Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Amid Safety Concerns, a Tame Talladega Race was Refreshing

What happened?

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Chase Elliott took the high line to get around Ryan Blaney on the last lap to win his fifth NASCAR Cup Series race of the season Sunday (Oct. 2) at Talladega Superspeedway. Michael McDowell, Ross Chastain and Denny Hamlin fanned out behind the duo to round out the top-five finishers.

Elliott is the first driver of the 2022 playoff grid to earn a win during the postseason, now locking himself into the Round of 8.

How did it happen?

Unlike the usual Talladega standards of crazy, this final stage was mostly tame.

Blaney found himself fighting near the front of the pack for a majority of the final section of the 500-mile event and his No. 12 appeared to be the car to beat.

It was shaping up to be a fun fight to the finish with Blaney being the heavyweight everyone was to contend with.

That was until Daniel Hemric found himself stalled on pit road with eight laps to go.

The caution halted everyone’s momentum and now left the field with less time as there were only two laps of racing left rather than seven.

Blaney restarted on the inside lane with Erik Jones, who had also shown speed much of the race (23 laps led), heading up the top lane.

Unfortunately for the Petty GMS racer, the outside line would not hold up once the green flag waved. It left the bottom lane single file as Blaney and McDowell broke away from the pack. However, once the third inside car of Elliott cleared the No. 43, the Georgian opted to break high and lead the top lane himself.

It was a risk that paid off, as Elliott’s line immediately gained momentum and allowed the No. 9 to challenge Blaney out in front.

On the last lap, it appeared as though Elliott would lose too much ground, but one last push from Jones in turn 3 would launch the Hendrick Motorsports driver ahead of Blaney’s Team Penske Ford and into the lead.

For the final 100 feet, nobody could challenge the sport’s Most Popular Driver and keep Elliott from his fifth win of the year.

Who stood out?

Blaney may have come up short once again, keeping him from his first win of 2022, but if it weren’t for that last caution, it would be hard to convince anyone he wouldn’t have hung on for that elusive victory.

The No. 12 led the field for a total of 31 circuits on Sunday, which was third most of all drivers during the afternoon.

He also had a solid points day. On top of a second-place finish, Blaney earned another playoff-coveted win in stage one and earned those much-needed 10 bonus points. The consistent run puts the No. 12 team in a great position to launch into the Round of 12’s last race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. It’s a race which, by the way, he’s won before, capturing the inaugural edition in 2018.

If Blaney doesn’t win, he’s still in the second-best position to advance, as he sits second in the standings with a comfy 32-point lead ahead of the cut line.

That’s probably not what Blaney was thinking, though, as he crossed the line to finish second again.

Blaney still remains the only driver in the playoffs to be winless in 2022. Yet with the number of points he earned on Sunday, there’s a good chance he’s going to keep fighting among the championship hopefuls into the Round of 8.

Who fell flat?

Talladega had an uncharacteristically low attrition rate on Sunday, meaning playoff drivers had to continuously navigate their way through a large field by superspeedway standards to score points.

With 11 championship-eligible drivers fighting, excluding the injured Alex Bowman, each playoff team was going to have to capitalize on each position and stage point.

Unfortunately, for Joey Logano, William Byron and Christopher Bell, there were quite a few points left on the table when it was all said and done.

Logano was swept up in the day’s only multi-car crash.

The damage put Logano in defense mode, as he could only hope for a huge incident to sweep up most of the field in front of him.

Surprisingly, however, no such wreck occurred. In fact, Logano played his hand too conservatively. The No. 22 Team Penske Ford rode in the rear and found himself stuck there by the end of the 500-mile event.

Among the likes of Martin Truex Jr. and the RFK Racing cars, Logano actually finished last on the lead lap in 27th, the lowest out of all 11 playoff drivers at the track.

His only saving grace would be a few stage points in stage one, where he finished fifth, padding a decent cushion over the cut line by 18 points.

But that was not a luxury Byron nor Bell would share.

Byron was unable to score any stage points during the event. There were complaints of engine issues under the No. 24’s hood that wouldn’t allow the Chevrolet to stay behind other cars for long, which is a massive crutch for a track like Talladega.

Byron would go on to rebound a little for a 12th-place finish, but actually lost ground in the playoff standings and still sits 11 points below the cut line.

For Bell, his problem was a little more visual and has put him in a more dire position in the playoff picture.

It started with a green-flag pit stop.

The spin-and-save took Bell off the Toyota draft. To make matters worse, he skidded across the pit entrance and was caught entering the lane too fast. As a result, the No. 20 went a lap down and was forced to play catch-up during the stage two finish.

Despite starting on the pole, he scored no stage points and finished 17th. After two bad races, Bell finds himself in the worst position out of the 11 playoff drivers racing on Sunday with a massive 33-point hole to climb out of at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL next weekend.

 

What did this race prove?

See? Talladega doesn’t have to end with a fireball crash for it to be entertaining.

With all of the controversy and tongue-in-cheek comments about the Next Gen car and its safety standards, many held their breath as the Cup field headed to one of the most dangerous races on the calendar.

However, instead of a huge attrition-filled race with millions of dollars in wrecked cars and broken feelings, the NASCAR world was instead treated to a rather tame Talladega race that was decided with, well, good racing.

In fact, it was pretty refreshing.

Superspeedway races are a bit of a controversial topic for NASCAR fans. To the eye of many, they’re a fun break from the usual type of racing where we see the typical competitive teams hold a monopoly on the lead.

On the other hand, its close-racing character usually makes each event saturated with big crashes, broken equipment and downright danger making the cost sometimes out-balance the result.

