After winning Sunday’s exciting Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) race in Charlotte to secure his spot in NASCAR’s Playoff Round of 12, Ryan Blaney was already thinking about the next three tracks that will make up the second round, including Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, Oct. 14.
Blaney said he and team owner Roger Penske had a conversation about the possibilities if the No. 12 team could make it to the Round of 12 (second round). Talladega Superspeedway, which will host the 1000Bulbs.com 500, is a track that Team Penske has excelled, winning six of the last eight premier series races held at the 2.66-mile venue with teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano (three wins each).
“Yeah, leading into the playoffs, he (Penske) and I were talking about the second round if I thought there were some good tracks for us,” said Blaney, whose best finish at NASCAR’s Most Competitive track is fourth in the 2015 GEICO 500 while driving for the famed Wood Brothers. “At Talladega, our speedway cars are pretty good. Even though it’s a wild card at Talladega, our speedway stuff is good, so hopefully, we can just stay out of trouble there. I am looking forward to the second round. Just good tracks for us.”
While he hasn’t won yet at the palace of speed, Blaney has said that he appreciates the track and it takes more than fate to win at the mammoth facility.
“You really can control what you do (at Talladega) more than people realize,” said Blaney, a fan favorite at Talladega who will yet again participate in the track’s infamous “Big One on the Blvd.” fan event Friday night of race weekend. “There’s people winning (those) races that win them all the time and there’s a reason for that. They’re not lucky time after time. They know what to do and they know how to get up front.”
This season marks the first “full-time” year that Blaney has driven for Team Penske and the patriarch of the team is excited about the 24-year-old and his chances in the second round. Who knows, Blaney could become the third Team Penske driver to go to the winner’s circle at Talladega.
“For him to get in the playoffs, this next stage, is monumental for his career,” said Penske, who actually ranks third on the track’s all-time win list for team owners, having won his first with Keselowski in 2012. “I think his confidence – in fact, he said to me in Victory Lane (in Charlotte), ‘look, I can really go in this stage,’ because he likes those tracks.”
Fords have actually won the last six Cup races at Talladega and seven of the last eight. Outside of Team Penske’s success, Roush Fenway Racing driver and Mississippi native Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is the other driver to take Ford to Gatorade Victory Lane.
Four drivers failed to make the Round of 12 after the Charlotte race. They included Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones. Below are quick Talladega stats on each of the 12 title contenders who advanced, along with the new seeding. The Round of 12 begins this weekend in Dover, DE. If a playoff driver wins the 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega, he will automatically gain a spot in the Round of 8. The field of 12 drivers will be trimmed to eight after the Kansas Speedway event the following week.
- Kyle Busch, No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (3055 points): In 26 Talladega Cup starts, the 2015 MENCS Champion has one victory (2008) and six top-five finishes. Busch has visited Gatorade Victory Lane in all three of NASCAR’s top-tier series, having won in the NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) in 2011 and back-to-back Talladega 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) events in 2009 & 2010. Out of the ten tracks in the playoffs, NASCAR’s Most Competitive track is one of his worst with an average finish of 20.5.
- Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (3050 points, -5): The 2014 MENCS Champion has one win at Talladega (April 2010) and has recorded seven top-five and 15 top-10 finishes in 35 races. His average finish is 15.1.
- Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota (3038 points, -17): Truex is still looking for his first TSS win in 27 MENCS starts. The 2017 MENCS Champion has recorded one pole award and eight top 10s. Talladega is Truex’s worst playoff track (average finish 21.3), but he has been to Gatorade Victory Lane a record three times (2004-2006) in the NXS.
- Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Team Penske Ford (3025 points, -30): The defending 1000Bulbs.com 500 victor has more wins at TSS than any other track with five (two in the last five races), including his first victory in 2009 and his 2014 triumph in a must-win playoff situation. In 19 Cup starts at TSS, the 2012 MENCS Champion has totaled seven top-five and 11 top-10 performances for an average finish of 15.1. He also won the 2010 NXS race at TSS.
- Clint Bowyer, No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (3015 points, -40): In his 26th start, Bowyer will be looking to add a third TSS win to his resume to go along with his victories in both the 2010 and 2011 fall events. He has tallied six top-five and 12 top-10 performances (his average finish is 16.1).
- Joey Logano, No. 22 Team Penske Ford (3014 points, -41): Talladega’s most recent winner in April’s GEICO 500 has three total Talladega wins, all in the last six races. In 19 MENCS career starts, he also has six top-five finishes with an average finish of 17.7. He also has two NXS wins at TSS (2015 and 2012).
- Kurt Busch, No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (3014 points, -41): Still searching for his first Cup triumph at Talladega, he has scored eight top-five results, along with 19 top 10s in 35 starts. It is one of his better playoff tracks statistically, with an average finish of 15.5. He was runner-up earlier this year in the GEICO 500 and also has four third-place efforts. He does have one win at Talladega, coming in the 2003 International Race of Champions (IROC) event.
- Ryan Blaney, No. 12 Team Penske Ford (3013 points, -42): In eight MENCS races at TSS, Blaney has captured two top-10 finishes, including a fourth-place effort in the 2015 GEICO 500, and has an average finish of 20.5.
- Chase Elliott, No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (3008 points, -47): In five MENCS starts at TSS, the son of two-time Talladega winner Bill Elliott, has produced two top-five results, including a third-place finish earlier this season in the GEICO 500, and has an average finish of 13.2. He was battling for the lead and was involved in an accident with only a few laps remaining in last fall’s race. He won the pole as a rookie for the 2016 GEICO 500.
- Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chip Ganassi Chevrolet (3006 points, -49): In nine series starts at TSS, he has two top-10 results, including a personal best sixth-place result in the 2016 1000Bulbs.com 500. His average TSS finish is 21.3.
- Aric Almirola, No. 10 Stewart-Haas Ford (3001 points, -54): In 17 MENCS starts at TSS, Almirola has finished in the top 10 on five occasions, including two top-five performances in last year’s Cup races (fourth in the GEICO 500 and fifth in the 1000Bulbs.com 500). After a seventh-place result this past April, he has an average finish of 17.2. He also won the 2017 Xfinity Series race at TSS.
- Alex Bowman, No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (3000 points, -55): His best career finish in six races at TSS occurred at this season’s GEICO 500, where he crossed the line in eighth. Bowman currently sports a TSS average finish of 27.3.
The heart-pounding action of the 1000Bulbs.com 500 will start at 1 p.m. CDT on Oct. 14. The weekend will also feature the Talladega 250 NCWTS Playoff event on Oct. 13 at noon CDT, where the field of playoff drivers will be cut from eight to six. In addition, Sunday ticket holders can enjoy access to the Saturday Night Infield Concert presented by Wind Creek Casino and Hotel, located in the famous infield, featuring country music artist Chris Janson.