When the 12 remaining playoff drivers take the track on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, they know to be prepared for anything. Talladega is known for being unpredictable, and with only two races remaining in the Round of 12, playoff drivers know they can’t play it safe on Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr. is the only driver in the field who is entering Sunday’s race with any peace of mind due to his win last week in Charlotte. He is locked into the Round of 8, but the rest of the field has yet to be determined.
While Toyotas have dominated the season, they haven’t been particularly successful at Talladega. Denny Hamlin was the last Toyota driver to win at the track, and that came back in May of 2014.
Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is in need of a good showing, and he said he’s glad Talladega isn’t a cut-off race.
“Talladega is indeed a wildcard race,” Johnson said. “I’m happy it’s not a cut-off for the Round of 8, but we really need to make it through the race and have a good finish. We don’t want to go to Kansas fighting to stay alive in the hunt for an eighth championship.”
Team Penske has had success in recent years at the track with Brad Keselowki and Joey Logano each recording multiple wins at the track, and Keselowski has four victories at Talladega. Like Johnson, he needs a good showing on Sunday, and he’s proven in the past he’s capable of delivering.
Truex said the most intriguing thing about racing at Talladega is that the a driver is never really out of the race.
“There are so many unknowns at Talladega, and you can run up front all day long and finish 25th,” Truex said. “You can run up front and run 20 laps and get destroyed. You just never know. There is so much out of your control. To go there and not have to worry about all those things is definitely a good feeling.”
Stage racing has altered the strategy of most drivers. Drivers can earn points by winning stages or coming close to winning stages, so it’s especially beneficial to get off to a good start.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won at the track earlier this season, and he’s a good wild card pick to win again this weekend. If he doesn’t win or have a good showing, he will likely be facing elimination heading into the Round of 12.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has the most wins of any current driver in the field at Talladega with six, and he could spoil the weekend for the playoff drivers if he won in his final appearance at the track.