Talladega Superspeedway Update - Geico 500

By Jeff Cogliandro  (Point Spread Weekly) 

At Talladega Superspeedway, practice is evaluated in a different manner than at almost any other track.

The speeds during practice at Talladega are generally taken with a grain of salt when it comes to the race (2 p.m. ET Sunday).

During the practice sessions on Friday, the fastest speeds were set by cars teaming up and running in the draft. When the larger pack formations decided to team up, they drew the highest speeds of the day. Of note, the Chevy drivers got together and looked good for several laps.

Although practice speeds carry less relative weight at Talladega, it does not mean that it did not provide some quality insight for the weekend. We saw Jamie McMurray flip his car several times as he blew out a left-rear tire. This rare practice incident also collected Ryan Newman, Ty Dillon and Daniel Suarez. All of the drivers who were involved will be forced to go to backup cars and start the race from the rear of the field. While qualifying at Talladega is not crucial, having to progress from the back is a dangerous task. This is especially true in the event of an early caution, where many cars can get caught up in devastation.

As always, to win at Talladega the car must be almost entirely free of damage. Having a race car with even limited body damage can take a driver out of contention. In the most recent race at Talladega, 25 cars were involved in incidents that eliminated their chances to win. With this in mind, it can make handicapping Talladega a rather inexact practice. This unpredictability can create value for the handicapper. 

Typically, if betting on the restrictor-plate tracks, it is often sharp to wager on a few drivers who provide value at longer odds. We will look closer at the drivers below, but this week’s handicapping is a throwback to Daytona, with some lessons learned along the way. We normally avoid betting a driver to win any given race, but Daytona and Talladega are a different mindset. While our betting is conservative, it takes on more of a 50/50 bankroll split with betting matchups this weekend. At almost every other track on the circuit, the split is closer to 80/20 in favor of betting matchups.

Brad Keselowski (4-1): Keselowski has all the numbers on his side, including four wins and leading 23% of the laps in the last four races at Talladega. He also has a manufacture advantage, as Ford has won five straight races at Talladega. However, the number that is not in Keselowski’s favor are his low odds. Too much can happen to derail a driver’s chance to win at Talladega to consider 4-1 odds. 

Denny Hamlin (8-1): Hamlin has an average finish of 12th place at Talladega over the past two years. If we consider Ford’s dominance, then that would put Hamlin at a further disadvantage. While Hamlin is strong at virtually every track, he does not separate himself from several other drivers who are a better value at higher odds. 

Joey Logano (10-1): This is where value begins to emerge. Logano has been quietly having a strong year. The former Talladega winner leads all drivers with six top-10 finishes in the last nine restrictor-plate races. Penske Racing has been outstanding at Talladega, and it would not be a surprise to see Logano in Victory Lane.

Kevin Harvick (10-1): Stewart-Haas Racing has been the best performing team this season. Harvick has been the face of the team by winning three races in a row, earlier in the year. However, Harvick has not recently had the same level of success at Talladega. He has only one top-10 finish in the last four races, with an average finish of 16.25. Harvick’s odds are listed at named brand prices this week, and for that reason we will pass.

Chase Elliott (12-1): Looking to get his first win, Chase Elliott appears to be a dark horse this weekend. Chevy’s only win of the year came at Daytona, and the Chevy drivers are making an effort to work together at Talladega. If Elliott can stay clean, he will likely acquire the type of drafting help needed to get the win. His recent performances at Talladega have not been great, but if the odds were to float higher, then Elliott could be an option.

Kyle Busch (12-1): Going for his fourth win in a row, Busch is out of his element this weekend. He remarked that he had as much chance to win the Powerball Lottery as he does of winning at Talladega. While hje may not be in the odds-making business anytime soon, he will be in a fast race car this weekend. Toyotas have a history of working well together at Talladega. Overall, Busch is a good performer at Talladega but not worthy of “Harvick-type” pricing.

Ryan Blaney (12-1): Another of the 12-1 group, Blaney has a couple of positive outliers. He had the most dominate car at Daytona this year, and as mentioned, Penske is outstanding at Talladega. If his car is unscathed, he will be in the mix for the win. There is a marginal value on Blaney, but if playing several drivers to win, he should make the cut at 12-1. 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (12-1): The winner of the fall race at Talladega, Stenhouse has been strong at both restrictor-plate tracks. Stenhouse has become a specialist at Bristol, and at the restrictor-plate tracks. Looking just at the numbers, he is undervalued when compared to the drivers grouped around him. Stenhouse is crafty at manipulating his way to the front, as the race tightens up. Stenhouse makes the cut this weekend.

