By Cole Cusumano
Each week, Cole Cusumano will provide statistical and observational insight for the upcoming race in hopes you can redeem it for “Cole’s Cash” once the checkered flag waves.
Just when you thought the dust had settled from a mayhem-filled Easter Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway, NASCAR Cup Series teams are being thrown a 180-plus mile-per-hour curveball in the form of the colossal 2.66-mile carousel known as Talladega Superspeedway.
Much like mastering the pristine craft of successfully navigating around superspeedways – which very few have accomplished since the sanctioning body held the first race at the Alabama-based track in 1969 – there’s an art to predicting the unpredictable at Talladega.
Betting on superspeedways presents elements of adrenaline and mystique, like the Kentucky Derby but exchanging single-pony pilots for over three dozen, 510-horsepower stock cars. Although sportsbooks present favorable odds when NASCAR rolls through Talladega, it’s essentially a high stakes lottery with statistical analysis thrown out the window – for the most part.
Pre-Practice & Qualifying Odds/DFS Value per DraftKings Sportsbook:
Ryan Blaney +1000 ($10,500)
Joey Logano +1200 ($10,300)
Denny Hamlin +1400 ($9,100)
Chase Elliott +1400 ($9,900)
Bubba Wallace +1400 ($8,100)
Blaney serves as the 28-year-old youthful parallel to Keselowski’s experienced dominance. The driver of the No. 12 is off to a rollicking campaign in 2022 and has made a case for the fastest car on a weekly basis. Often referred to as Mr. 007 due to his repeat margins of victory at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, the Team Penske pilot is a two-time Talladega winner, both coming within the last five races there.
Taking this year’s Daytona 500 into account, Blaney has three top-10s in the last five superspeedway events, tallying 84 laps led and a 12.4 average at Talladega in this time, which both rank among top-five in their respective categories. Mr. 007 enters the Geico 500 as the favorite and for good reason.
Stats are typically obsolete at superspeedways, but this is far from the case for Keselowski. The new driver and co-owner of the No. 6 asserted his status as one of the greatest to ever do it at Talladega when he scored his sixth career victory at the Alabama track, tying him for second-most on the all-time wins list with Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
For a track nearly impossible to master, Keselowski has done just that, scoring top-10s in half of his 26 starts at Talladega. Over the past two years, he has the best average finish (10th), winning the most recent Spring race and placing third in the Fall. The 38-year-old won a Duel at Daytona International Speedway earlier this year, led the most laps in the Great American Race and has superspeedway spotting ace T.J. Major as his eyes in the sky.
Keselowski is debuting an all white Castrol-sponsored No. 6 Ford Mustang at Talladega this weekend, which could serve as a symbol for a clean slate in 2022. He was docked 100 points after it was deemed modifications were made to the Next Gen car at Atlanta Motor Speedway. His troubles can all be erased with a victory on Sunday, and if Daytona was any indicator for what to expect, we could see a very aggressive and motivated mission from the 2012 Champion at Talladega.
Bubba Wallace is establishing himself as a superspeedway ace during his fifth full-time Cup bid. Not only is he entering Talladega as the reigning winner, but he hasn’t placed below second in the last three events at the high speed track. Additionally, the driver of the No. 23 was in position to win at the pseudo superspeedway of Atlanta earlier this year.
The bottom line is Wallace has a real knack for managing a great race and being in contention at tracks like Talladega and this is exemplified by his top-five stature in odds entering the weekend. By all accounts, the Alabama native will be a threat to go back-to-back in his home state.
DFS Price/Odds: Keselowski $8,900 (+1400)
Something feels different about Aric Almirola entering the Geico 500. The driver of the No. 10 has been more vocal than usual on social media this weekend in his excitement for racing at Talladega and for good reason. From Fall 2016 to Spring 2020, he went on a near-impossible eight-race top-10 streak at one of the most challenging tracks on the circuit.
There are certain drivers you have a hunch about entering superspeedway races and Almirola is one of them this weekend. This will be his final full-time season and after placing top-five at Daytona earlier this year, along with proven success at Talladega, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver could be a contender for the win.
We can’t talk about superspeedway racing without mentioning Michael McDowell. Always touted as one of the best on these types of tracks, his status was validated when he scored his first win in the Daytona 500 last year. Last Spring at Talladega, the driver of the No. 34 notched his career-best third-place finish. It’s also worth noting he ended up seventh in the Great American Race this year and is coming off another top-10 at Bristol.
Much like McDowell, Chris Buescher is a driver who is very respected at superspeedways, but his stature has yet to be commended due to the goose egg in the wins column at these types of tracks. The 2015 NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion finished sixth in the most recent race at Talladega, scored a top-10 at Atlanta this year and won a Duel at Daytona. Consider the 29-year-old a low-risk sleeper for the win and DFS.
DFS Price/Odds: McDowell $6,800 (+3000), Buescher $6,900 (+2500), Almirola $7,500 (+2000)
A name you may not expect to hear for DFS is Rick Ware Racing’s David Ragan, but he is a driver who can be a difference-maker this weekend. He placed top-10 in the Daytona 500 and top-20 at Atlanta, scoring 26 and 17 positive place differential points respectively. The 36-year-old’s only two Cup wins came at superspeedways with his last was at Talladega in 2013.
Seeing the odds and DFS value for esteemed superspeedway racer Justin Haley is borderline disrespectful for the Geico 500. In addition to having a Cup win under his belt at Daytona, the 22-year-old has four superspeedway wins and hasn’t finished lower than eighth in five starts at Talladega in the Xfinity Series. The Kaulig Racing product has been a fantasy darling through nine races and could be considered a lock for lineups.
Both drivers at Petty GMS Racing should be taken heavily into consideration for DFS lineups, especially given their enticing values. Ty Dillon scored a career-best third in his most recent start at Talladega and has a 12th-place average through eight appearances. Erik Jones has a superspeedway win to his name at Daytona and placed top-five in three of the last four races at Talladega.
DFS Price/Odds: Ragan $5,900 (+10000), T. Dillon $6,100 (+9000), Jones $6,600 (+7000), Haley $5,800 (+6000)
Stay Away From
Kyle Busch is coming off his first win of the season, but don’t expect a stellar follow-up performance in Alabama. The two-time Champion has been vocal in his displeasure of racing at Talladega and only has eight top-10s in 33 starts. He also hasn’t placed above 18th in the last five races at the 2.66-mile track.
Kyle Larson is another driver to be wary of in the Geico 500. Hendrick Motorsports always has speed at Talladega, but the reigning champion only has two top-10s in 14 starts at Talladega, the most recent coming in Fall 2016. It could also be worth noting Chevrolet only has two wins in the last 14 races at the superspeedway.
Finally comes a driver whose name always pops up at Daytona and Talladega, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. There’s no denying 34-year-old’s prowess at superspeedways, but he is an extremely volatile pick given his aggression. It’s not a matter of if, but when he will trigger a wreck. The spin is if he can keep his car on track, he will be in contention towards the end. He is worth thrown a flier bet on, but you may want to seek other options at his value for DFS.
DFS Price/Odds: Stenhouse $7,600 (+3000), Ky. Busch $9,400 (+1600), Larson $10,100 (+1600)
Big Money Prop Bets
Erik Jones to place top-10 +200
Brad Keselowski to place top-five +175
Race Winner (Smaller Bet) / DFS Inclusion Combo
Aric Almirola +2000 ($7,500)
Chris Buescher +2500 ($6,900)