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Playoff Update: What Just Happened At Talladega?

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Well, the second race in the Wild Car (Round of 12) Round of the Playoffs is in the book. Going in, we knew that there were going to be a lot of ups and a lot of downs with a lot of juking for position in the playoff standings. Talladega never disappoints, so, who’s in, who’s out, and who needs to win heading into the Round of 12 finale at the Charlotte Roval? Let’s get into it.

Safe! Through To The Round of 8

Talladega Winner: Ryan Blaney (Adv.)

Ryan Blaney has become a premier superspeedway racer! Today, he captured his third overall win at Talladega after winning the first stage. He will leave the massive superspeedway with 6 additional playoff points for the next round as well as a total points day of 50. He will be able to breathe a sigh of relief heading into the Charlotte Roval and focus entirely on the race win and the Round of 8.

Here in the video below provided by NASCAR on FOX, you can relive the thrilling ending of this race which saw Blaney win by inches over Kevin Harvick.

William Byron (Adv.)

By way of winning last week at Texas, William Byron and his No. 24 Liberty University crew are safe through to the round of 8. With the pressure off this weekend at ‘Dega, Byron was able to focus entirely on the race win and he was in the mix from the beginning all the way up to the very end, battling with Kevin Harvick and eventual winner Ryan Blaney coming to the checkered. It would appear that Byron is the team with the most momentum heading into the round of 8. With him being able to breathe lightly again next week at the Roval, he can focus on performance and keep the momentum up heading into the Round of 8. Based on his showing in this year’s Playoffs, many should consider him a Championship 4 threat.

Second Stage Winner

Brad Keselowski (+2)

There were a lot of eyes on Brad Keselowski heading into Talladega. Not only is it the sight of his most recent Cup Series win (the win that tied him with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon for most wins at the track) but he’s been strong on those types of tracks this year and has seemed to been riding a wave of momentum heading into the Playoffs. While Keselowski was a factor for most of the day (despite not placing in the top 10 in Stage 1), it would be over-aggressiveness that once again bit the hand of the 2012 champion. With around 30 laps to go, the stage 2 winner would end up getting involved in a wreck after turning the No. 42 of Carson Hocevar. Others involved in the incident include the non-playoff drivers Ty Gibbs and Austin Dillon.

On the bright side, Keselowski was able to nab the stage 2 win, giving him a valuable playoff point as well as 10 points for winning the stage. The bad news is that the incident left Keselowski with a 33rd-place finish and only 2 above the cutline. He’ll need a clean race in the oval to advance to the Round of 8 and, though they’ve shown speed, I’m not sure the consistency is there for this team quite yet.

Here you can see a picture of Keselowski’s crippled No. 6 Ford with only 27 laps to go.

Just Needing A Smart Roval Run

Denny Hamlin (+50)

It has been a topsy-turvy day for Denny Hamlin. The No. 11 predictably fired off strong, being one of the very best superspeedway racers in the series today. But, during a cycle of green flag pitstops around the end of Stage 2, Hamlin was caught too fast entering. After serving a passthrough, Hamlin found himself in the hole of being 1-lap down.

He’d be 1 lap down for much of the final stage until the cautions fell just right. Once back on the lead lap, Hamlin was able to draft his way all the way back to a 4th place finish.

This has Hamlin leaving ‘Dega with a comfortable 50-point cushion. While not necessarily locked into the next round, he should be able to breathe a little easier heading into the Charlotte Roval. He just needs a good, clean race free of mistakes…including pit road speeding penalties.

I’d say, with him showing this perseverance, he’s still a clear favorite to contend for the title in the Championship 4.

Christopher Bell (+22)

Where to start with Christopher Bell? Well, we’ll start with the good. The good is that he’s currently sitting 22 points to the good over the cutline heading into the Roval. He’s also a strong road course racer, so there’s that. Otherwise, that number 20 team has been marred with inconsistencies in the latter half, and maybe even the latter two-thirds of the 2023 season. After a seeming breakout in 2022, it would appear that C. Bell has taken a step back and is not quite ready to be a consistent title threat. That said, at +22, he’s sitting in a pretty decent spot. He’s not safe by any means but, considering how low he could have fallen, he’s doing all right. He finished 16th at ‘Dega and was caught up in the wreck involving Riley Herbst coming to the line.

