Having Talladega and the Charlotte ROVAL back-to-back to finish up the Round of 12. As a driver I would absolutely hate this, but from a fan standpoint, this is one of the smartest things NASCAR have done in recent years. The outcome of the first race at Las Vegas basically dictates how your next two weeks will be, and with the shaken up result we got, the next two weeks are bound to be insane!
With the surprise win by the hometown hero Kurt Busch, he is through to the Round of 8, meaning there is no pressure on him at all at Talladega and the ROVAL. He said himself that they are still going to be chasing after more playoff points and try to build on this momentum, but should he get in the big one at Talladega, it’s not really that big of a deal. For the rest of the field though, it’s a whole other story.
Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin are 61 and 58 points above the cut line, which essentially means that they have a race in hand. So these two basically just needs to go in to Talladega and survive. While you might think that would be the plan for all of them, Brad Keselowski in 4th is just 16 points above the cut line, and should any of the drivers below the cut line win at Talladega, all of a sudden he is just seven points clear.
This means that for all the other nine playoff drivers there is not room for playing it safe at Talladega. They will just have to go for as many points as they can all throughout this race. That may sound like a given, to go for the max amount of points, but at Talladega, that is not always the case. While racing hard at the front to score points increases the risk of getting in a crash, I think you’d much rather be out of the playoffs cause you tried and got caught in the big one, than be out of the playoffs cause you sat at the back and just waited for something that never came.
While just about everyone has a chance to win at Talladega, the three drivers still in the playoffs I see with the best chance to win and advance are Austin Dillon, Aric Almirola and for obvious reasons, Joey Logano. Then there are all the drivers looking to cap off their seasons with a win and spoil the party for those still running for a championship. Ryan Blaney, Matt DiBenedetto, Erik Jones, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Newman are just some of the names we can expect to see up front most of the race.
The tricky part here for the playoff drivers is that these other drivers have absolutely nothing to lose. While they’re still racing for their positions in the drivers and owners standings, if they have the slightest chance of winning the race at Talladega, they are going to take risks and make moves that a playoff driver normally wouldn’t make. So the race at Talladega this upcoming weekend is going to be one heck of a show, for many different reasons.
Even if you get in a wreck at Talladega, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the playoffs are over though, as there is still another race to go. The ROVAL at Charlotte Motor Speedway. So for drivers like Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr who will most likely be up front at the ROVAL, Talladega might not be that much of a worry. This is racing though, and anything can happen, especially in NASCAR.