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YellaWood 500 (Talladega) NASCAR Preview and Fantasy Predictions

NASCAR safety at the forefront of drivers' minds heading into the final 2022 Cup Series pack race of the year.
YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

As 37 NASCAR Cup Series drivers hunker down for the YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, a black cloud continues to grow surrounding Sunday’s event. At no time since the 2001 Daytona 500, the race that killed Dale Earnhardt, has safety been such a primary concern up and down the garage area.

It’s been nearly 22 years since that tragic afternoon which changed the sport. Since Earnhardt’s death, NASCAR has been lucky to avoid another tragedy on the racetrack within its top three series. But just the last week alone has seen two injuries: Alex Bowman is sitting out Talladega with a concussion while Cody Ware enters this race nursing an impaction fracture on his right ankle.

Bowman becomes the second playoff contender whose potential championship hopes are all but wiped away due to injury. Kurt Busch has been sidelined since late July, giving up his playoff spot after a hard wreck at Pocono Raceway left him with post-concussion syndrome.

That’s all before Saturday’s scary wreck during a Camping World Truck Series race, an incident where driver Jordan Anderson suffered extensive burns as his car careened into the inside wall. Anderson was airlifted to a local hospital in Birmingham where he’s currently awake and alert, suffering second-degree burns over multiple parts of his body.

To be clear, Anderson’s truck was not the new Next Gen chassis that’s causing its own five-alarm fire among drivers. But it’s a case of bad timing, days after those Texas injuries amid a flurry of tire failures that left everyone on edge. It’s adding more tension into a sport whose athletes appear ready to mutiny unless changes aren’t made to address on-track safety.

“I just hate to see us go backward,” said 2020 NASCAR Cup champion Chase Elliott this weekend, “And I’m afraid that we have.”

Other respected veterans, like future Hall of Famers Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin, are throwing verbal haymakers at NASCAR officials. Their public pleas for change seem to have paid some short-term dividends; NASCAR has a crash test scheduled this week with a softer rear bumper they hope can lessen the impact on drivers.

Here’s the problem: any type of safety fix won’t be implemented until February 2023 at the earliest. There are still six races on the schedule this year and Sunday’s Talladega event is clearly the most dangerous, multi-car wrecks a near certainty with the way its draft plays out at 190 miles per hour.

It’s the superspeedway that launched Carl Edwards’ No. 99 car into the air and nearly into the stands back in 2009, a crash that injured eight innocent bystanders. A flip of Joey Logano’s Ford in the old car occurred here as recently as last year. With so much on the line, especially 12 drivers fighting for a championship, can everyone play nice without getting seriously hurt?

That answer is more uncertain than ever, Bowman’s injury this week reminded drivers of the risks they take. Most were young kids, a few not even born when Earnhardt’s death rocked the sport. It’s a generation that’s been spared some real-life examples on how dangerous racing used to be, and to some extent, still is.

They’re not willing to go back to accepting death as an option.

“We had a ton of time to [fix issues],” Elliott added, venting his frustration surrounding the Next Gen car. “And this car’s [debut] was delayed an entire calendar year on top of that. We got an extra year of time to work on it, and we’re still in this position.”

How much these emotions have an effect on Sunday’s racing is anyone’s guess. Talladega can be as wild as these drivers want to make it; but if they’re concerned for their lives? Single-file racing in a snake draft could be the answer until they’re forced to push the issue at the end of stages.

It’s a race where we have no clue what to expect. But for the first time during a 2022 resurgence for the sport, that unpredictable is paired with a whole lot of anxious feelings.

YellaWood 500

Date: Sunday, Oct. 1
Time: 2 p.m. ET
Track: Talladega Superspeedway (Lincoln, Ala.)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90
Starting Lineup

Who's at the Front: Tyler Reddick

How quickly things can change in this year of parity within the sport. Reddick, eliminated from the playoffs after the Round of 16, won a race of survival at Texas Motor Speedway as many of his main rivals fell victim to tire blowouts. Three different drivers crashed out while leading, eventually paving the way for Reddick to climb to the front after his own flat tire left the No. 8 Chevrolet a lap off the pace.

Reddick’s third win of the season is the most by a Richard Childress Racing driver since Kevin Harvick in 2013. It leaves the No. 8 team reinvigorated after their playoff disappointment and proves their current driver, heading to 23XI Racing in 2024, won’t be cast aside with this organization as he enters a lame-duck year in 2023.