Here is what he had to say:

Chris Buescher (+19)

Chris Buescher entered the playoffs hot but that flame has seemingly fizzled out. The inconsistency which has been a hallmark of this team in recent years has started to creep back in. There were a lot of eyes on him and his teammate, Brad Keselowski but nothing really came to fruition. He led some laps today, which was good but ultimately finished the race in 20th. He’s going to need a very clean race at the Roval if he wants to sneak into the next round…and some of his rivals may have to have some problems.

Martin Truex Jr. (+17)

This has been a troubling Playoff stint for regular season champion, Martin Truex Jr. Once considered a Championship 4 favorite, the driver of the No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota had to rely on playoff points to carry him through the first Round of 16 after a series of subpar finishes. The downward spiral continued for Truex in ‘Dega and in the Round of 12 in general with the No. 19 crew consistently unloading slow and playing catchup. That is not what makes a championship-caliber team. He finished 19th today, marking his fourth of five races that finished worse than 17th in this year’s playoffs. He’s still looking all right, he just needs to keep his nose clean at the Roval and make it to the end…which is easier said than done.

Kyle Larson (+15)

All-in-all, this should be considered a win for Larson. Superspeedway racing has always been his Achillies heel and he was able to survive this race at ‘Dega, racing, competing for a win…until that last crash coming to the checkers. He leaves ‘Dega with a 16th-place finish which isn’t great it is far better than his average finish at these types of tracks. He currently sits +15 of the cutline, not a great spot but not an awful one either.

Around The Bubble

Tyler Reddick (-2)

Historically, the 23XI cars are pretty fast at Talladega and superspeedways in general. While up front and in the mix early on, both Reddick in the No. 45 and Wallace in the No. 23 found themselves shuffled back to around mid-pack without being able to get a run going. Reddick, who missed the Round of 12 last year, is the first in danger of being eliminated as he currently sits -2 in the Playoff standings behind Brad Keselowski. Heading into the Roval, he’s not only going to have to have a clean race but also capitalize on other’s mistakes. He finished ‘Dega today in the 17th spot.

Bubba Wallace (-9)

Bubba Wallace’s story might fall short of being the Cinderella story of this year’s playoffs. The No. 23 team struggled with consistency this year and had issues finishing the deal despite having fast speed. In danger of being eliminated in the Round of 16, he threw a Hail Mary pass which worked, and was able to inch his way into the Round of 12. Now, though, sitting at -9 with one race left, unless he can perform really well on the Roval (though, he notoriously struggles at road courses), he may be a quick Round of 12 exit.

Ross Chastain (-9)

The first Playoff driver to experience major issues was Ross Chastain. The incident that took him out of the race occurred on the last lap of Stage 1. Simply, Kyle Busch and Ross Chastain were going for the same spot on the racetrack. Chastain came across Busch’s nose and was sent hard into the outside wall in Turn 3. This ended Chastain’s day. He would finish the day in last and now sits 9 points out from the cutline. Not out of the game yet but hurt just enough to maybe be a Round of 12 exit.

After the incident, Chastain had the following to say:

Must Win

Kyle Busch (-26)

It has been a strange year for Kyle Busch. He switched from Toyota with JGR to Chevy with RCR, won a handful of races, ran fast in some places and devastatingly slow in others, sold his truck team, and was able to barely inch his way into the Round of 12. Now, though, it would appear that Rowdy might be on his way out of the post-season. After never quite getting his No. 8 car right and receiving damage early on following an incident with Ross Chastain, Kyle Busch struggled for much of the day, bringing his Chevy home in the 26th position…which is ironic because he now sits 26 points below the cutline.

While not mathematically in must-win territory, based on this team’s inconsistency, I’m going to go ahead and place him here. He must win at the Roval. The RCR road course package, like the short track package, has just not been up to snuff this year. It may be a win or bust for Rowdy at the Roval.

What did you think about this race, NASCAR fans? Do you think Denny Hamlin chinches a spot to the Round of 8 BEFORE the conclusion of the race next week at the Roval? Will we see a surprise winner that will once again shake this mess up? Who are your four Round of 12 Exits? Let us know! And keep it right here this week for all your latest NASCAR news and updates!

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Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
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