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Podium Preview: GEICO 500 at Talladega

Christopher Bell hopes to say "Yahoo!" at Talladega. (Photo: James Gilbert | Getty Images)

Christopher Bell hopes to say “Yahoo!” at Talladega. (Photo: James Gilbert | Getty Images)

With a quarter of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season in the books, Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega kicks off the second quarter, the pivotal stretch of races before the long, hot summer.

After an entertaining, wild Food City Dirt Race at Bristol, the buzz and twitter of Cup racing amps up furthermore at the 2.66-mile superspeedway. It’s high speed chess with the pain and glory of hockey on asphalt.

Like social media, there’s plusses and negatives in terms of experiences with racing at Talladega. The thrills of winning at this 63-year-old venue are unparalleled due to its margin for no error approach. On the flip side, that aspect of the track means one person’s mistake leads to a colossal wreck that seems to be a starship battle from Star Trek: Discovery.

With eight different winners after the first nine races, there’s no telling who’ll win the next Cup race. Presently, Austin Cindric, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Chase Briscoe, Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, all with one win, may breathe easier with an additional victory in their reserve. Then again, the one racer enjoying life lately is William Byron with two wins.

This weekend, Ashley HobbsCody ShoppeJasmine SharpeKobe Lambeth, Luis TorresMatt SisolerMichelle RaynorNathan SolomonTaylor Kitchen and yours truly contemplate about Brad Keselowski’s chances at Talladega and grading the field after the first quarter of 2022.

Podium Preview: GEICO 500 at Talladega
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Question 1
Will Brad Keselowski make some noise at Talladega? (Photo: Ryan Daley | The Podium Finish)

Will Brad Keselowski make some noise at Talladega? (Photo: Ryan Daley | The Podium Finish)

We saw how Brad Keselowski raced tenaciously and aggressively during the Daytona 500. Given how much of a deficit he and his No. 6 RFK Racing Ford team face heading into Sunday’s race at Talladega to make the Playoffs, will he race with a no holds barred approach?

Solomon : Absolutely. He has to. With as big of a points deficit that he has, his only chance is to really win Sunday’s race. After Talladega, just one true superspeedway race remains in the regular season, and it’s Daytona, which is the cut-off race.

Expect Keselowski to race with aggression while focusing on the win and not stage points. Right now, only wins matter to him. 

Tiongson : Brad Keselowski had a pretty decent Daytona Speedweeks when he won his Duel race before scoring a top 10 result in the Daytona 500. He was able to maximize the most out of his No. 6 Ford and it seemed rather seamless going from Team Penske to the driver and co-owner of RFK Racing.

Fast forward to this coming weekend at Talladega and Keselowski ranks 30th thanks mostly to a hefty penalty following the Atlanta race weekend. Realistically, he’s going to need a few wins to make the postseason field.

A win on Sunday would be a pivotal step for Keselowski and his No. 6 team in an already crowded house of race winners this year. Moreover, a victory at Talladega backs up the Michigander’s incredible record at superspeedways with his seven career wins as of press time.

Kitchen :  Brad Keselowski has the most wins at Talladega amongst the active drivers with 6 wins, tied for the second most of all time with Dale Earnhardt Jr.. That being said, Keselowski knows what it takes to win at this superspeedway. Virtually in a must-win situation to get himself into the playoffs, he has to drive with remorse this weekend to get the win.

Lambeth : At this rate, Brad Keselowski must race aggressively and take big risks when the opportunity presents itself if he wants to put RFK Racing into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. He doesn’t have anything to lose. Being in a bad position points wise, following a significant penalty, winning seems like the only option if he wants to play in the postseason.

Keselowski is a solid superspeedway racer and usually gets in the right position at the end of these races to make a move to potentially win. So don’t be surprised if the No. 6 Ford Mustang pulls into victory lane at Talladega!

