Podium Preview: GEICO 500 at Talladega

Who will reign supreme in Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega? (Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Who will reign supreme in Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega? (Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

After nine races into the NASCAR Cup Series season, Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway typically mixes excitement with mindboggling action. By all means, think of this 188 lap race as a true stock (car) exchange with comers and goers in the blink of an eye.

All things considered, the Hendrick quartet and Team Penske trio typically take to Talladega quite nicely. However, drivers like Michael McDowell, this year’s Daytona 500 winner, Matt DiBenedetto, who was in the mix for the Talladega win last fall, and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin seem prime for a victory.

Each race weekend, The Podium Finish’s panelists preview each NASCAR Cup Series points-paying race. This weekend, Adam LucasAshley HobbsCody ShoppeKobe LambethLuis TorresMatt SisolerMichelle RaynorStephen ConleyTaylor KitchenTerra Jones and yours truly ponder about the possibility of more than 16 regular season winners and an underdog team ready for the GEICO 500 win.

Podium Preview: GEICO 500 at Talladega
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Question 1
"Say chief, think we'll make the Playoffs?" (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“Say chief, think we’ll make the Playoffs?” (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

With eight different winners after nine races, how likely is it that we may see more than 16 different race winners when the regular season concludes at Daytona? Defend your answer!

Lambeth : While I am very surprised by the amount of parity we have seen to start off the season, I do not anticipate going over 16 different race winners. However, we still have quite a few winners from 2020 who have not found victory lane yet this year. Three drivers from Hendrick Motorsports have won but defending Cup champion Chase Elliott has yet to visit victory lane. If I had to make a prediction, I believe we could see at least 14 different winners.

Lucas : 16 different winners is quite a stretch of the imagination, but, not all the way, out of the question. I think we’ll see a different winner this weekend. But as for the remainder of the season, and specifically the summer stretch, we could see a team or two get into a winning groove and go on the offensive for grabbing up all the wins. 

Sisoler : Tough call honestly. There is a chance of it, and with, including today’s race, 17 races left before the playoffs, the numbers are there for it to do so. Talladega is a wild card race where anyone in the lead pack on the last lap can win. If a top 30 driver without a win survives the chaos to win, that’s nine winners in 10 races.

If the Coca-Cola 600 goes green for a long period late, it could come down to a fuel economy play like we’ve seen in years past, another winless driver could win their way in to make 11.

We have four new/returning tracks/track configurations (COTA, Nashville, Road America and Indy’s road course), and with the three road courses, Chase Elliott, who hasn’t won yet, has to be considered a favorite there.

Odds are not every one of those tracks will see a new winner, but there is a chance of it. Say that scenario happens and we do get a first time winner at those tracks in addition to Dega and Charlotte. That’s 15 winners with 11 other races left open. 

Hobbs : I do not believe we will see more than 16 unique winners. But I do believe we will get close. Talladega looms and there is still a race at Daytona. Everyone knows those are up for grabs.

Even the short tracks and road courses can shake things up. With 17 races left before the playoffs, and summer months tending to really show drivers’ muscles, we will start seeing some more repeat winners.

While we still are looking for the likes of Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, and Brad Keselowski to find victory lane – which they will eventually do before the Playoffs – that leaves three Playoff positions open.

Although trends and stats can be wrong, they maintain a few positions open based on points. But with some new tracks, that also opens the door for new winners. Either way it pans out, it will be exciting and Daytona in the summer will definitely add to the excitement level of who is in, and who is out.

Shoppe : I predict we will come the closest so far to that magic 16 number, but I don’t see us reaching or exceeding that. There are too many teams running at peak performance that could easily go on a winning streak.

Look at Denny Hamlin’s record setting top five and top ten streak this year. He may not have a win yet but could easily get many! Martin Truex Jr, who has won twice this year, is a great road course racer and has plenty of chances to get lots of wins as well. 

Folsom : 

Question 2
(Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

(Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

After Michael McDowell’s feel good Daytona 500 win, which underdog racer seems most likely for a victory at Talladega?

