Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice?: Tackling The Unpredictability of Talladega And NASCAR Silly Season

Did You Notice? …. Talladega is truly the Russian Roulette of the NASCAR playoffs? This race has now had a green-white-checkered finish three years running. Last fall, two top title contenders (Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr.) failed to finish in surprising fashion (engine failure). Later in that race, a driver who would soon announce his retirement (Brian Scott) came out of nowhere to run second.

You can argue whether NASCAR should plate race at Talladega but you can’t argue the results are largely unpredictable. Just how crazy are they? I took a look at the 12 NASCAR playoff contenders and their last five races on the 2.66-mile oval. Not one of those dozen drivers had an average finish better than 11.4.


Martin Truex Jr.: 5th, 7th, 13th, 40th, 35th

Average: 20.0

Kyle Larson42nd, 24th, 29th, 6th, 12th

Average: 22.6

Kevin Harvick8th, 15th, 15th, 7th, 23rd

Average: 13.6

Chase Elliott5th, 12th, 30th

Average: 15.7

Denny Hamlin9th, 37th, 31st, 3rd, 11th

Average: 18.2

Kyle Busch40th, 11th, 2nd, 30th, 3rd

Average: 17.2

Jimmie Johnson2nd, 18th, 22nd, 23rd, 8th

Average: 14.6

Jamie McMurray11th, 39th, 4th, 19th, 2nd

Average: 15.0

Matt Kenseth25th, 26th, 23rd, 28th, 24th

Average: 25.2

Brad Keselowski: 22nd, 4th, 1st, 38th, 7th

Average: 14.4

Ryan Blaney4th, 43rd, 9th, 11th, 39th

Average: 21.2

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.26th, 9th, 16th, 5th, 1st 

Average: 11.4

Only two drivers, Keselowski and Stenhouse, had back-to-back top-10 finishes. They’re also the only two to win during this stretch but they drive for a manufacturer, Ford, that hasn’t won a race since Daytona.

Maybe it’s another plate race then that knocks them out of their funk? Problem is, both drivers had top-10 finishes last time out at ‘Dega (Stenhouse won). That means history tells us they won’t come anywhere close this time around.

The unpredictability of this race also minimizes the impact of playoff points. Since Truex is already qualified for the next round and Kyle Busch had his mishap at Charlotte, everyone from positions 2-12 is scrunched together. Larson has just a 29-point edge over Kenseth for ninth in the standings, a gap that could be virtually wiped out by stage wins alone.

It’s that tightness and the drama of stage bonuses which might give this race a little extra dose of crazy. Unlike last season, when Joe Gibbs Racing made a mockery of running at the back of the draft stroking it could cost you up to 20 points. That’s a loss anyone gunning for the Round of 8 simply can’t afford to take.

Does that mean we’re headed for a wreckfest? Not necessarily. But it creates three green-white-checkered finish type endings for the three different stages. The extra dose of adrenaline has led to an average of fifteen DNFs in three plate races this season, mostly for wrecks.

Sprinkle in a dose of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last plate race and it all adds up to the most unpredictable ‘Dega in ages. No one besides Truex among the playoff contenders is getting much sleep this week.

Did You Notice? …. Landon Cassill’s narrow list of options for 2018? One of NASCAR’s great young talents was given the pink slip by Front Row Motorsports Monday. Cassill now enters the free agent world with a limited number of NASCAR Silly Season musical chairs remaining.

Among those names he’ll fall behind on the list? Darrell Wallace Jr., Danica Patrick, and Matt Kenseth. Even Michael McDowell might eke ahead in a head-to-head battle by virtue of this year’s career high average finish of 22.2.

It’s true Cassill has struggled through underfunded rides after once being a development driver for Hendrick Motorsports. Despite 253 career starts at the Cup level not one of them was with a team that has top-tier resources. His lone top-five finish, at Talladega in the fall of 2014 for Joe Falk was with a team who spent the majority of the year running patchwork sponsorship.

Unfortunately, that word underdog doesn’t give you credit on a written resume. Cassill’s career average finish of 29.4 struggles to stand out from fellow lower-tier 20-somethings like Matt DiBenedetto (29.6) and Cole Whitt (29.7). They’re all in the same boat of “if only” and that argument holds less water when a fellow lower-tier team releases you.

Cassill’s best potential option may be a reunion with Falk if Jeffrey Earnhardt doesn’t pan out. Can you imagine him and a dedicated social media following hawking Hulu? The duo worked well together before and Cassill’s tendency to finish races would help a Falk team with 12 DNFs in 30 starts.

But any type of top-tier opportunity? Unless someone in XFINITY or Trucks comes knocking Cassill is a longshot at best.

Did You Notice? …. Quick hits before taking off….

  • Danica Patrick may be racing in 2018 after all. I’m hearing sponsorship momentum has increased in the last few days, potential backing that could land her with a full-time MENCS opportunity with a team that placed cars in the playoffs this season. For what it’s worth, she’s auditioned well, pulling off four straight top-15 finishes this summer for the first time in her Cup career. NASCAR CEO Brian France admitted last week the sport is willing to help Patrick and diversity darling Darrell Wallace Jr. find sponsorship for next season. “We get involved all the time with sponsorship arrangements with individual teams,” he said. “That’s not inconsistent with what we do.”
  • Among the drivers making a MENCS attempt at Talladega this weekend are Mark Thompson and Justin Marks. The duo have a total of three Cup starts between them and, in Thompson’s case, have not run in the series since 1992. It’s just two more wild cards that could make the Big One that much more unpredictable in Sunday’s closing laps.

