CONCORD, N.C. – Racing at Talladega Superspeedway can be likened to a high-speed game of chess, one wrong move or lane choice and your playoff advancement hopes can be in trouble. Find the right drafting partner and it can take you all the way to victory lane.
Sunday's race at the 2.66-mile Alabama track is sure to shake up the playoff picture with several drivers bunched around the cutoff line.
Entering the middle race of the Round of 12, Kyle Larson (+23) and Chase Elliott (+11) each sit above the cutoff line.
"We’ve been in similar situations in the past, so we know what we need to do these next two weeks to put ourselves in a good position to advance," Elliott said. "I know we’re fully capable of getting the job done. We’ve proven it time and time again."
Following a 25-point penalty that is under appeal, William Byron sits below the elimination line (-8) in 10th. Bowman (-26) is last in the standings among the 12 playoff drivers and will miss Sunday's race after experiencing concussion-like symptoms following an accident in the Sept. 25 race at Texas Motor Speedway. Noah Gragson will fill in on the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 at Talladega.
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Stage points will be a big priority over the course of race. The Hendrick Motorsports quartet totaled 57 stage points in the spring race. On the season, Elliott (first), Larson (fourth) and Byron (fifth) are in the top five of that statistical category.
"With how close the points are right now, I think stage points are going to be even more crucial Sunday than they normally are in this race," Byron said. "With everyone trying to get every point they can, you don’t want to put yourself at risk of not finishing the race just trying to get a stage point. It’s a fine balance for sure."
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The organization will be looking to replicate some of its statistical success from the spring race at Talladega. The four-car team led 37% of the laps (70 of 188) run, spent 44% of their laps in the top five and 72% of their laps running in the top 10. Byron led a race-high 38 laps and won a stage. Larson (4.77), Byron (4.87) and Elliott (7.84) had three of the four best average running positions in the event. On top of that, Larson (fourth), Elliott (seventh) and Bowman (ninth) all finished in the top 10 – marking the fourth time in team history that Hendrick Motorsports had at least three drivers finish in the top 10 at Talladega.
Elliott’s spring win in 2019 is the most recent of the team’s 13 wins. The driver of the No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet has four top-10 finishes in his last seven Talladega starts and he also has a series-best six top-10s in his last nine superspeedway races. Byron has a runner-up finish at this track in the spring race of 2021. The driver of the No. 24 has two top-four finishes in his last four starts here. Larson’s fourth-place finish and 32 laps led in the spring served as career-bests at this particular track. Gragson won the spring NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Talladega.
This season, the superspeedway rules package has been utilized at Talladega, Daytona International Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway. Hendrick Motorsports won both races at Atlanta with Byron taking the checkered flag in March, while Dawsonville, Georgia, native Elliott won at his home track in July. Both Byron and Elliott are 1-2 in laps led at the five "drafting races" this season.
Tune in to watch the action from Talladega on Sunday, Oct. 2, at 2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).