Torres :  It won’t surprise me at the slightest. He can be six laps down and still drive aggressively that could impact the competition. Look no further than the 2014 spring race when such a thing happened. I don’t see Keselowski changing at Talladega, his strongest track. He’ll go all out for the win to get him out of the deep hole.

It’s a must-win situation at this point for Keselowski if he’s gonna have any chance of making the playoffs. While we still have Daytona in the summer, this is his greatest chance without being too desperate like he was in the Daytona 500 two months ago.

Question 2
Is it another smashing time for Ross Chastain? (Photo: Ryan Daley | The Podium Finish)

Is it another smashing time for Ross Chastain? (Photo: Ryan Daley | The Podium Finish)

The first quarter of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season is in the books. Who scores high grades and who needs improvement heading into the second quarter of 2022?

Sisoler : Without question Trackhouse Racing gets an extremely high mark for this year. The 1 and 99 have been consistently running at or near the front from the drop of the opening green flag, and Petty GMS is another candidate for high marks. Not so much yet for the 42 of Ty Dillon, but for the 43 of Erik Jones, as that team has taken big strides forward in being competitive on more than just superspeedways.

In terms of a team needing to improve soon, aside from Denny Hamlin’s team needing to find better overall pace, it’s another veteran, Kevin Harvick. His pace, to my eye, just has not been there, and he’s running out of chances to get a 2nd title, so he and that No. 4 need a turnaround, and quickly.

Shoppe : The obvious choice for high grades and most improved as well has to go to Trackhouse Racing. Throughout this first quarter we all expected them to fall off back to where we expected them to run. To our surprise, the Nos. 1 and 99 cars have maintained their strength well. 

The team with the most need for improvement has to be Denny Hamlin’s 11 team. Yes they have a win at Richmond but that is absolutely all they have to write home about. With all the mistakes and lack of speed, they will have to figure something out before the playoffs that they have locked into. 

Hobbs :  Plain and simple – it comes to the numbers for me. NASCAR is a sport of numbers for sure. Ok, at times a driver can hit a rough patch, but consistency is a huge part of the sport. 

That said, the numbers point to Team Hendrick as a whole being aces in the grade book with 2020 champion, Chase Elliott leading the way. Not only is Chase Elliott the best at HMS, he has the best average finish of all drivers. Teammate Alex Bowman has been on fire this season as well, as has Ryan Blaney for the Ford camp and Kyle Busch for Toyota.

Some who need to put a little more preparation into the season are Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski. With Keselowski at a new team, this is expected to be honest. But after a lackluster season last year, I would have hoped Harvick would have bounced back this year already. Outside of those two, defending champion Kyle Larson, while he does have a win, has a lot of room for improvement for the

Raynor : First quarter of the Next Gen car racing has had its ups and downs. I’d say the big winners are smaller teams, Trackhouse Racing and fans. I think NASCAR actually needs to improve their product for the rest of the season. They need to figure out short track races and dirt racing. Also I feel like Toyota and Hendrick have some more work to do with these new cars. 

Sharpe : There was a lot of apprehension and intrigue in the air at the start of this season. As the races have flown by, it is clear that the goal of these cars has been accomplished, which was to make the field more competitive. Teams that were struggling last year are now able to drive side-by-side with top tier teams like Penske and Hendrick. 

Individual drivers that come to mind include Ross Chastain, Tyler Reddick, Erik Jones and Chase Briscoe. Their stats have improved significantly since last year, with both Chastain and Briscoe snagging wins. It’s a great thing to see as each week is full of twists and turns that keep us, the viewers, on our heels.

It’s always a victory to log two, smooth laps around Talladega! Now, let’s remember why the TPF racecar had to get a washing by reviewing last Sunday evening’s Food City Dirt Race at Bristol.
Tyler Reddick nearly delivered a win for various panelists.

Tyler Reddick nearly delivered a win for various panelists.

Solomon has a decent points lead.

Solomon has a decent points lead.