About the author

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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Oh I pray there is no sponsorship for her. She seems to abhor her job, imo a lousy spokesperson for any sponsor. That GO DADDY enthusiasm for sponsors left when they left, one could argue. She would rather take selfies and let you know that she likes YOGA, anything BUT RACING. Never plugging it or singing it’s praises. She hates it, I believe…but the $$$$$$$$ are the draw and ego. I believe she never did get into the feel or commitment for CUP. She never went and tried to be better. Always the crew chiefs fault, the best in the business, legends in the business and they got the pink slip. Utterly shameful. I detest NASCAR and certain teams who fostered that diva bs. How insulting to the hard working folks who grew up in the business. No, I feel if that if this is true the poor saps have not done their homework like the BAKERY….that regretted it. And anybody who signs with her will regret it too. They are not doing their homework, regarding her or the overall health of the sport. My opinion.

Bill B

So Danica might have an opportunity with a team that placed in the playoffs huh? That would mean either Childress or Roush. Neither are top tier teams any more in my book and I thought she said she would only driver for a top tier team (I guess she’s full of shit). So is her relationship with Ricky getting her a foot in the door at Roush or is Childress so hard up with Menard leaving that he’s willing to take on another driver that doesn’t have a shot in hell? Should be interesting to see but if she couldn’t succeed at SHR with top notch equipment she is going to really be in trouble with one of those second tier teams. BTW, if you hadn’t noticed she is 28th in the standings and it’s late in the season, this could be her worst year yet. So much for improving, she’s actually getting worse.


Yup opportunity with a team that placed in the playoffs-next year she will drive them right to 28th in the standings.


Agree that RCR is second tier team now, She is a 3rd-4th tier driver. If it were not for fluke wins and a little help from NASCAR they would not been in the Playoffs. It is WRONG that NASCAR would step in and help with Sponsorship with her and Bubba. Her performance doesn’t deserve it, the 43’s performance doesn’t, as brought to light by Smithfield’s. I think Bubba should get a shot, but then again that what moving to Roush will do for a career, (Edwards, Kenseth, Martin, Busch,Burton, McMurry, Bushcuher all left, (Ragan?) (Reed, Bayne, Kulver, Mustgrave, Lepage, Dallenback, Benson, Darnell, Barun, Oquinn careers were crushed) (Stenhouse would be on this list if not for two R plate wins goes in this list until he wins on something with no plate on it). Then you have to ask yourself why NASCAR wouldn’t help Champions instead of a deadbeat and a potential up and comer that could help bridge the gap with the influx of younger drivers for a couple years to help them start carrying the sport?


A restrictor plate track a crapshoot/Russian roulette? No, really?

So NASCAR is going to step in and help find Danica sponsorship? Wow, how biased is that — after what they did to Carl Long’s team it is just a joke. But wait, he was an underfunded team, but not part of the drive for diversity.

I’m with you about her attitude, kb, she has done nothing to improve her skills since she arrived in NASCAR. All she’s done is carp and complain and expect that everyone else would move out of the diva’s way and it would fall in her lap. There were other female drivers out there trying to break into NASCAR at the same time as she was – drivers who had raced in the lower series of NASCAR but because she had the name and the sponsor $ from GoDaddy she got the gig and IMO wasted the opportunity presented to her completely.

Bill B

Yep. I’d still like to know why she hasn’t been running Xfinity races to get better. My impression is that she thinks it’s below her to run in the lower series even though she’s never broken into the top 20 in points. Or maybe she’s afraid it will really prove how ill equipped she is to compete if she can’t break into the top 20 in the lower series as well. What a putz.


If princess sparkle pony was interested in succeeding she would had ran in.xfimity or even trucks to get better. But its easier to blame others than taking responsibility for your own career. If she gets with a team and sponsors, it will just prove to me that the sport is na$crap.

Steve Cosentino

So proven drivers like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick cannot run in the Xfinity Series during their playoffs but a driver that hasn’t raced in Cup since 1992 can race during the NASCAR playoffs? Something is very wrong with that.


Look around at the drivers that are losing rides this year, and wonder why. Why is it that their career is over so soon? Several of them, Kenseth and Kahne come to mind, have won multiple races. Others, McDowell and Cassell have shone at least some promise. Danica has probably the largest following of any of them but no results.
So whats the common denominator? And supposedly nascar is trying to help Danica and Wallace find a ride. Interesting.


According to the latest rumor, Brennan Poole could end up in the 27 Cup ride at RCR, so no Danica

John Matthew

I like Danica Patrick. That said, I think it’s wrong for NASCAR to step and give ANYBODY help finding a sponsor. If drivers/teams can’t find sponsors, let them sit out. They should not try to find sponsors for her, Wallace, or anyone else.


Hey, if the sponsor won’t sponsor Danica, Brian can turn them into another Official Whatever Sponsor for NAS$CAR.


I have to think the potential for an early “big one” is high this week as those on the playoff bubble push for those points. We’ve already seen they can be the difference in moving on. It’s gonna be a wild one in ‘Dega Sunday.

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