The word, “danger” has taken on some more weight in the Cup racing world in the last few weeks as well. With Kurt Busch and now Bowman away from their cars after suffering concussions from minor incidents, fans and drivers alike clamored to call for new designs to the Next Gen car for safety reasons.

So, combine the most dangerous track on the circuit with a dangerous car and what do you get?

Apparently, a kind of fun, competitive race that only saw mechanical failures, a multi-car crash, and one single-car tire failure claim the efforts of four teams.

One of those who failed to finish, Corey LaJoie, commented that he felt fine after his tire went down in the most serious hit of the day.

It was all a nice reminder Talladega doesn’t have to be a demolition derby to be a captivating event. All it really takes is close, fun racing and an exciting, nail-biting finish.

NASCAR couldn’t have gotten this boost at a better time.

Better than last time?

Competitively, it was the best event we’ve seen all year.

As described before, Talladega has always been a race where close-quarters racing makes the competition far more equal than other tracks. On Sunday, that was highlighted far more than it was in April.

There were 41 lead changes among 16 leaders in the spring. On Sunday, we saw 57 lead changes among 17 leaders, which is the most of all races in 2022. What was even better to see was it wasn’t the result of varying pit strategies, either. There almost always appeared to be two lanes competing for the top spot at any point, and if you walked out of your living room and came back three minutes later, the cars leading both lanes were almost always different.

You may not have noticed, but Sunday’s race was somewhat similar to that in April with the race going completely green back in the spring. To be fair, the comparison is still a little loose. There were only four cars out at the end of Sunday compared to 13 DNFs the race before.

In all, Sunday’s 500-miler put the “racing” back into superspeedway racing. Instead of survival being the name of the game, it was about speed and drafting. It was a driver’s race.

That’s how it should be.

Paint scheme of the race

It was a sunny day in central Alabama on Sunday, so it’s only appropriate that we highlight the Sun-themed sponsor’s paint scheme.

And I’m not talking about Sunny D.

Turquoise isn’t a color you see on a Cup car very often, but on Ty Dillon‘s Petty GMS Racing Chevrolet, it seems fitting.

Driving for a historic team such as the one owned by the King himself, Dillon’s Sunseeker Resort Chevrolet almost replicates his team co-owner’s Petty Blue No. 43. Additionally, the bright, blue-colored paint scheme stands out in a crowd.

And at a track like Talladega, the crowd moves fast.

What’s next?

The season’s last road course race could also be its wildest. After all, the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL has been chaotic each year.

The Cup Series will tackle the infield-based circuit for the Bank of America ROVAL 400 next weekend. Cup qualifying begins on Saturday, Oct. 8 at 12 p.m. ET with the race televised live on NBC on Sunday, Oct. 9 at 1 p.m. ET.

Follow @PitLaneLT

NASCAR RACE WEEKEND CENTRAL: TALLADEGA

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021 after a staff writing position with IMSA. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and graduated with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

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Christopher

Personally I enjoyed this race immensely. It was very old school and the drivers displayed just how good they can be. It takes real skill to run at those speeds, double file, close quarter lap upon lap. No stupid, blundering, crazy blocks causing mass destruction. The tension viewing it is enormous and the the tension driving like that most be incredible.

Bill B

Glad there wasn’t the usual mayhem and massive wrecks. Who would have thought Talladega would be the race with the least attrition during the playoffs. No tire issues, fewer pit mishaps than were are used to, no weird parts failures, no feuds, etc.. Hell must have frozen over.

1911_Bandit

I think the drivers’ concerns over the safety issues of the Next Gen car helped to keep this an exciting, safe race. I don’t miss the wild attempts of blocking this lane and then that lane. Two superstar drivers already on the sidelines due to concussion protocols is more than enough.

DoninAjax

Why does the lead car on the inside or outside slide 8 or 10 cars back for lap after lap and then miraculously get back to the front with the other car?

Why do the cars after 15 or 20 laps get into single file for lap after lap first in the high groove and then in the low line and then miraculously get side by side just before a TV time out caution or end of the event?

Jeremy

That was the worst demolition derby ever! lol

Was OK for a plate race. That’s about the best rating I can give any plate race since I despise them, and it did finish in a reasonable amount of time.

Outside the first 3 rows, I didn’t see much of interest going on – just staying in line and logging laps to get to the end. Some even dropping to the back when they got skeered. I’m guessing I didn’t see much because the tv coverage just didn’t show what was happening more than 4 rows back? There were a few times I saw someone pop inside the top 5 and I was thinking “how did he get there?”

I’m still not sure why the Burton wreck even happened, it wasn’t a late block. They had time to adjust and pick him up without wrecking him. Just a bad/awkward push I guess. But at least everyone was OK and it took out Baby Gibbs early – which likely prevented the Big One later in the race.

I hope Corey LaJoie is OK, that was a hard hit!

It was obvious from the drop of the green flag they were all driving in “self preservation” mode. They were almost being too nice. Distrust in the safety of the car was palpable, the fear of ending someone’s (or their own) season and possibly career was clearly on their minds. I don’t blame them at all, but when I, as a fan sitting on my couch at home, sense that from ALL of the drivers in the field during a race it doesn’t sit well with me. NASCAR needs to address the safety of the car first and foremost for ALL tracks, and figure out a package that allows these cars to safely race at the big tracks without a restrictor plate.

DoninAjax

The talk about the chassis being too rigid and causing injuries to the driver reminds me of the Modifieds in the late 70s and 80s. A lot of drivers were dying in crashes at an alarming rate and they came to the conclusion that the driver was taking too much of the impact and the chassis not enough. The chassis were redesigned to absorb more of the impact. It wasn’t just Richie but I think his death had the same effect on the Modifieds as Dale in Cup.

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