How much is Talladega going to shake up the playoff picture?
That’s the question that looms large over Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET, NBC). There’s going to be a large crash or three. It’s just a matter of how many playoff drivers are involved and how many points they’ve accrued before the crash happens.
Sometimes Talladega doesn’t do all that much to impact the playoff picture on the whole. In 2017, Jamie McMurray finished 37th and lost just 13 points to the points lead. But the year before that, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. were eliminated from the playoffs at Talladega after they finished 38th and 40th respectively. Keselowski and Truex started on the front row but each had engine issues and ended up out of the playoffs.
Denny Hamlin’s Talladega finish doesn’t matter. He won last week at Las Vegas and is already in the third round of the playoffs. Kyle Larson can afford a bad finish too. Larson is 57 points ahead of ninth in the points standings — that’s nearly a full race. It’s all but a certainty that Larson will be in the top eight after Talladega, no matter what happens on Sunday.
Anyone from seventh on back in the points standings is especially vulnerable. Joey Logano is seventh and 51 points behind Larson. Behind Logano are Keselowski, William Byron, Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman and Christopher Bell. A bad finish on Sunday likely ruins their hopes of a title run.
Talladega’s risk and reward is why you’re likely to see varying strategies on Sunday. Some teams may run at the back for most of the day and hope the crash happens in front of them. Some may run up front all day and hope the wreck happens behind them. But the wreck can happen anywhere and at any time — remember the early crash at the 2021 Daytona 500?
Reducing Talladega to a race of chance is overly simplistic. But it’s not too simplistic to use that term to describe betting on a Talladega race. The odds are much tighter throughout the field than they are at any other non-Daytona track. Lots of drivers are capable of winning. There aren’t any overwhelming favorites.
What does that mean for you? Place small bets on numerous drivers. Pick a couple of favorites and a few relative long shots. Sit back and enjoy the race and hope that one of your 40-1 tickets cashes.
Denny Hamlin (+800)
Joey Logano (+900)
Chase Elliott (+1000)
Ryan Blaney (+1000)
Brad Keselowski (+1200)
William Byron (+1200)
Hamlin has 13 top 10s in 31 races and has won twice at Talladega. He can afford to modify his race strategy more than anyone else in the field as the race goes on. Logano has won three times in 25 starts and landed on his roof during the spring race at Talladega. Elliott has one win in 11 starts with five top-10 finishes while Blaney won the fall 2019 race and the 2020 spring race.
Keselowski leads all active drivers with six wins at Talladega — he may be the best bet among the favorites — while Byron has two top-fives in seven starts.
Good mid-tier value
Alex Bowman (+1800)
Kurt Busch (+2000)
Bowman was second in the 2019 spring race to Elliott and has finished in the top 10 once since then. He should have a fast car. Busch has never won at Talladega but has 21 top-10s in 41 starts. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is the only driver with 15 or more starts who has finished in the top 10 more than 50% of the time.
Don't bet this driver
Martin Truex Jr. (+2000)
Since Truex was seventh in the 2015 fall race his Talladega finishes have gone 13th, 40th, 35th, 23rd, 26th, 23rd, 20th, 26th, 23rd, 23rd and 31st. No more explanation necessary, eh?
Looking for a long shot?
Ross Chastain (+4000)
Chastain should have a decently fast car and he’s finished in the top 20 in each of his last two Talladega starts.