Torres :  Although I don’t think we’ll see it this Sunday, one driver could have an excellent run. That guy being Spire Motorsports’ Corey LaJoie. The entire No. 7 team had a good showing in the Daytona 500, finishing ninth. What it told me back in February was this team seems to have a knack on superspeedway races. If the cards are right, he’ll have a superb finish. Whether it’ll result in a race win, time will tell. But, keep an eye on the series veteran.

Jones :  This list is ever-growing for me and it’s so hard to pick just one driver. Corey LaJoie seems to always be in the mix at the end of superspeedway races. Matt DiBenedetto has been in position numerous times as well. Erik Jones is another one that is quietly around at the end of these wild races.

But, if I had to put all my eggs in one basket? My basket would be the Ford camp, and if you can consider Aric Almirola an “underdog,” I think he’s the one that’ll…bring home the bacon this weekend.

Raynor :  This is a tough one. Talladega can bring anything and anyone has a chance to win. This could be Aric’s day or maybe Bubba finally gets his first win. It is going to be about staying out of the wrecks, making friends and just being there in the end. The Fords are good at this track. They seem to be able to push and stay together. 

Tiongson : It seems like as good a time as any for Matt DiBenedetto to capture his much overdue maiden victory in Cup. Of course, the Yellawood 500 at Talladega last fall likely stands out in DiBenedetto’s mind as a “should’ve won” moment. If “Guido” and his No. 21 team can pick the right drafting partners, stay out of trouble, and above the yellow line (shameless plug for Taylor’s podcast), then it’s a distinct possibility that it’ll be a special first win for this beloved Californian.

Taking it a step further, while he’s won on a few occasions in the Cup ranks, Erik Jones has to be considered an underdog with the No. 43 team. Richard Petty Motorsports seems to bring some fast Camaros to Talladega as evident last year with Bubba Wallace. Jones placed fifth and second last year although this was in Joe Gibbs Racing equipment. However, Jones is a handy superspeedway racer who has that perfect “under the radar” reputation, something to watch come Sunday afternoon.

Conley :  I think if the Fords work together all the way to the end, this could be the time Aric Almirola turns his season around. There is no question that off season aero changes have impacted SHR more than most teams, but luck hasn’t been on their side either and they will need a lot of that to survive Talladega. 

Kitchen : These superspeedway races are always between the Fords and Chevys. Starting with a Ford driver, Matt DiBenedetto raced his way to the top in last season’s September Talladega race, but fell short of victory after facing a penalty on the last lap of the race. 

DiBenedetto has slowly worked his way through the ranks this season with a better finishing position each and every week. Though he had a horrific start to the season, things seem to be looking up for the 21 team.

Another underdog driver to keep in mind is Bubba Wallace. 23XI Racing has struggled this season. But it is hard to ignore Wallace’s superspeedway success when he raced in a Chevrolet for RPM. Now that Wallace drives for Toyota, the odds of winning this race grow dim. 

The Chevys and Fords are mighty in numbers with both manufacturers dominating at this track. These drivers are able to make manufacturer alliances among their teams to create a stronger draft.

The five to six Toyotas in the field do not have this luxury and are forced to “play nice” with whichever manufacturer allows this small group to join their alliance. However, I think if Wallace finds himself in the right position at the end of the race, he will do what it takes to win.

All in all, that’s two solid laps around Talladega! Before we return to previewing Sunday’s GEICO 500, let’s look back at last Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 with our race and points reports from Richmond!
All things considered, it was quite close for our panelists.

All things considered, it was quite close for our panelists.

In the meantime, things tighten up for Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega.

In the meantime, things tighten up for Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega.

Next, Ashley Hobbs crunches the numbers for Sunday’s GEICO 500 in a way that’s not as crunchy as sheet metal and the confines of Talladega Superspeedway.
First, let's look at how your favorite team fares in the GEICO 500 at Talladega.

First, let’s look at how your favorite team fares in the GEICO 500 at Talladega.

Since 2004, the GEICO 500 winner has an average starting spot of 9.4, led an average of 34.6 laps, started within the top five 41.18% of the rtime and started within the top 10 58.82% of the time.

Since 2004, the GEICO 500 winner has an average starting spot of 9.4, led an average of 34.6 laps, started within the top five 41.18% of the rtime and started within the top 10 58.82% of the time.