Who's at the Back: Chase Elliott

NASCAR’s regular-season champion is suddenly sitting on the ropes. Three DNFs in five playoff races, including a hard wreck at Texas, have left the sport’s Most Popular Driver just four points above the Round of 8 cut line. Without those extra bonus points to protect him, the No. 9 team may already have entered win-or-bust mode and now have two wild-card racetracks in front of them.

Can Lady Luck find her way back to Elliott’s side before it’s too late?

News Briefs

Noah Gragson was selected to sub for Alex Bowman at Talladega. Gragson, running full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports, earned a fifth-place finish in the Daytona regular season finale back in August driving for an underfunded team (Beard Motorsports).

Matt DiBenedetto persevered in Saturday’s Truck Series event for his first career NASCAR win in any of the sport's top three series. The former Cup full-timer dropped down into Trucks this year after being released by the Wood Brothers at the end of the 2021 season.

William Byron will be without his car chief Tyler Jones for this weekend’s race. The driver of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet was penalized after his car failed pre-qualifying inspection twice. That follows a 25-point penalty earlier this week assessed after intentionally spinning out Denny Hamlin during the race at Texas.

Ty Gibbs received a $75,000 fine along with the loss of 25 owner points for slamming into another car on Texas pit road. Gibbs hit Ty Dillon, losing his composure with contact that could have potentially injured other crew members out on pit road working on other cars.

NASCAR by the Numbers

Cautions at Cup Sunday’s race in Texas, a track record for the 1.5-mile facility.

Races out of four this playoff season won by drivers who either failed to make the playoffs altogether or who were eliminated from championship contention in the Round of 16. That’s the first time it’s happened in the history of the elimination-style format.

Playing the Odds (Fantasy Spin)

Top Tier

Team Penske continues to be the top option when it comes to superspeedway tracks. Austin Cindric won the 2022 Daytona 500, Ryan Blaney has two wins here in the last three years and Joey Logano has three Talladega victories overall. Ford continues to show strength in the draft despite losing out to Ross Chastain’s Chevrolet here back in April.

Kyle Larson is still seeking his first ever pack racing victory but had a breakthrough with the Next Gen’s debut at Talladega this spring. A fourth-place finish was his first on this track type, leading to hopes he can finally ditch the bad luck that’s left him posting five career DNFs in 15 starts.

Related: Best Talladega Superspeedway Drivers for DraftKings

Middle Tier

It’s incredible to see Martin Truex Jr. entering the middle tier. But that’s the type of season he’s had, a perennial Championship 4 contender missing the playoffs after going winless during the regular season.

Can Talladega finally turn things around for him? Truex is still seeking his first career pack racing victory and it’s been the lone track type this year (four top-11 finishes) he’s had some bit of good luck. With three Toyotas qualifying inside the top 10, it’s clear the Camrys have the speed; can Truex find his way to the front of the line?

Brad Keselowski remains top of mind after winning the pole and running eighth at Texas. Now, Talladega looms, a track where he’s earned six career Cup victories, tops among active drivers. Look for him and RFK Racing teammate Chris Buescher to work well together within the draft on Sunday.

Lower Tier

Justin Allgaier has run just one pack-style race in the NASCAR Cup Series since 2015. But the car he’s stepping into, Beard Motorsports, focuses exclusively on these Daytona/Talladega-type facilities and produced several surprise finishes over the years. The No. 62 Chevrolet has three top-10 finishes in its last eight starts, earning them with two different drivers: Noah Gragson and Brendan Gaughan. That leaves me feeling confident about Allgaier; position differential points (he starts 31st) come as an added bonus.

Ty Dillon is auditioning for a full-time ride in 2023. What better place to show well than at Talladega, one of his best all-time tracks and a place he didn’t record a DNF in nine career starts until this spring. His other eight finishes have all been 17th or better, including a third in this race one year ago.

What Vegas Thinks

The odds for Talladega are all sorts of scrambled. No less than six drivers sit at +1200: William Byron, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott. That’s how evenly matched this racetrack makes the entire field.

Longshots in this race are hard to come by because of so many past Cinderella stories. But keep an eye on Noah Gragson at +10000. Not a bad bet driving a Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 that’s fully capable of winning.

What I Think

I’m going with a record 20th different winner during this wild and crazy 2022 season. Martin Truex Jr. earns his first pack race win during a relatively tame race by Talladega standards, concerns about safety trumping quality competition.

— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site He can be reached at or on Twitter @NASCARBowles.