Numbers are crunched again as Ashley Hobbs considers some statistics for Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega.
Consider how your favorite team fares during the GEICO 500 at Talladega.

Consider how your favorite team fares during the GEICO 500 at Talladega.

The GEICO 500 at Talladega winner has an average starting spot of 9.4, led an average of 32.7 laps, started within the top five 38.89% of the time and started within the top 10 61.11% of the time since 2004.

The GEICO 500 at Talladega winner has an average starting spot of 9.4, led an average of 32.7 laps, started within the top five 38.89% of the time and started within the top 10 61.11% of the time since 2004.

Chase is the name of a competitive Talladega race pick choice.

Chase is the name of a competitive Talladega race pick choice.

Let's look at the trends in the past 10 GEICO 500 races since 2012.

Let’s look at the trends in the past 10 GEICO 500 races since 2012.

Now, let's consider how the trends change for the past five GEICO 500 races since 2017.

Now, let’s consider how the trends change for the past five GEICO 500 races since 2017.

Where's the AC?

Where’s the AC?

Here’s the top 10 starters for Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega.
Row 1
Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Row 2
Daniel Hemric and Daniel Suárez (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Daniel Hemric and Daniel Suárez (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Row 3
Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Row 4
Denny Hamlin and William Byron (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Denny Hamlin and William Byron (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Row 5
Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick (Photo: Luis Torres and Jonathan Huff | The Podium Finish)

Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick (Photo: Luis Torres and Jonathan Huff | The Podium Finish)

Lastly, here’s our picks for Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega!
Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles? (Photo: Jared C. Tilton | The Podium Finish)

Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles? (Photo: Jared C. Tilton | The Podium Finish)

Tiongson : This Team Pensketeer is ready to win on Sunday afternoon. Ryan Blaney‘s always tough at these superspeedway races and crew chief Jonathan Hassler knows how to set up a great Ford Mustang at these tracks. Look for YRB to party at Talladega for the third time in his Cup career.

Hobbs : Blaney has been fairly consistent in the GEICO 500. Mix that with a solid performance in the Daytona 500 and a string of top-10 finishes lately, this could be Blaney’s turn to send Team Penske into victory lane at Talladega.

Sharpe : The Team Penske driver has had a pretty solid season overall for 2022. He’s known for being decent at superspeedways and this would be the perfect chance to shine.

Lambeth : He’s a past winner at Talladega and came close to winning the Daytona 500 again a few months ago so I feel like Ryan Blaney is due for a win!

Sisoler : He may have a long way to go, starting 22nd, but we all know it’s where you finish, not start, that matters. Ryan Blaney has proven to be adept at getting to the point at Talladega, so I think he’ll be as good a pick as any to win Sunday’s race.

Kitchen : I hate to go with a “safe” pick for the GEICO 500. However, when trying to predict the unpredictable with these superspedway races, it’s best to stick to what you know. Brad Keselowski knows how to win at Talladega with six wins to his name. Let’s see if he can make it win number seven this weekend.

Raynor : Fords and Brad are strong here.

Solomon : Keselowski has six wins at Talladega and is always a contender at superspeedway races. After the penalty NASCAR placed on his team, it would only be fitting for Keselowski to win and lock himself into the playoffs.

TPF Stats : There really is no method to the madness here of picking Austin Cindric – it’s just what the math says.

Shoppe : This former Daytona winner may be a surprise pick. But Justin Haley has been a quiet threat in all his Xfinity series races on superspeedways. I expect nothing less from Haley and his Kaulig team. If they can avoid the wrecks, Justin Haley can show he is as good as anyone at talladega

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into the 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!

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.

Also, if you are shopping for NASCAR or racing die-casts, be sure to check out our friends at Circle B Diecast! If your order is $30 or more, use coupon code TPF2022 for free shipping! Tell them we sent you and buy some new die-casts now!

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 Journalism at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's an everywhere kind of man residing in Texas.

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