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Podium Preview: GEICO 500 at Talladega

Alex Bowman hopes to make an ally or friend out of Talladega with Sunday's GEICO 500. (Photo: Riley Thompson | The Podium Finish)

Alex Bowman hopes to make an ally or friend out of Talladega with Sunday’s GEICO 500. (Photo: Riley Thompson | The Podium Finish)

LINCOLN, Ala. – Since 1969, Talladega Superspeedway has tested the very best in NASCAR Cup Series competition. For the 108th time, this 2.66-mile superspeedway prepares for another stock car showdown with Sunday’s GEICO 500 (3 p.m. ET on FOX and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

The 54th edition of this springtime duel at “The World’s Fastest Superspeedway” promises to deliver with frantic action, heartstopping moments, and plentiful excitement with the latter depending on the competitor’s placement and lap count. Regardless, it is seldom that a race at Talladega is pedestrian, especially with Playoff points and positions up for the taking.

When the field of 38 kick off this 188-lap race, it may be about manufacturer and team alliances in the first two stages of this race. Certainly, as evident with this year’s Daytona 500, sticking with teammates often meant the difference between being among the lead pack to trailing it by a considerable margin.

Of course, the talk and thought of “The Big One,” the impending threat of a multi-car accident, looms on the minds of competitors and teams. Sometimes, a driver may take an “opposite” approach and accept that they will be involved in the crash, accepting the ignominy of the crash when it is a good result that is truly on their mind.

Last year, Ross Chastain and Chase Elliott outwitted the field to win the spring and fall races at this venue. Namely, Chastain did all the right moves in the right places to best Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. to the line.

This year, these same players appear to be solid contenders along with the likes of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Cindric, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano. However, if Talladega is up to its usual trickery, a sentimental moment may occur with Todd Gilliland or Zane Smith winning for Front Row Motorsports.

Once the flag waves the green flag to kick off this new season, it is anyone’s guess as to who will prevail in this year’s GEICO 500 at Talladega. For the time being, come along for the ride this and each race weekend with Podium Preview.

This weekend, Jasmine SharpeKobe LambethLuis TorresMatt Sisoler, Stephen Conley, Teresa Bennink and yours truly ruminate about the stark differences of superspeedway racing and our race winning picks!

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Question 1
It can be a madhouse at Talladega, no matter the time of the year. (Photo: Riley Thompson | The Podium Finish)

It can be a madhouse at Talladega, no matter the time of the year. (Photo: Riley Thompson | The Podium Finish)

While Talladega is perceived as a bit of a crapshoot race, how important is this race in relation to the regular season cutoff at Daytona in August and the Playoff race here in October?

Lambeth : Well, this race could certainly present a great opportunity for teams and drivers unlikely to be competing for a playoff berth on points to sneak their way into the postseason by winning at Talladega. If a driver wins this weekend, they won’t have to worry about going into the regular season cutoff race at Daytona in a must-win situation. In relation to the second Talladega Cup race in the fall, I don’t think this particular race is too important since each race on this superspeedway is quite different. 

Sisoler : There’s a potential for people who are locked in already to see how a possible car that they’re planning to bring back for the playoff round at Talladega to see how this car will run (seasons aside), as long as they don’t get wrecked in a potential Big One.

It’s also a big chance for an unexpected winner to lock themselves into the playoffs with a win or to gain valuable points towards making the postseason by surviving the carnage around them and being there when the checkered falls.

Torres : Daytona and Talladega have some correlations on the importance of how a driver will fare in those races. In the past, we’ve seen how strong the likes of both Dale and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Sterling Marlin and Jeff Gordon have been. 

Even if both venues have specific contrasts, we’ve seen regularly several drivers we can expect to fight for the win. In this day and age, look no further than Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin. You can never count those guys out to fight for the win.

As we saw a year ago with Dillon at Daytona, success at those venues really reflects how strong they are. Just as long as they avoid the growing angst known as the “Big One.” Should they not fall into a wreck, racers who’ve been strong in the past will be tough to beat.

Backmarker teams rarely win, no matter how both venues are viewed as equalizers. In large part either they get involved in a wreck or the dominant ones stay out of trouble. You just never know which type of race we’re going to get.

Sharpe :  Superspeedways are just as important as every other track on the schedule. Securing a win at Talladega before the playoffs helps lock in a good strategy for those races. Yes, the weather might be different, but it really does take a great deal of weight off of the team. Those playoff points are crucial in the later portions of the year.

Tiongson : While the weather and track conditions differ between Talladega in late April versus Daytona in late August, there may be something that can be learned for those finding themselves within a whisker of making the Playoffs field. For starters, we saw how Austin Dillon turned to his superspeedway prowess in last year’s better late than never edition of last August’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona with his clutch victory.

