts, Dillon has had one top-five finish, coming home third in the 2016 GEICO 500. His average finish is 21.5.
- Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chip Ganassi Chevrolet (2005 points/third playoff appearance): The 2014 MENCS Rookie of the Year has two top 10s in nine series starts the 2.66-mile tri-oval, including a personal best sixth-place result in the 2016 1000Bulbs.com 500. Talladega is Larson’s second-worst playoff track in terms of average finish with 21.3. He has also raced at TSS twice in the NXS, bringing home no better than a 30th-place finish. But with a NXS win at Daytona earlier this season, Larson proved he can win on a plate track and will hope to repeat that performance in a Cup car at TSS this fall.
- Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (2003 points/12th playoff appearance): The 2016 DAYTONA 500 Champion traveled to Gatorade Victory Lane after the 2014 GEICO 500 in what is still his only win in 25 MENCS races at Alabama’s famous superspeedway. The 2006 series Rookie of the Year has compiled five top fives and nine top 10s for an average finish of 18.1 at TSS, which is Hamlin’s worst among playoff venues. His best finish at TSS in a non-Cup car has been a third-place result in the 2004 ARCA event.
- Aric Almirola, No. 10 Stewart-Haas Ford (2001 points/second playoff appearance): The 2014 MENCS Daytona summer race winner has competed at TSS in all three national series, but his 2017 NXS victory at TSS is the only time he has been to the checkered flag first. In 17 MENCS starts at TSS, Almirola has finished in the top 10 on five occasions, including two top-five performances in last year’s Cup races. His success has helped him produce an average finish of 17.2, which is his fourth-best among playoff tracks. Almirola has also recorded four top-10 finishes in five NXS races and two top-five results in four NCWTS events at TSS.
- Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (2000 points/15th playoff appearance): The seven-time MENCS Champion has experienced his share of success at NASCAR’s longest tri-oval, despite his average finish at the complex (17.1) being his worst compared to the other playoff tracks. Over the course of 33 series races at TSS, Johnson has captured two wins, including one in 2006 and his triumph in the 2011 GEICO 500 where he beat Bowyer by 0.002 seconds to tie the current NASCAR record for the closest margin of victory in a series race. In addition, the two-time DAYTONA 500 winner has totaled one pole, seven top fives and 12 top 10s in his Cup career at TSS.
- Alex Bowman, No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (2000 points/first playoff appearance): All but two of Bowman’s eight races at TSS have come in MENCS events. His best career finish at TSS occurred at this season’s GEICO 500, where he crossed the line in eighth. Prior to that result, Bowman’s best performance had been in his only NXS event at the superspeedway in 2013 when he brought home a 13th-place finish. Bowman currently sports a TSS average finish of 27.3 at the Cup level.
The heart-pounding action of the 1000Bulbs.com 500 will start at 1 p.m. CDT on Oct. 14. The weekend will also feature the Talladega 250 NCWTS Playoff event on Oct. 13 at noon CDT, where the field of playoff drivers will be cut from eight to six. In addition, Sunday ticket holders can enjoy access to the Saturday Night Infield Concert presented by Wind Creek Casino and Hotel, located in the famous infield, featuring country music artist Chris Janson.
For more information on tickets and all the experiences NASCAR’s Most Competitive Track has to offer, visit www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 855-518-RACE (7223).
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