Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
Another week, another new winner as Alex Bowman punched his ticket to the 2021 playoffs with a shocker of a win last weekend at Richmond. The race was dominated by Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., and Joey Logano, but when the pay window opened it was Bowman the Showman that took advantage and earned his third career Cup Series victory.
By winning Sunday, Bowman has won exactly one race in each of the last three seasons. Bowman won at Fontana last season and Chicagoland in 2019. Neither of those tracks are on this season’s schedule, but that didn’t stop Bowman from winning a race in the famous #48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. It was the first time in nearly four seasons that the #48 car visited victory lane piloted by Jimmie Johnson in the final victory of his career at Dover in 2017.
On one final note from Richmond, defending champion Chase Elliott is now the lone Hendrick driver without a victory this season. Just another twist in a crazy and unpredictable season that nobody saw coming.
We’re now officially a quarter of the way through the 2021 season, and to kick off the second quarter we’re snapping out of the short track stretch and headed right back to the superspeedway racing that we started the season with, this time at Talladega Superspeedway. This is the first superspeedway race since Michael McDowell won his improbable Daytona 500 to kick of the 2021 season. Long shots are worth betting this week, because literally anything can – and most likely will – happen.
This weekend’s race – The Geico 500 – is a 500-mile (188 lap) race around the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Alabama. Over the past three seasons, six races have been run at the track with winners including Ryan Blaney (twice), Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Chase Elliott, and Denny Hamlin. Talladega was run twice last season with Ryan Blaney winning in June and Denny Hamlin winning in October.
Talladega tends to be wild. There aren’t many trends or specific strategies that win you the race, you just have to avoid The Big One and have a car that isn’t too beat up at the end to win. It can be darn near impossible to pick a DraftKings lineup where all six of your drivers are still running at the end, but if they are you’ve got a solid shot to bring home some cash.
It’s interesting to see who the betting favorites are for this race. Denny Hamlin opens as the favorite at +650 having won the most recent race at Talladega. Hamlin has finished in the top-4 in four of the last five Talladega races and always seems to avoid big crashes, as indicated by his recent success at Daytona as well. Typically, Ford drivers tend to run well at Talladega. Roush-Yates powered engines have won nine of the last 11 races at the track. Joey Logano (+900), Ryan Blaney (+1000) and Brad Keselowski (+1100) all follow Hamlin as the next best odds, followed by Chase Elliott who is also at (+1100).
As I write this article I have no idea what to expect from this weekend, and I still probably won’t when the green flag flies at 2 p.m. Sunday. So much can happen at Talladega that its tough to suggest who will have a good run or a bad run, but I’ll try my best below.
Drivers I Like
Brad Keselowski ($10,500)
Its tough picking a DraftKings lineup at superspeedway races, but I’m going to start this one with Brad Keselowski. Brad K comes in as the highest priced driver this week, but he also has the most room for improvement of drivers in the $10K-plus range. Keselowski starts 10th and will almost certainly have a car that could get him to the front of the field in no time. Keselowski leads all active drivers with five wins at Talladega, having won in 2009, 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017. Brad hasn’t had a top-10 finish at ‘Dega since his 2017 win, but if he can take care of his car he should have a shot to win it at the end. Keselowski has led at least one lap in 19 of 24 career races at the track. Keselowski is third among active drivers with 299 career laps led at Talladega. Don’t forget, Keselowski was attempting a pass for the lead with less than a mile remaining in the Daytona 500 when he was involved in a crash with teammate Joey Logano that resulted in a Michael McDowell victory. Running up front at superspeedways is not uncommon with Brad, and he should be able to do so again this week.
Kevin Harvick ($9,600)
Harvick intrigues me a bit this week despite his struggles so far this season. The only laps Harvick has led this season came back in the Daytona 500 (another superspeedway race) when he led 17 laps in the middle of the race. He came home with a fourth-place finish in that race. Speaking of laps led, Harvick has a career total of 264 laps led at Talladega and even picked up a victory back in 2009. Harvick starts 16th and has an average finishing position at Talladega of 16.05 in 40 career starts. He should be able to improve on that if he stays out of trouble. Fords tend to be fast at superspeedways, as Roush-Yates engines have powered nine of the last 11 winners at Talladega. Harvick should be able to give you a nice return on investment this weekend.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($8,500)
I really like DiBenedetto in this price range too, but I’ll write about Stenhouse this weekend due to his superspeedway resume. Stenhouse has exactly two career victories in the cup series, one coming at Daytona and the other at Talladega. Stenhouse owns the highest average finish among active drivers that have competed in at least 10 races at Talladega with an average finish of 12.73. Stenhouse starts back in 17th this week, so he should at least move forward a few spots during the race. Stenhouse has finished in the top-10 in nine of 15 attempts at Talladega, including a runner-up finish to Ryan Blaney last spring. Going back to his win at the track in 2017, Stenhouse has finished top-10 in five of eight races, and top-five in four of eight races. He’s a great superspeedway racer if he doesn’t get overly aggressive and cause an accident.
