Podium Preview: GEICO 500 at Talladega

By all means, Sunday's GEICO 500 should prove quite exciting! (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

By all means, Sunday’s GEICO 500 should prove quite exciting! (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Without a doubt, Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega proves quite challenging for NASCAR Cup Series drivers and teams. In this case, each driver’s fate presides with each competitor on this mammoth superspeedway.

Then again, Talladega Superspeedway consistently produces exciting, yet harrowing on-track action. Simply put, Round 13 of the season likens to a guilty pleasure reality show except with speedy stock car machines.

Certainly, with the GEICO 500 serving as the halfway point of the regular season, hidden favorites prepare for their moment. With this mind, Talladega serves as the perfect host for surprises.

Each week, The Podium Finish’s panelists, Ashley HobbsChrissi LuttrellCody ShoppeKobe LambethMatteo MarcheschiMatt SisolerSean Folsom, Stephen Conley, Terra Jones, and yours truly will share their thoughts on the latest happenings in NASCAR.

First, we consider NASCAR’s show up and race protocol and Bristol hosting the All-Star Race!

Podium Preview: GEICO 500 at Talladega
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Question 1
What does our panelist think of NASCAR's "show up and race" protocol? (Photo Credit: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

What does our panelist think of NASCAR’s “show up and race” protocol? (Photo Credit: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

NASCAR Cup Series drivers and teams will compete in this Sunday’s GEICO 500 without any practice and qualifying rounds. With drivers making their first laps in an actual race, what can we expect, even with similar formats in prior races at Darlington, Bristol, Martinsville, and Homestead?

Sisoler :  We’re headed to Talladega, it’s going to be a madhouse of speed and bump drafting no matter what. It wouldn’t surprise me to see someone get too aggressive too early and cause a wreck, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if the race gets over halfway done and then becomes the typical superspeedway wreckfest. 

Jones :  It’s Talladega. Practice or no practice, it’s going to be wild. I expect it to be relatively calm through the opening laps until the competition caution. But after drivers get a feel for their cars and make adjustments, it’ll be game on.

I do feel that given the wildness that ‘Dega brings, a short 30 minute or so session would be ideal to dial in their machines some, especially given the various changes after Daytona, but, here we are! Hopefully it’ll be a good, exciting race for the fans able to be in attendance and those watching from home.

Hobbs :  I say it is time to get them back behind the wheel for an extra session – be it practice or qualifying. I know I am tired of these competition cautions each week. We’ve waited a long time to go back to racing, so that is what we need to do. Make it a one day show where the morning is practice or qualifying and then they race; eliminate the competition caution. When it comes to Talladega, I think the unknown is too great for drivers and we will see a very calm run to the competition caution.

Lambeth :  Due to changes with the superspeedway package, we are heading into Talladega with a few unknowns. During the early laps of the race, it would not surprise me if the drivers get in a single-file line and log laps for learning purposes.

When they get more laps under their belt, I think we will see the action intensify. I am not an engineer so I have no clue what the on-track product is going to look like. However, I still believe that we should still witness a wild Talladega race filled with intense action, crashes, and close calls. More importantly, I wish for a safe race.

Marcheschi :  It’s fairly difficult to know. With a tweaked package in place in reaction to Ryan Newman’s terrible Daytona 500 wreck, speeds will likely be down ever so slightly, but with those big spoilers, runs will still be pretty big, though passing may be down, since less power will be available once someone pulls out of line.

The drag will be more powerful than ever, and staying in the draft behind another car will be as important as ever. Whether this will hinder the racing much or not is a question we’ll answer on Sunday. I’m excited regardless, though. I still think the racing will be classic ‘Dega.

Question 2
Might we see fireworks for Bristol's All-Star Race next month? (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Might we see fireworks for Bristol’s All-Star Race next month? (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

NASCAR heads to the high, concrete banked short track best known as Bristol Motor Speedway for the All-Star Race. How uniquely challenging will it be to have Bristol host NASCAR’s midsummer classic?

Tiongson :  It should be a fun night of racing at “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile.” For starters, this is a track where multiple grooves, paint trading, and tempers flaring are as prominent as Dale Earnhardt Jr saying, “It’s Bristol, baby!” The challenge will be the level of physicality that a driver enforces in this short sprint for big-time cash.

Unlike the prior All-Star Races at Charlotte, where it comes down to speed, this will be a race where drivers can mix it up. Also, the challenge will be deciding if paybacks can be made from early-season incidents. 

Folsom : I think it will be a great thing for Bristol to host the All-Star Race. I know the All-Star Race has all kinds of different things happening unlike a regular race and it will be nice to see on the short high bank track!

Shoppe :  How can this be anything but a success? For years, many fans and competitors alike asked for a change of venue for the All-Star event and we finally got it! The whole point of the all-star race is to see drivers race unrestricted for a win without the worry of points consequences for any mistakes.

