YellaWood 500 Picks & Race Analysis

by | Sep 29, 2021 | nascar

Race: YellaWood 500
Date: Sunday, October 3, 2021
Track: Talladega Superspeedway
Time: 2 pm ET
Channel: NBC

What Did We Learn From Last Weekend?

Denny Hamlin seems to have a pattern forming. Much like the first round, Hamlin started the Round of 12 with a win. He secured his spot in the Round of 8, not that he was in any danger of not getting in to begin with. Hamlin has held the lead for much of the season prior to winning, with Kyle Larson only taking over towards the end of the regular season. It was a good weekend for Hamlin to secure his spot with this weekend bringing us a superspeedway followed the next week by a road course. Both of those configurations are potential pitfalls for a lot of teams, so Hamlin is lucky to take the checkered flag at Vegas. That was the only typical track that we have in this round. Chase Elliott was giving him a run for his money, especially there towards the end, but he just couldn’t seal the deal.

Kyle Busch had a relatively successful weekend. He was looking for a win at his hometown track, being that he hasn’t secured one since 2009. It wasn’t in the cards for him, though. Regardless, he came out with a solid points day with a third-place finish. The good finish landed him in 3rd place overall in the standings, just 22 points behind Kyle Larson. That’s a far cry from where he was coming into the playoff rounds, to begin with. Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top 5 spots. In a race that saw only one caution flag for contact, the field definitely got spread out. It wasn’t the most exciting race, and there wasn’t much of an opportunity to catch the front of the field if you weren’t already there. Kurt Busch was the only driver who managed to drive through some of the field, moving from a starting position of 20th up to 8th place at the finish. Tyler Reddick and Brad Keselowski finished 6th and 7th respectively, with Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson following Kurt Busch to round out the top 10.

Where Are We Headed This Weekend?

Unlike Las Vegas, the one thing that isn’t quite as significant this weekend will be starting position. In fact, many drivers will voluntarily fall to the back of the pack. Why, you ask? Well, at these superspeedways like Talladega, there’s generally a lot of chaos upfront. For the first half of the race, many guys prefer to relax in the back of the pack and just check off laps instead of dealing with the close racing and dicey-ness of the racing towards the front of the pack. That said, Talladega is a track where track position becomes important towards the end of the race more so than at the beginning. Things can change in the blink of an eye, too, with the draft really causing drivers to be propelled towards the lead or falling out of that draft and falling to the back of the pack. Talladega is not a place you want to lose the draft at. This track is a 2.66-mile asphalt tri-oval. There are 32-33 degrees of banking through all four turns, with slightly less at 16.5 degrees through the tri-oval and just 3 degrees on the backstretch. Brakes are not really something the drivers use here. It’s generally a track where it’s literally pedal to the metal all race long. I’m interested to see if we see any small break-away packs or if the drivers stay together as one group in a single file line, as we’ve seen in the most recent races.

Odds and Value Picks

These types of tracks are super hard to predict an outright winner. In fact, we see a lot of first-time winners at the superspeedways because sometimes it’s just being in the right place at the right time and managing to stay out in front of the draft just long enough for no one else to power by. There are some drivers who excel at these configurations, but honestly, we don’t have any Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s out there who could “see the air” anymore, it doesn’t seem. Sr. had a way of just getting around these places and using the aerodynamics to his full advantage. It’s not as simple anymore, especially with the package they’re running on these cars these days too. With the horsepower restrictions, larger spoilers, and overall consistency of templates, there’s not too much that the drivers and teams can do for an advantage. Because of that, the advantage comes in the engine packages. While the horsepower is limited, it’s still something that the teams focus on in order to give their drivers the best opportunity. Here’s a look at your potential winners heading into Talladega:
  • Winner: Ryan Blaney +1000
  • Mid-Range Pick: Brad Keselowski +1200
  • Dark Horse: Aric Almirola +2000
In his last ten starts at Talladega, Almirola has one win and eight top 10 finishes. He’s one of the few drivers that seem to have a knack for this track. If he can manage to steer clear of trouble early on, there’s a really good chance that he is going to be someone to watch at the front of the pack at the end of the race. Ryan Blaney is another driver to watch. He’s actually won two of the last four races he’s won here. To show that they weren’t won by pure luck, he’s also earned stage points in 16 of his last 18 stages he’s run here. No matter what, Blaney should come away with a solid points day, if not a win at the end of the day. Honestly, Keselowski is a touch of a stretch here. The only reason I say that is because he hasn’t been the most reliable driver this year. This might just be the track he needs, though, to bring his team back to glory. With a playoff round ticket on the line, I really believe that Keselowski’s best shot at a win will be this weekend. With six career wins here, it’s evident that he knows what he’s doing. The Penske garage is known for its great superspeedway packages as well. That is definitely going to be advantageous for him. Look for Brad to really step up and try to earn his spot in the Round of 8. Here’s a look at where these guys are sitting after Las Vegas:

NASCAR Standings

  1. Denny Hamlin
  2. Kyle Larson
  3. Kyle Busch
  4. Martin Truex Jr.
  5. Ryan Blaney
  6. Chase Elliott
  7. Joey Logano
  8. Brad Keselowski
  9. William Byron
  10. Kevin Harvick
  11. Alex Bowman
  12. Christopher Bell
As you can see, Byron, Harvick, Bowman, and Bell are below the cutoff right now. Bell has the largest amount of ground to make up, with 25 points separating him from Brad. Bowman is 13 points behind, with Harvick sitting 7 points back and Byron sitting 4 points back. Keselowski is safe, either. That’s why this weekend will be very critical for him. While he is currently sitting in 8th place, he’s only 4 points ahead of Byron. The tragedy of Talladega is that it takes out so many good drivers out of contention. The battle that they are facing is whether to run a safe race or to go for the win. There’s not a lot of middle ground. Brad, along with many other teams, will have a lot of strategic decisions to make this weekend. Stay tuned to see how it all plays out this weekend as the drivers battle it out at Talladega!