The NASCAR Playoffs for all three top divisions are set to take on Talladega Superspeedway for a weekend of pressure-packed racing.
The mammoth 2.66-mile track will host the second race – YellaWood 500 – in the second round for the Cup Series and the second race – AG-Pro 300 – in the first round for the Xfinity Series. The Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Chevy Silverado 250 is an elimination race to set the field for the second round.
Ford has won nine of the last 10 Cup races at Talladega with Ryan Blaney capturing the last two for the manufacturer. Blaney, who was eliminated from the playoffs in the first round, is looking to join Buddy Baker and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the only drivers to win three straight at the Alabama track.
"Just being in the right place at the right time at the last two Talladega races and winning them by a combined two-feet," Blaney said. "You are going to be on the good side of those and the bad side of those and I have been on both sides of them. It is a testament to fast cars and executing on all sides, not only my sides but my spotter at the end of these races and being very aware of what is around us and making the right moves that pay off."
See Also: Talladega Race Info and Starting Lineups
Blaney’s Penske teammates and playoff contenders Brad Keselowski (5) and Joey Logano (3) have combined to win eight times at Talladega.
"I think the Penske speedway program has been good for a long time, a handful of years, and that says a lot," Blaney said. "The changing rules packages that keeps coming on the speedways is a big testament to all the guys and girls here at the race shop for all the work they do."
Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch are the other Round of 12 drivers that have visited Talladega’s Victory Lane.
Hamlin will start from the pole after his performance at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where he finished third.
"We need to maintain focus and let the rest take care of itself," said Hamlin, who trails Harvick by three points in the standings. "Talladega is known as the biggest and the fastest course in the circuit. We’ve had success in previous races there and just need to build off of the momentum we gained in Las Vegas."
See Also: Talladega Driver Averages
Busch, Bowyer, Almirola and Austin Dillon, who won the 2018 Daytona 500, are currently the drivers below the cutline.
"We’re still in this NASCAR Playoffs battle and we’re not giving up," said Dillon, who dropped to 12th in the standings after some misfortune at Las Vegas. "In order to succeed at Talladega, you have to have a little bit of luck, and use momentum at the very end to take advantage of positions. It’s speedway racing. It’s drafting. And it’s chaos, but we’re up for the challenge."
Kurt Busch is the only playoff driver that does not have any pressure coming into Talladega and the following weekend at the Charlotte Roval after he advanced to the Round of 8 with his win at Las Vegas. Busch has yet to win at Talladega, but does have one runner-up and four third-place finishes there.
"There’s not going to be any consequences the next two weeks," Busch said. "But still, we want to gain points. We want to put some points in our pocket from the stages and the finish at Talladega and the Roval just to build up towards the season end."
Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Matt Kenseth are the non-playoff drivers with wins at Talladega. William Byron, who was eliminated in Round 1, won the last superspeedway race this season at Daytona.
"Talladega is a whole different place," Byron said. "I feel like we can have a really great run there though and try build off of what we did at Daytona in terms of the speed and competitiveness that we had."
Motor Racing Network’s live coverage of Sunday’s Cup race will begin at 1 p.m. ET.
In the Xfinity Series, Justin Haley is the only playoff driver that has won at Talladega after winning the June race.
Haley, who also won the last superspeedway race at Daytona, took the checkered flag at Talladega ahead of his Kaulig Racing teammate Ross Chastain. Haley is fifth in the standings after his 10th-place finish in the playoff opener at Las Vegas.
"We’ve got the same car and same motor, so I cannot wait to get on track this weekend," Haley said. "The first race of the playoffs in Las Vegas didn’t go as planned, but it wasn’t terrible. We’re slowly chipping away at it, and hopefully we have two good weeks here."
Chastain, who is currently two points behind Harrison Burton for the eighth and final transfer spot, has a 7.8 average finish in his last four superspeedway races, including a win at Daytona in July 2019.
JR Motorsports’ Michael Annett and Noah Gragson are also among the playoff drivers with a superspeedway triumph, winning the last two Daytona February races, respectively. Annett is currently below the cutline in 11th while Gragson is third in the standings.
"All four of our JRM cars have worked really well at superspeedways and we’ve proven that we are the ones to beat as long as we aren’t caught up in any wrecks," Gragson said. "We have a solid plan going into this weekend and hopefully it plays out in our favor."
Chase Briscoe has already advanced to the next round with his win at Las Vegas and will start from the pole on Saturday.
"I am actually looking forward to going to Talladega and the Roval now," Briscoe said. "Talladega is still going to be a whatever happens, happens. But I think it creates some situations at the Roval where we might be able to leap frog the field because we aren’t worried about stage points or points in general anymore. It opens up a lot of scenarios for the next two weeks."
Motor Racing Network’s live coverage of Saturday’s Xfinity race will begin at 4 p.m. ET.
Saturday’s Chevrolet Silverado 250 will see two drivers get eliminated from the playoffs.
Ben Rhodes (-6) and Todd Gilliland (-19) are the two drivers below the cutline going into the race. Only nine points separate sixth-place Tyler Ankrum to eighth-place Christian Eckes.
"That’s really the race is the stage points for us," Rhodes said. "We’re approaching it as two separate races. The first two stages are their own race and after that, at that point, the last stage is its own separate race because we’ll know what we have to do for points."
Austin Hill is secure with his win at Las Vegas and Sheldon Creed (+52), Brett Moffitt (+44), Zane Smith (+39) and Grant Enfinger (+31) round out the top five in the standings.
"Either way, we’re going to Talladega to win that race too," Hill said. "That’s just our motto, we want to win every race we can. When we go there, we’re there to win the race. It’s going to be one of those things, I’m going to be really aggressive like I’ve been all year and I think that even if we were on the cut line and we were only a couple points ahead before going in, without the win, I still wouldn’t change anything I’ve been doing."
Enfinger is the only playoff driver with a win at Talladega.
Motor Racing Network’s live coverage of Saturday’s Gander Truck race will begin at 12:30 p.m. ET.