Are Logano and Busch needing to Chase Elliott at Talladega?

Are Logano and Busch needing to Chase Elliott at Talladega?

Next, here's the trends for the past 10 editions of the GEICO 500.

Next, here’s the trends for the past 10 editions of the GEICO 500.

Meanwhile, here's the trends for the past five GEICO 500 races.

Meanwhile, here’s the trends for the past five GEICO 500 races.

Back to Hamlin.

Back to Hamlin.

Lastly, here’s our picks for Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega!

Tiongson : I was torn between Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones before settling with Ryan Blaney. I realize Hamlin will be the odds on favorite while Jones is a good, sneaky dark horse pick. However, Blaney is the defending GEICO 500 winner. He’s keen, aggressive, and bold with his approach at Talladega. Look for Blaney to successfully defend his victory on Sunday.

Conley : It really comes down to throwing all the names in a blender and seeing who pops out first. With two wins out of the last three Talladega races, no reason for Ryan Blaney to not pop out on top.

Torres : Denny Hamlin had the strongest car in the Daytona 500. He was nearly unbeatable out front and that’ll be key at Talladega. He had Team Penske’s number until the final pit stop and I don’t expect things to change in Alabama.

I do think this Sunday he’ll finally get his first win on what’s been a dominant season. Yes, I do consider it as dominant because he’s kept racking up top fives which are nice. It can only take a driver so far, thus a race win will be much sweeter.

TPF Stats : Math is an interesting thing. For some magical reason, we are going to see Denny Hamlin crack through on victory at Talladega Superspeedway. While his races in the past have not been stellar, his season certainly has been. And that’s gotta count for something.

Shoppe : As hard as it is to find a “safe” pick for a superspeedway, Denny Hamlin has been amazing lately at doing what he needs to do to miss the accidents at these races! It doesn’t really matter who has the best car, but who can be left at the end!

Jones : It’s anyone’s weekend, but I picked him for my Trending Topic, and I’ll pick him here. I’m going all in on Aric Almirola this weekend. The SHR driver will play nicely with his Ford teammates. But when it comes down to those final laps, he will reign victorious.

Hobbs : Sometimes you have to look past the historical data of a race track like Talladega Superspeedway to find hidden potential. And while I love stats (especially mine), I am going rogue and choosing Finn’s dad, Alex Bowman, to find his way to victory lane this weekend.

Kitchen : I shared why I think DiBenedetto will win this race and how Wallace would be a good underdog winner. I am also aware that I have ground to make up points wise in this group. I am going to go against the group here and choose someone “random.”

My race pick is Ryan Newman. Newman has been so close to winning these races and I think if he does not allow anyone to pass him (which he usually does not), and if he is still unscathed at the end of the race, he could take home the checkered flag.

At the same time, this is a superspeedway race, and chaos will be plentiful. No one knows who is going to win until the checkered flag waves. I just hope it’s Newman.

Lucas : It’s gonna be a party, and these guys know a thing or two about having a good time and taking care of business. ¡Vamos a enloquecer con Daniel Suárez en Talladega por la victoria! (Daniel Suarez conquers Talladega this weekend!)

Raynor : Brad Keselowski is really good at this track and the Fords are great together here.

Lambeth : When coming to Talladega, picking a winner is just as hard as finding luck playing the lottery. I think the winner of this race will need to be aggressive and willing to make bold moves. A driver who is willing to put it all on the line, even if the move does not work out. Let’s add a ninth different winner to the equation with a Tyler Reddick victory!

Sisoler : Last year, this guy averaged a finish of 3.5 in the pair of Talladega and was involved in a pair of great finishes, and had his career wins at two of the trickiest tracks to win at: Daytona and Darlington. He’s in a new car this year, and while some see it as a demotion, this team’s owner is synonymous with winning, and anything can happen at Talladega. I’m taking my fellow Michigander, Erik Jones, to survive the chaos and bring The King, Richard Petty, back to victory lane at Talladega!

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

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

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  Stay safe, wear a mask, and wash your hands often. If you’re eligible in your state or country, help yourself, your family, and friends by getting the COVID-19 vaccine! Also, thanks for reading our content throughout this season.

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.

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Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 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 his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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