CONCORD, N.C. – Hang on tight. We’re headed back to Talladega Superspeedway this weekend for the final drafting-style race of the season.
Holding down the middle race of the Round of 12 will be the 2.66-mile superspeedway. With close-quarters racing and serious playoff implications on the line, this year’s second trip to the south's fastest drafting track will once again be must-watch television.
"When you get to this race on the calendar each year and the playoff implications that are there, it is always the one that everyone is trying to get through," Chase Elliott said in a media availability earlier this week of the approach to Talladega, in which the No. 9 team will continue its quest for the owner championship. "It is such a wild card with what can happen. You can gain a lot of points or you can lose a lot of points really fast. If you are really lucky, you can get a win and get yourself through."
Hendrick Motorsports' winning record at Talladega began in 1988 when Ken Schrader captured the checkered flag followed closely by teammate Geoff Bodine. The 1-2 finish was the first time in track history a team had swept the top-two positions. Since then, Hendrick Motorsports has won 13 more races at the Alabama track with vice chairman Jeff Gordon leading the way with six victories. Elliott and Jimmie Johnson each have won twice for the group while Dale Earnhardt Jr., Terry Labonte and Brian Vickers sit tied with Schrader's one victory at Talladega.
There is one driver that enters Alabama without any worry about his playoff future. Thanks to a victory at Texas Motor Speedway, William Byron has already punched his ticket into the Round of 8. While the 25-year-old driver has yet to find victory at Talladega in his career, he has won three races on drafting tracks with one at Daytona International Speedway and two at Atlanta Motor Speedway. His best finish at the 2.66-mile track is a runner-up finish in the spring 2021 race. Since 2022, he has led the most laps (214) at drafting tracks
While Kyle Larson does not have the same luxury as Byron, his knack for running at the front of the pack in drafting races this season and in recent Talladega races should not be overlooked. In his three starts at the track since 2022, the Elk Grove, California, native has paced the field for 40 laps. He had only led 13 laps in the 14 prior starts at the Alabama venue. The No. 5 HendrickCars.com entry was in contention during the tour’s first trip to Talladega before a late-race incident took him out of contention. Larson's best result at Talladega came in the spring 2022 race when he finished fourth. He holds a two-point edge on the cutline entering this weekend.
Elliott enters Talladega as the most successful driver from the Hendrick Motorsports stable at the track. The driver of the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevy has earned two victories here (spring 2019 and fall 2022) and holds the fourth-best average finish (14.07) of any driver in Cup Series history that has made at least six starts. Over the last 16 races on drafting tracks, he has two wins (at Talladega and Atlanta in 2022), is tied for the most top-10 finishes (10) and stage wins (five), while notching the most top-fives (six) and average finish (11.25). The No. 9 team is two points below the elimination line in the owner championship.
Although Alex Bowman and the No. 48 Ally Racing team have yet to find victory lane at Talladega, the 31-year-old driver has seen good runs at the track. In 2019, Bowman notched a runner-up finish, which is his best result at any superspeedway. In this year's spring race, the Tucson, Arizona, native earned a second-place finish in stage two and led eight laps before earning a 13th-place result after an incident-filled last lap jumbled up the finishing order. In addition, he earned two top-six finishes in both of this year's races at Daytona International Speedway.
Here's what you need to know to catch this weekend’s action.
RELATED: Victory lap: Looking back at notable wins at Hendrick Motorsports
WHAT TIME IS PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING?
There will not be practice ahead of this weekend’s Cup Series main event. Qualifying will take place at 4:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Sept. 30 with coverage on USA Network.
Single-car qualifying will consist of two rounds with the top 10 from the first round transferring to the final round to battle for the pole.
All four drivers will take their lap in the second half of the first round: Bowman (23rd), Larson (28th), Elliott (31st) and Byron (38th).
WHAT TIME IS THE RACE?
The 500-mile Cup Series race is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 1 at 2 p.m. ET with coverage on NBC. A post-race show will take place on Peacock.
CAN I LISTEN ON THE RADIO?
Both races will be broadcast on the MRN Radio Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (channel 90).
CAN I STREAM ONLINE?
FIVE FAST FACTS HEADING INTO TALLADEGA
Stats courtesy of Racing Insights
1: This season, Hendrick Motorsports is the only team with at least an eight-race top-five streak. The organization's current streak started at Michigan International Speedway in August.
2: Byron’s two wins at drafting tracks in the Next Gen car put him in a tie with Elliott for the most victories on this track type since the start of the 2022 season.
8: In eight of the last 10 races Bowman has run at Talladega, he has earned stage points in at least one of the segments.
9.82: Despite not being a part of the driver championship, Elliott’s average running position ranks fifth over the past four races.
11.38: Larson’s average running position in 2023. This mark ranks third of any driver in the Cup Series.