Both tracks have aged asphalt surfaces and that places an importance on handling. On Saturday afternoon, we may have seen Hendrick Motorsports sacrifice their top speed for handling and maneuverability in the draft after dominating qualifying sessions since 2015.

Of course, the weather and temperatures in Lincoln, Alabama are going to differ some from that with Daytona Beach, Florida. All that said, I look forward to seeing which drivers and teams excel on Sunday afternoon at Talladega and if these contenders carry that swagger over into the regular season finale at “The World Center of Racing.”

Conley : Spring to fall for Talladega’s races are like night and day. I think we could go caution free in the spring, save for the stage break yellows, and all of the Playoff drivers wreck out in the fall, or vice versa. But, I really believe the fall is more calm due to the Playoff concerns. As far as what you can take away from this race for the spring is basically, it is just a reminder for where the drivers need to show up and their reminder to pray on Saturday night.

Bennink :  Winning this race for a small team means much more than losing this race does for a team that typically makes it into the playoffs. As we saw in the Xfinity race, this is a race many of the small teams look forward to.

The small teams have the opportunity to make the playoffs with a win at Talladega and be able to breathe a little easier the remainder of the regular season. Whereas a team that typically makes it into the playoffs may not be too concerned if they happen to fall out within the first 10 laps of the race.

So, for the small teams, this race means everything, and for the bigger teams, it’s a race they are happy to make it out of unscathed.  I believe the roles are reversed in the fall race.  The small teams hope to make it through the race and the bigger teams are likely fighting for every point possible.

The Podium Preview team stuck together for one memorable lap ahead of Sunday’s race. Before we consider the win at Talladega, let’s rewind to Round 9 of 36 of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season with our race and points reports!
Bennink picked a solid podium finisher.

Bennink picked a solid podium finisher.

On the other hand, Lambeth continues to dominate the standings.

On the other hand, Lambeth continues to dominate the standings.

Next, here’s the top 10 starters for Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega!
Row 1 – Denny Hamlin and Aric Almirola
(Photo: Riley Thompson | The Podium Finish)

(Photo: Riley Thompson | The Podium Finish)

Row 2 – Ty Gibbs and Chase Briscoe
(Photo: Riley Thompson | The Podium Finish)

(Photo: Riley Thompson | The Podium Finish)

Row 3 – Ryan Blaney and Christopher Bell
(Photo: Riley Thompson | The Podium Finish)

(Photo: Riley Thompson | The Podium Finish)

Row 4 – Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano
(Photo: Riley Thompson | The Podium Finish)

(Photo: Riley Thompson | The Podium Finish)

Row 5 – Kyle Larson and Chris Buescher
(Photo: Riley Thompson | The Podium Finish)

(Photo: Riley Thompson | The Podium Finish)

Here are our potential race winning picks for Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega!
There is a distinct possibility that one of these drivers will win Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega. (Photo: Riley Thompson | The Podium Finish)

There is a distinct possibility that one of these drivers will win Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega. (Photo: Riley Thompson | The Podium Finish)

Bennink : This race is impossible to know who will make it through the inevitable wrecks. I have chosen Brad Keselowski as he has the most wins at the track among current drivers.

Lambeth : With RFK Racing and Ford Performance bringing fast Mustangs back for another superspeedway race, look for Chris Buescher to put the No. 17 in the winner’s circle!

Torres : As always, races like this Sunday is a tough decision. You just never know what to expect in Alabama. In a heartbeat, the dreadful big wreck will crush many aspirations towards victory. That said, Joey Logano is likely the one driver who’ll escape the madness and showcase the Ford camp are always there to be fast and in the fight for the win. Penske will bounce back in a big way and winning is always a good outlook.

Tiongson : Joey Logano would love to join the Hendrick duo of William Byron and Kyle Larson as two-time Cup race winners in 2023. Look for Logano to use his veteran experience and superspeedway savvy to go from eighth to first for his second victory of the year.

Conley : I will pick the defending race winner, Ross Chastain, for the victory.

Sisoler : Call me crazy if you want, but Ryan Blaney has been known to have a knack for stealing a win or two at NASCAR’s biggest oval. If the Ohio native can keep his car out of trouble, look for Car 12 to be contending for the win come the end of the race.

Sharpe : 23XI is great with their superspeedway package. Tyler Reddick has proven to be great at such tracks. Working with the other Toyotas will be crucial for him to reach the top.

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 as we celebrate our 15th anniversary of operations!

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 is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson 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 is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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