Harrison Burton ($7,900)
There are a lot of great options here, and if you want to build around all these $7k guys, I won’t blame you one bit. I love Bubba Wallace, Michael McDowell, and Ryan Newman this week, but I’m going with the guy making his Cup Series debut. Harrison Burton – son of former driver and current NBC analyst Jeff Burton – gets a shot to drive the Gaunt Brothers Toyota this weekend. Burton will have to start in the back and will likely run there all day, but chances are he’s not going to end up in the big one that takes out a wad of cars. Burton doesn’t have to worry about running for points, so he can bide his time and strike closer to the end of the race, which can tend to be a winning strategy. Though he has never won on a superspeedway in either the Truck or Xfinity Series, I’m 99 percent certain he will improve on his 39th-place starting position.
Ryan Preece ($6,400)
I’m not certain what it is about Preece, but he seems to have a knack for finishing up front at superspeedways. In four career races at Talladega, Preece has collected two top-10 finishes. His results at Daytona are equally as impressive, having collected a pair of top-10 finishes there as well, including a sixth-place result in this year’s Daytona 500. Preece has an average finish of 11.50 at Talladega and has led three career laps. He’ll be starting from 29th place, so he has plenty of room for improvement. If he can steer clear of trouble, expect Preece to be hanging around with a shot to win at the end.
Drivers I’m Avoiding
Chase Elliott ($10,300)
Its tough to hate anyone in the $10k range this week. They’ve all run strong at Talladega in the past, they’ve all won races there, and they are all great superspeedway racers. To be honest, you can start your lineup with any of them and I wouldn’t have a problem with it, but I guess I’ll pick on Chase this week. Elliott is the second-most expensive driver behind Keselowski and has the least amount of Talladega victories of any driver listed above $10k. Elliott finished 38th in this race last year after getting caught up in an incident with about 50 laps to go. Elliott’s return on investment could be a bit limited. He starts in eighth place and has only finished higher than eighth in three of the last nine Talladega races.
Alex Bowman ($9,000)
Bowman should be flying high coming off a win last week, but the series heads to Talladega where he has been hot and cold over the course of his career. Bowman has just three career top-10 finishes in 11 career Talladega races, but those three top-10s have come in each of the last three spring races. The biggest reason that I dislike Bowman this week is that he starts so close to the front. Bowman starts fifth following his win last week which leaves more room for him to fall backward than to move forward. Bowman has never won a superspeedway race and has led just 45 laps in 11 Talladega races. I’m shying away from Bowman this week.
William Byron ($8,000)
Byron is right back on the avoid list this week as I sense a theme here to fade team Hendrick this week. Byron starts one spot ahead of Bowman in fourth which once again limits his potential points for position differential. Byron has just one top-10 finish in six career attempts at Talladega with an average finish of 19.67. Byron has 44 laps led at ‘Dega in six races which is a better average than teammate Bowman, but I dislike him for the exact same reasons as Bowman. He hasn’t won here and starts far too close to the front to return on investment.
Christopher Bell ($7,400)
Following the theme here, I’m avoiding guys that had good runs last week and will be starting up front, especially those with limited superspeedway success. Bell plays into this category as he starts from the sixth position Sunday afternoon. Bell has two career races at Talladega, both coming last season where he finished 29th and 39th in his two attempts. Bell has also struggled at Daytona where he has collected finishes of 21st, 13th and 16th in three career starts. Bell is still young and still has some learning to do on these big tracks. If you remember back to the Daytona 500, Bell caused a lap 14 accident that resulted in a huge crash that took out quite a few contenders. His day will certainly come on superspeedways, but I would avoid the second-year racer this week.
Daniel Suarez ($6,200)
I can’t claim to hate anyone in this category, though I almost picked Ross Chastain here. I have to go with Suarez because of his lack of Talladega success. Suarez has raced ‘Dega a total of eight times while driving for three different teams and never recorded a finish better than 10th. His Daytona results are just as ugly, having the same amount of starts there with just one finish inside the top 20 (17th in 2017). Suarez just does not tend to have much luck at superspeedways. He has led 12 career laps at Talladega and has crashed out of 10 of 16 career superspeedway races. Use Suarez at your own risk this weekend.
