Sunday’s regular-season finale for the Brickyard 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) event was nothing short of drama-filled action as 16 contenders moved on to the postseason playoffs, leaving a few drivers on the outside looking in. Most notably, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson. And, for those 16 drivers, there is no easy resting knowing that Talladega Superspeedway’s “wild card” 1000Bulbs.com 500, the second race (of three) in the Round of 12 (Oct. 13), is looming in the distance.
Of the playoff field, half of the competitors have driven to Talladega Superspeedway’s Gatorade Victory Lane in NASCAR’s premier series at least once, including defending 1000Bulbs.com 500 victor Aric Almirola and 2019 GEICO 500 winner Chase Elliott. The other half of the field, on the other hand, hasn’t had the best of luck at the palace of speed. Some are still looking for their first MENCS victory at ‘Dega, while for others, it is considered to be one of their worst playoff tracks when it comes to their average performance. Interestingly enough, no driver in the field has an average finish inside the top 10 at the famous Alabama Superspeedway.
The 10-race run for the championship begins in Las Vegas this Sunday, before shifting to Richmond and Charlotte which will trim down the 16-driver field to 12. 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. Many drivers view the 1000Bulbs.com 500 as a “wild card” event because of the uncertainty it bestows. It can considerably strengthen or dash a driver’s hopes of moving on to the next round and ultimately competing in the Championship 4 finale for the title. 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), which celebrates its 50th Anniversary as well as the culmination of Transformation – The Talladega Superspeedway Infield Project presented by Graybar this year.
- Kyle Busch, No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (2045 points/12th playoff appearance): In 28 Cup starts at ‘Dega, the 2015 MENCS champion has one victory (2008 GEICO 500) and six top-five finishes (20.3 average finish). 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 Sugarlands Shine 250 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series events in 2009 & 2010.
- Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (2030 points/13th playoff appearance): The two-time Daytona 500 champion (2019, 2016) traveled to the ‘Dega Gatorade Victory Lane after the 2014 GEICO 500 in what is still his only win in 27 MENCS starts at Talladega. The 2006 series Rookie of the Year has compiled six top-fives and 10 top-10s for an average finish of 18.3 at TSS, which is Hamlin’s worst among playoff venues.
- Martin Truex Jr., No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (2029 points/seventh playoff appearance): Truex is still looking for his first ‘Dega win in 29 MENCS starts. The 2017 MENCS champion has recorded one pole award and eight top-10s at TSS. 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.
- Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (2028 points/13th playoff appearance): The 2014 MENCS champion has 37 career Cup Series starts at the 2.66-mile venue and holds one win (April 2010). He has recorded seven top-five and 15 top-10 finishes. Out of the 10 tracks in the postseason, Talladega Superspeedway is his worst with an average finish of 16.1.
- Joey Logano, No. 22 Team Penske Ford (2028 points/sixth playoff appearance): The reigning MENCS champion posted his first victory at NASCAR’s most competitive track in the 2015 1000Bulbs.com 500, and a year later, made it back-to-back fall triumphs. His most recent TSS win came in the 2018 GEICO 500. In 21 MENCS career starts at the track, he has three wins, eight top-five finishes, and an average finish of 16.4. He is also a two-time winner in the NXS at TSS with victories in the MoneyLion 300 in 2012 and 2015.
- Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Team Penske Ford (2024 points/eighth playoff appearance): Keselowski has more wins at TSS than any other active driver with five. His first-ever Cup victory came at the biggest track in NASCAR in the 2009 GEICO 500. In 21 Cup starts at the track, the 2012 MENCS champion has totaled seven top-five and 11 top-10 performances for an average finish of 15.6. He also visited Gatorade Victory Lane following a win in the 2010 NXS race at TSS.
- Chase Elliott, No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (2018 points/fourth playoff appearance): Elliott is the latest driver to go to ‘Dega’s Gatorade Victory Lane (2019 GEICO 500). In seven MENCS starts at TSS, the 2016 series Rookie of the Year has produced three top-five results and averages a finish of 14.0. His first top-five came in his first series race at Talladega 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.
- Kurt Busch, No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet (2011 points/13th playoff appearance): The 20-year veteran scored a victory at Talladega in the 2003 International Race of Champions (IROC) event, but he is still searching for his first Cup triumph after 37 starts at the track. With an average finish of 15.2, along with eight top-five and 20 top-10 results, 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 the 2018 GEICO 500 and four third-place results since 2001. He has also been strong in his three combined NXS and Gander Truck Series races at TSS, posting no worse than seventh place.