Kurt Busch (15-1): Happy with his car during the practice sessions, the elder of the Busch Bros. looks to be stout. Another of the Stewart-Haas cars, which unload so well, he could be primed to win. He is well-placed at 15-1, but might get left off the ticket due to mid-price congestion.

Aric Almirola (25-1): In place of taking Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola appears to be the better value. Almirola has two top-5 finishes in the last four races at Talladega, and with Stewart-Haas power, he is an outside contender to win. Almirola is underpriced, considering his overall profile for Talladega. UPDATE: Almirola had an mechanical issue in qualifying and will start from the back. 

Darrell Wallace Jr. (40-1): Even during times of struggle, Richard Petty Racing has had a good restrictor-plate program. Darrell Wallace, coming off a second-place finish at Daytona, is emerging as possibly the most-talented driver of the #43 car in many years. Additionally, Wallace will not have a problem finding drivers who are willing to work with him. The great run at Daytona was powered by staying clean, and quickly adapting to restrictor-plate racing at the Cup level. As always, shop around for the best price.

William Byron (60-1): This rookie is ready to turn his season around. He has been in just enough NASCAR Cup starts that it is time to begin his progression. Byron is in a prime situation with the support of strong cars, and a top team. As Chevy gets stronger, I expect to see Byron as one of the manufacture measuring sticks. Most Chevy situations are not as well-funded as Hendrick Motorsports, and Byron has the appearance of driver who is becoming more comfortable. On the surface, Byron is worth the longshot price this weekend. 

Below is an example of betting the race winner, while fading the favorite in exchange for more coverage by likely contenders. The lineup of selected drivers should meet or exceed the value of the race favorite. Before wagering, it is important to consider if the selected drivers have better chance to win, in comparison to the favorite. At Talladega, having at least a few plausible contenders is usually a strong approach. 

Pick two drivers from the group below.

Joey Logano (10-1): $40

Kevin Harvick (10-1):

Kyle Busch (12-1): 

Chase Elliott (12-1):

Ricky Stenhouse (12-1):

Ryan Blaney (12-1): $36

Kurt Busch (15-1):

Then one mid-longshot driver

Clint Bowyer (20-1):

Kyle Larson (20-1):

Aric Almirola (25-1): $17

One longshot

Darrell Wallace (40-1): 

Ryan Newman (50-1):

William Byron (60-1): $7

Below we are down to two matchups that have been identified as plays. Due to the radical nature of racing at Talladega, this is a week where a handicapper should be conservative in bankroll. However, it is worth noting that drivers who are matchup underdogs can be sharp plays due to the likelihood of incidents that can affect many. 

Often a driver is an underdog based on their starting position, in relation to their matchup driver. As we have covered, a driver’s starting position can be overvalued when setting odds. At Talladega, starting position usually means less than at many other tracks. Of note, in driver matchup wagering for the Daytona 500, drivers who qualified higher (better) had a losing record of 11-14, against their deeper starting counterparts.


Kyle Busch (-120):

Ricky Stenhouse (even): Based on the numbers, the wrong driver is favored here. As great as Kyle Busch has been this year, Stenhouse has had more recent success at Talladega. In addition to the track speciality factor, Stenhouse has the manufacture edge as well. 


Alex Bowman (-110):

Aric Almirola (-110): Almirola has only 1 DNF, and an average finish of 10th place in the last 8 restrictor plate races. Bowman on the other hand, has very little experience by comparison. If both drivers can run clean, the numbers support Almirola. NOTE: Still taking Almirola over Bowman despite the issues during qualifying.

Top #25 Power Ranking Talladega Superspeedway - Geico 500

  1. Brad Keselowski
  2. Joey Logano
  3. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  4. Denny Hamlin
  5. Ryan Blaney
  6. Chase Elliott
  7. Kevin Harvick
  8. Kurt Busch
  9. Aric Almirola
  10. Jamie McMurray
  11. Ryan Newman
  12. Kyle Busch
  13. Austin Dillon
  14. Jimmie Johnson
  15. Kyle Larson
  16. Clint Bowyer
  17. Martin Truex Jr.
  18. William Byron
  19. Darrell Wallace Jr.
  20. Alex Bowman
  21. Trevor Bayne
  22. AJ Allmendinger
  23. Paul Menard
  24. David Ragan
  25. Ty Dillon
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