Steps invite early risk for points safety net at Talladega
What matters in today’s race and how can the teams maximize the day at Talladega Superspeedway without actually securing a good finish? Let’s dive into the analyzes and trends shaping today’s YellaWood 500 (2 p.m. ET on NBC):
A Talladega strategy for points instead of glory?
In his last five starts at Talladega, Brad Keselowski has only obtained one top-10. This finish, a victory, came last spring, the product of an overtaking on the last lap.
But Keselowski’s record is not as sterile as it seems. His 163 points marked the second most riders in the era of tapered struts, behind Ryan Blaney’s 187. The key to Keselowski’s point production was the stage finishes. Of his 163 points, 50 are the result of stage finishes – none for stage victory, but up to second place (twice, for nine points each). The remaining 113 points, 22.6 per race, are tied with a driver who averages 15th place without any top 10 finish.
Designing your races this way is not memorable – we remember the race victories, not the stage finishes – but one cannot dispute the efficiency with which his plans were deployed. Keselowski, unlike his traditional stat line, has been one of Talladega’s most trusted pointers, accomplishing precisely what he set out to accomplish while using NASCAR’s current method of rewarding points.
This is a feature, not a bug, of the stage racing era. The rules correction, which divides fans, has made Talladega a more inviting host for all teams, allowing different paths to points. The two stage finishes today are covers against inclusion in an end-of-race accident, but these covers contain a significant risk.
Talladega, at least compared to Daytona, protects its favorites against inclusion in “Big Ones”, crashes involving four or more cars. Since 2013, cars running from first to sixth place have been included in these crashes as often as 28.6% of the time. The lead car was only included in 8.7% of Talladega’s big crashes, the lowest rate among the top 30.
But getting to the front and staying there is an achievement in itself. Most drivers have to cross a high-risk group in the middle of the march, with crash inclusion rates of up to 45.7% between the seventh to 23rd positions.
To stay up front is also a chore. The advances have been held for 20 laps or more just twice in the last five races (Blaney in spring 2020 and Denny Hamlin in last spring). It is easier for most riders to ride in the back and kick at the finishes of the stage, but for those looking to inflate their cushion in the standings, the ends of the stage are a challenge that did not exist. before 2017, the year in which stage races were created. .
Of Talladega’s nine most recent races, nine crashes involving four or more cars have occurred in the first two stages. There were only six first crashes in the 11 races from 2011 to 2016, before the modern points incentive existed. For a track already containing more risk than usual, the stages create additional risk distributed earlier in the event.
Those aiming for stage finishes will have clearly taken the risk into account, judging it to be worth it for valuable point opportunities that might not realistically exist for them elsewhere.
When riding in the back go right
Keeping up with the lead pack for the majority of a race at Talladega has its rewards. And although stage points are not among them, a good chance of survival is.
Positions 29th or worse see crash inclusion rates of 11.4% or better. As attrition increases, this low rate increases the marching order, helping to protect teams that drive primarily like track cars. Two pilots used this tactic to good effect.
Ryan Newman’s 138 points ranks as the fifth-highest total in the last five races and contained only one points-worthy stage finish (sixth in the 2019 spring race). Ryan Preece had 134 points, the sixth-highest total, while getting just two top-10 finishes. Collectively, they achieved five top 10 finishes in the race with an average of 22.0 and 18.0 respectively. Newman is one of five drivers who have achieved three top 10 results in Talladega’s last five races. His final average of 10.4 places only exceeds Blaney’s 10.2-place mark.
In the April race in Talladega, only two of the top 10, Blaney and Michael McDowell, also scored points in both stages. Four of the top 10 – Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer and Kaz Grala – did not score a stage point.
The need for a fast car is less than usual, but slow cars don’t win
In the wise words of 23-year-old William Byron, when it comes to drafting tacks, “You can’t win with shit.”
Having a fast car is generally downplayed as something irrelevant on the Talladega and Daytona superspeedways, but cars that are fast quite in the peloton and up front tend to be the cars most likely to win. In Talladega races using power and aero set similar to what we will see today, the winners have generally come out of those who have a good ranking in the speed rankings:
- Chase Elliott won the Spring 2019 race, the first with the tapered strut, after placing second in Sprint by Motorsports Analytics.
- Blaney placed 10th in speed en route to victory in 2019, a race in which the other drivers of the Penske team placed first (Joey Logano) and fourth (Keselowski).
- Blaney placed 12th in speed and 10th in the last quarter of the race in particular, during his victory in the spring of 2020.
- Keselowski had the fourth fastest lap in Talladega last spring and his middle lap was seventh en route to victory.
Dating back to 2005, the fastest single-race car at Talladega won 12.5% of the time, a low conversion rate compared to the typical bar of 40%. But that doesn’t mean teams are afraid of fast cars; Certainly, fast drawing cars are useful tools when paired with diligent driving and attempts at risk reduction.
The source of the fastest vehicles should come as no surprise. Cars from Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske seem well suited, in terms of speed, for today’s race at Talladega. From these three organizations, Alex Bowman (ranked first in average lap time on the writing tracks), Logano (second), Kyle Busch (third), Christopher Bell (fourth), Kyle Larson (fifth), Byron (ninth) , Blaney (10th) and Elliott (11th) each apparently have sufficient writing speed for an exceptional performance.