Of all the great racetracks of the world, there is no place that inspires awe and demands fear quite like Talladega Superspeedway. Built to be the biggest and fastest track there is, the very mention of Talladega is a litmus test of just how fearless a driver is. After all, to conquer the 2.66-mile superspeedway and come out on top after 188 laps of racing at nearly 200 MPH on 33 degrees of banking, constantly inches from the competition and inches from disaster, is to have proven brave enough to look the 'Dega devil in the eye.
On Sunday, the NASCAR Cup Series takes to Talladega for the GEICO 500, the first race of the season at the fabled Alabama speedway. Part of the mystique of Talladega is the feeling that any driver in the field has a chance to win there, a feeling which has a great chance of being realized in a highly competitive season that has already had many twists and turns in nine races so far.
How to watch the NASCAR Cup Series at Talladega
- Date: April 24
- Location: Talladega Superspeedway -- Lincoln, Ala.
- Time: 3 p.m. ET
- TV: Fox
- Stream: fuboTV (try for free)
What to watch out for
Sunday marks a full year to the date of Brad Keselowski's most recent Cup Series win in last year's GEICO 500, which ended up being his final victory with Team Penske. Keselowski now returns to Talladega as a driver for and co-owner of RFK Racing, which has started to see an upturn in performance.
Over the past several weeks, both of RFK Racing's cars have become regular fixtures in the top 15. Keselowski has four finishes of 14th or better since Atlanta, while Chris Buescher has finished 15th three weeks in a row and leads the organization with two top 10 finishes. The team looks to be building towards better things ahead, some of which they got a taste of the last time NASCAR raced at a superspeedway.
Both RFK cars were strong in the Daytona 500, as they swept their respective Duel races before Keselowski raced for the win on the final lap and had to settle for ninth. Now, Keselowski enters Talladega with great optimism for both this coming week and the weeks to come.
"Honestly, I'm looking at the next month and I'm really excited about the races we have," Keselowski told NASCAR.com. "I think we can win any one of them. We've got a lot of good stuff coming down the pipeline. We're starting to figure some things out and find some of the missing puzzle pieces."
With six career wins at Talladega, Keselowski is currently tied with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon for the second-most wins by any driver in the track's history. Should he win Sunday, he would break that tie and rank second only to Dale Earnhardt's 10 Talladega victories.
Much will be made of Bubba Wallace's return trip to Talladega following his first career win at the track last fall.
Wallace's first career win highlighted how the Mobile, Ala. driver has become one of NASCAR's best on superspeedways. In the last three superspeedway races, Wallace has finished no worse than second with a pair of runner-up finishes at Daytona bookending his Talladega win. In a superspeedway-style race at Atlanta in March, Wallace contended for the win and was running second at the white flag before getting shuffled out of a chance at the victory.
This marks a prime opportunity for Wallace to change the course of his season, which has been defined largely by terrible luck in late-race situations and an inability to finish races cleanly. Since his second-place finish in the Daytona 500, Wallace hasn't finished any better than 13th and has seen multiple chances at good finishes evaporate, including last week when an overheating problem took him out of a chance at a top 15.
"We have not been firing on all cylinders as a team," Wallace told Bob Pockrass of Fox Sports. "And the results show. I feel like, honestly ... that this has been the best year for me mentally, physically, showing up and being there ready to learn, ready to work and drive my ass off."
At Bristol, Tyler Reddick came about a hundred yards away from becoming the fourth different first-time winner this season, losing in a heartbreaker after being spun by Chase Briscoe in the final corner before getting passed by Kyle Busch just before the finish line. The amount of drivers who have either won or come close to their first career wins this season is a significant trend entering Talladega, a track which has been very kind to first-time winners throughout its history.
A total of 12 drivers have scored their maiden Cup Series win at Talladega, a group which features a mixture of all-time greats such as Davey Allison and Brad Keselowski, active drivers like Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse, and Bubba Wallace, and six drivers whose Talladega triumph was the only win of their Cup careers. The track has seen two-consecutive first-time winners on two different occasions, but not once since Phil Parsons and Ken Schrader claimed their first wins there during the 1988 season.
Here is the complete list of first-time winners at Talladega:
Richard Brickhouse -- September 1969
Dick Brooks -- August 1973
Lennie Pond -- August 1978
Ron Bouchard -- August 1981
Bobby Hillin Jr. -- July 1986
Davey Allison -- May 1987
Phil Parsons -- May 1988
Ken Schrader -- July 1988
Brian Vickers -- October 2006
Brad Keselowski -- April 2009
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -- May 2017
Bubba Wallace -- October 2021
Pick to Win
(Odds via Caesars Sportsbook)
Bubba Wallace (+1500): Wallace's aforementioned recent string of success on superspeedways factors into this pick, but his being a serious contender this weekend goes beyond that. Since the second half of the 2020 season, Wallace has time and again put himself in a position to win late in the race at Daytona and Talladega, including in the fall of 2020 when he was leading with as few as six laps to go. Probability dictates that if you're at the front in the final laps enough times, you're probably going to win a few -- And that's been proven by drivers who have stacked up Talladega wins in their careers such as Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.
The great equalizer of the draft and almost the entire field being on an even playing ground gives bettors a great chance at high rewards for Talladega picks. Other drivers to consider this weekend include Chris Buescher (+2500), Michael McDowell (+3000), and Justin Haley (+5000).