($50,000 budget, 6 driver lineup)
I won money again with my DraftKings lineup last week, thanks again to a big performance by Denny Hamlin. I didn’t mention Hamlin above, but decided to fade the 9k range in favor of one of the two guys starting on the front row. With Hamlin being the cheaper option of the two, I grabbed him at $11,000 to start my lineup. Hamlin led 207 laps, ran 89 fast laps, and finished second for a solid 133.80 points. Next on the card was Kyle Busch who cost $10,000. I was hoping he would improve on his starting position which he did by two spots. He also led a lap, ran 11 fast laps, and finished eighth for 43.20 points. His brother Kurt was my second-highest scorer of the day coming home with 46.15 points. Kurt finished in 13th position – four positions ahead of where he started – and ran 27 fastest laps. Austin Dillon had a quiet day, but I’ll take his 35.70 points despite him being my lowest scoring driver of the week. He finished 10th, which was a one place improvement over his 11th-place starting spot. He led one lap and ran one fast lap. Daniel Suarez did what I expected him to do. He gained 11 spots on the track with his 16th-place finish and even added one fastest lap for 38.45 points. Finally, you know I went back to the well and played Corey Lajoie for like the 1,000th week in a row. Lajoie gained 15 positions on the track by starting 36th and finishing 21st. It was good for 36.00 points.
Last week: 333.30 pts.
1. Denny Hamlin ($11,000): 133.80 pts.
2. Kyle Busch ($10,000): 43.20 pts.
3. Kurt Busch ($8,300): 46.15 pts.
4. Austin Dillon ($7,500): 35.70 pts.
5. Daniel Suarez ($6,600): 38.45 pts.
6. Corey Lajoie ($5,700): 36.00 pts.
Remaining Budget: $900
It’s been a while since we came away with a winning weekend on the betting card, but we did so this week, gaining 4.5 units by hitting on six of 10 bets. Our biggest win came by Daniel Suarez winning Group F by finishing ahead of Chris Buescher, Chase Briscoe, and Michael McDowell. Other wins included a Truex Jr. top-5, Austin Dillon over Kurt Busch, William Byron over Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin to win Stage 1. If you follow me on twitter (@MasterSmithers) I put out a late addition to the betting card. I added an Austin Dillon top-10 which also hit at +134. In all, we’re now down just 6.65 units on the season.
Denny Hamlin Top-5 (+125, 1 unit)
Aric Almirola Top-10 (+105, 1 unit)
Aric Almirola over Martin Truex Jr. (-122, 1 unit)
Ford to win (+145, 1 unit)
Denny Hamlin top Toyota (+100, 1 unit)
Ryan Newman to win Group E (+300, 0.5 unit)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to win (+2000, 0.5 unit)
Ryan Newman to win (+3300, 0.3 unit)
Chase Briscoe to win (+8000, 0.2 unit)
One and Done
*Rules for One and Done: Each driver can only be picked one time over the course of the season, unless you pick the race winner, then that driver can be picked again. Driver’s finishing position is the number of “points” you score each week. Goal: Finish with as few points as possible. Feel free to play along!
Austin Dillon did about the bare minimum of what I was hoping he would do last week. He ran on the borderline of the top-10 all race long and eventually came away with a 10th-place finish. He was never a threat to win like I had hoped, but it feels good to pick our first top-10 finish since Homestead.
This week: Harrison Burton
It’s superspeedway week which means it’s the perfect time to pick a part time driver. It’s risky, but I’m taking a shot at Harrison Burton this week. Burton will be making his Cup Series debut on the high banks of Talladega in the Gaunt Brothers number 96 car that was piloted by Daniel Suarez last season. Ty Dillon attempted to make the Daytona 500 in that car this season but failed to qualify after not posting a fast enough speed in single car qualifying and then failing to race his way in during the dual races. Burton has four career Xfinity Series wins under his belt but has never won at a superspeedway (his best superspeedway finish came last season at Daytona when he finished second). Burton probably won’t have many friends out there this weekend, as teamwork is needed at superspeedway races and Burton has never raced with many of the guys in the field. If he can avoid the big crashes, he’ll be poised for a top-20 finish, which is all I’m hoping for.
Race Driver Finish
Daytona 500 Jamie McMurray 8th
Daytona RC A.J. Allmendinger 7th
Homestead Tyler Reddick 2nd
Las Vegas Kevin Harvick 20th
Phoenix Kyle Busch 25th
Atlanta Kurt Busch 39th
Bristol Stewart Friesen 23rd
Martinsville Ryan Blaney 11th
Richmond Austin Dillon 10th