This weekend’s race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway is usually thought of as the “wild card” race of NASCAR’s Cup playoffs’ second round.
That might be the case, but what happened last week at Dover threw the playoffs’ into disarray, as drivers who appeared to be in solid positions dropped below the cutoff line, and drivers who needed strong performances to move onto the right side of the bubble were able to do just that.
The 12-driver second round will be pared to eight after it wraps up at Kansas. But here’s a look at which drivers need to rally at Talladega — this round’s second race — and a few whose spots in the playoffs are more solid.
Joey Logano: Last season’s champion started the Dover race fourth in the standings. But Logano had to take his No. 22 Ford to the garage before the race started with a broken rear axle. That doomed him to a 34th-place finish. He’s ninth in the standings, tied with William Byron, but would lose the tiebreaker.
Chase Elliott: The winner at Charlotte’s Roval went to Dover on a high, but dropped back down to Earth after finishing 38th when he blew an engine eight laps in. He’s now 11th. That’s the bad news. The good news is he has won at Talladega and Kansas before.
Ryan Blaney: He wasn’t in good shape (10th place) heading into Dover, and a 35th-place finish dropped him to 12th. Lots of work for him to do over the next two weeks.
Clint Bowyer: He has found a way to stay alive on the margins all season and his 10th-place finish at Dover moved him from 12th to 10th in the standings. Still on the outside, but that’s progress.
Alex Bowman: He’s been making more news recently with his run-ins with Bubba Wallace and Austin Dillon, but Bowman has also been consistent in the playoffs. He moved from ninth to seventh in the standings with a third-place finish at Dover. That followed a runner-up finish at the Roval. Nobody is driving better than Bowman right now.
William Byron: A solid 13th at Dover moved him into the top eight — barely. He’s tied with Logano, but has the final spot by virtue of his Dover finish being better than Logano’s 34th.
This week’s NASCAR race at Talladega: What you need to know.
Race: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 1000Bulbs.com 500.
Distance: 188 laps, or 500 miles.
Where: Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, a 2.66-mile asphalt oval.
When: 2 p.m., Sunday.
Last year’s winner: Aric Almirola.
Also this week: Sugarlands Shine 250, Truck Series, Talladega Superspeedway, 1:30 p.m., Saturday, FS1.
Worth mentioning: The Xfinity Series takes the week off, resuming next week at Kansas ... Brett Moffitt leads the Truck Series playoff standings, which have been pared to six drivers.
Who’s Hot/Who’s Not
Kyle Larson: He has the luxury of holding back at Talladega and Kansas after clinching spot in third round with Dover victory.
Alex Bowman: Continues to show speed and consistency in the playoffs, with a third-place finish at Dover following a second place at Charlotte.
Joey Logano: Last season’s champ has backed himself into a corner after finishing 34th at Dover.
Ryan Blaney: When you’re 12th in a 12-driver playoff, that’s never a good thing.