- Alex Bowman, No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (2005 points/second playoff appearance): Bowman, who claimed his first career MENCS triumph this year, has eight TSS MENCS career starts, with his best career finish coming in this past spring’s GEICO 500, where he crossed the line in the runner-up position. All-in-all, Bowman has one top-five and two top-10 performances at the 2.66-mile venue in the MENCS with an average finish of 24.9. He also has one NXS start at the track when he brought home a 13th-place finish in 2013.
- Erik Jones, No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (2005 points/second playoff appearance): The 23-year-old recently took home his second career MENCS win at Darlington in the Southern 500. Out of five starts at NASCAR’s most competitive track, Jones has only broken into the top-10 on one occasion (2018 1000Bulbs.com 500). His average finish is 27.0, one of his personal worst among all playoff tracks. The 2015 Gander Truck Series champion has competed at TSS in all three series, with his best result being a fourth-place finish in the Sugarlands Shine 250 during his title season.
- Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet (2005 points/fourth playoff appearance): The 2014 MENCS Rookie of the Year has two top-10s in 11 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 third-worst playoff track in terms of average finish with 20.6. He has also raced at TSS twice in the NXS, bringing home no better than a 30th-place finish. He has a NXS win at Daytona (2018), so he has proven he can win on a “super” superspeedway and hopes to repeat that performance in a Cup car at TSS this fall.
- Ryan Blaney, No. 12 Team Penske Ford (2004 points/third playoff appearance): In 10 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 20.8. He has also brought home two top-10 results at TSS in the Gander Truck Series under his former car owner and current Cup teammate Brad Keselowski.
- William Byron, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (2001 points/first playoff appearance): Out of all the driver’s in the playoff field, Byron has the least amount of Cup Series starts at ‘Dega with three. His best finish at the track in the Cup Series is 20th that came in last year’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 (average finish is 23.3). Byron has a top-10 result (10th) on his TSS resume from the 2016 Sugarlands Shine 250 Gander Truck Series event.
- Aric Almirola, No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (2001 points/third playoff appearance): The defending 1000Bulbs.com 500 victor has competed at TSS in all three national series. His other victory at the mammoth venue was in the 2017 MoneyLion 300 NXS race. In 19 MENCS starts at TSS, Almirola has finished in the top 10 on seven occasions, including three top-five performances. His success has helped him produce an average finish of 15.9, which is his second-best among playoff tracks. Almirola has also recorded four top-10 finishes in five NXS races and two runner-up results in four Gander Truck Series events at TSS.
- Clint Bowyer, No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (2000 points/eighth playoff appearance): Bowyer will be making his 28th series start at TSS this fall, looking to add a third win to his resume to go along with his victories in both the 2010 and 2011 fall events. He has tallied seven top-five and 13 top-10 performances (average finish is 16.1) at ‘Dega in the Cup level.
- Ryan Newman, No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford (2000 points/ninth playoff appearance): While winless at Talladega, he has six top-five finishes in 35 starts (worst playoff track with 19.2 average finish), as well as 14 top-10 finishes. His best showing came in the 2017 1000Bulbs.com 500 when he took the checkered flag in the runner-up position.
The heart-pounding action of the 1000Bulbs.com 500 will start at 1 p.m. CDT on Sunday, Oct. 13. The weekend will also feature the Sugarlands Shine 250 NASCAR Gander Truck Series Playoff event on Saturday, Oct. 12 at 12:30 p.m. CDT – the first race in the Round of 6. If an eligible contender wins, then he will move on to compete in the Championship 4 finale. Sunday ticket holders and infield guests can also enjoy access to the Saturday Night Infield Concert, located in the famous infield, featuring Alabama native and country music artist Riley Green.
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).
Phase II of Transformation – The Talladega Superspeedway Infield Project presented by Graybar features the one-of-a-kind Talladega Garage Experience, which will allow fans to be immersed into the sport of NASCAR like never before, and is set for its debut during the NASCAR Playoffs weekend. Fans can learn more about the project and view the progress 24/7 via the construction cam by visiting www.talladegasuperspeedway.com/transformation. For all things on the Talladega Garage Experience, log onto www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 855-518-7223 (RACE).