The last few years it has seemed that with the current car/packages at Charlotte or any mile and a half-track, it didn’t really matter how much money was on the line, you were limited to the dirty air and the race suffered. Bristol will be an awesome track for future All-Stars full of dive bombs, bump-n-runs, and tempers! 

Conley :  This is big for the sport! For the second time in 36 years, the All-Star Race is moving out of Charlotte. This gives fans something they’ve been asking for. The racing at Bristol has been pretty good recently and when you put a small field out there for a short sprint race with a trophy and a million bucks. This could be something special. It’s going to be a fun night for all.

Luttrell :  I know there are some fans who are disappointed with the race moving, but I believe it will be great! Bristol makes for some exciting racing, and on top of that you throw in the fun of the All-Star Race also being the first race with fans in attendance, it’s sure to be a memorable weekend. I don’t believe it will be much of a challenge aside from the restrictions put into place due to Covid-19. However, I’m sure these will be of minor inconvenience since the fans are excited to be back at the track. 

Somehow, the TPF crew survives two incredible laps around Talladega. Next, let’s review last Sunday’s action with Homestead‘s race and points reports!
Kobe Lambeth enjoyed a decent Homestead.

Kobe Lambeth enjoyed a decent Homestead.

Meanwhile, the machine continues its stranglehold.

Meanwhile, the machine continues its stranglehold.

Now, Ashley Hobbs crunches the numbers so that you can be your family or friend’s Larry McReynolds!
First, how does your favorite team fare at Talladega?

First, how does your favorite team fare at Talladega?

How about your favorite manufacturer?

How about your favorite manufacturer?

Since 2004, the GEICO 500 winner has an average starting spot of 9.3, led an average of 32.8 laps, started within the top-five 43.75 percent of the time, and started within the top-10 62.5 percent of the time.

Since 2004, the GEICO 500 winner has an average starting spot of 9.3, led an average of 32.8 laps, started within the top-five 43.75 percent of the time, and started within the top-10 62.5 percent of the time.

It's not all pretty for past Cup champs.

It’s not all pretty for past Cup champs.

Now, consider the GEICO 500 trends since 2010.

Now, consider the GEICO 500 trends since 2010.

Next, consider the trends since 2015.

Next, consider the trends since 2015.

Our machine sure loves Kevin Harvick.

Our machine sure loves Kevin Harvick.

Last but not least, here’s our picks for Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega!
There's six different ways that Sunday's GEICO 500 likely goes.

There’s six different ways that Sunday’s GEICO 500 likely goes.

Hobbs :  No practice and no qualifying will make for an interesting Geico 500. None the less, Kurt Busch has been a safe bet (believe it or not) at Talladega. Safety first!

Jones :  I’ve thought on this all week, and it’s Dega. It’s literally anyone’s game. Play your cards right, avoid the big one(s), make zero mistakes on pit road and be in the right place at the right time. With that said, I hope we see an underdog, first time winner this weekend. Front Row has shown so much speed on Superspeedways over the years and their drivers have been so close so many times. David Ragan got it done for FRM in 2013, but this weekend, Michael McDowell secures his first Cup series win (third for FRM).

Shoppe :   This panelist chooses Alex Bowman.

Luttrell :  I’ve got a gut feeling about Bowman. I’m going with him.

Tiongson :  This driver is always a threat at Talladega. I look for Denny Hamlin to win it all on Sunday!

TPF Stats :  The numbers have been crunched. The year and Geico 500 have been examined. The Machine foresees more glory for Kevin Harvick on Sunday.

Conley :  Ryan Newman literally survived Daytona. He comes back to win Talladega. It’s just as likely as any other scenario at this race track.

Lambeth :  After being in contention to win the last two superspeedway races, I think the man who survived a horrifying crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500 will earn redemption. Look for Ryan Newman to visit victory lane at Talladega!

Marcheschi :  I picked Ryan Newman for the Daytona 500. After his horrifying crash, his life was in doubt. Now he’s back, and out for redemption. He’s been strong at superspeedways, especially recently. He was only inches away from winning the last race at Talladega, but he’ll be on the winning side of the deal this time around. It’s the Rocketman’s time to shine.

Sisoler :  This will be one of those make-or-break weeks for the TPF Cup. Last fall, I was tempted to take this driver, and got burned by not going with him when Alex Bowman crashed in Turn 3 towards the end of the opening stage and wrecked my pick. He lost the fall race by inches, but this time, Rocketman Ryan Newman will survive the carnage and come home a winner!

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the GEICO 500!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into Sunday’s race? Who is your favorite to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  Let’s stay connected as we focus on getting back together on the track soon!  

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes. Ultimately, they are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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