Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After Tyler Reddick Steals Talladega

Who… should you be talking about after the race?

If not for one overzealous block coming to the checkers, you might be talking about Michael McDowell, who started on pole and was leading coming to the final flag. But this is Talladega Superspeedway we’re talking about. McDowell fended off one charge from runner-up Brad Keselowski but couldn’t quite do it a second time and spun off the nose of the No. 6. 

Enter Tyler Reddick, who had looked to be out of the running just yards before the finish. Reddick took advantage of McDowell’s spin, slowing the drivers behind him just enough for him so squeeze the No. 45 past them to take the GEICO 500 win over Keselowski.

Reddick finished in the top 10 in the opening stages and led five times for a total of 13 laps, including the money lap. It’s Reddick’s first win of 2024 and sixth of his career.

See also
Tyler Reddick Avoids the Big One, Wins at Talladega

Also, team owner Michael Jordan hand-delivered Reddick’s son, Beau, to Victory Lane. That’s a memory and a half.

And don’t forget Noah Gragson. Gragson has a tendency to be overaggressive, so his late run, pushing Keselowski hard at the front, looked like a disaster in the making.

But it wasn’t.

Gragson was aggressive but didn’t lose his head, keeping his car under him in the late melee and finishing a career-best third. Gragson’s day was part of a very solid effort by Stewart-Haas Racing overall. Chase Briscoe finished 12th after leading three laps early, Ryan Preece had some laps in the top five as well, finishing 14th, and Josh Berry was also in the top-five mix on the final lap but was caught in the crash and wound up 16th.

What… is the big question leaving this race in the rearview?

Fans and drivers alike took to social media after the disappearance of the scoring pylons at both Talladega and the previous race at Texas Motor Speedway — and they weren’t happy.

The tracks are owned by different entities. NASCAR, which owns Talladega, said that the scoring pylons, which display the running order but nothing else, are “old and outdated,” stating that they’d rather fans look at the big screens or even at their phones to determine where their drivers are running.

That might make an iota of sense at Texas, where the “Big Hoss” screen is easily visible from everywhere, including outer space, but not every track has a screen that big or easily visible from every seat. That’s if they showed more than four drivers at a time, anyway.

Fans pay a lot of money to watch a race at the track … and the sanctioning body expects them to look at their phones for half of it? That’s if they even get a signal, as data at the track is notoriously spotty.

Drivers weighed in on “Pylongate,” and none of their feedback was good either.

So far, several other tracks made it clear on social channels that their pylons were staying put, but is the simple pylon an endangered species in the sport?

Hopefully, the two tracks without one will remain an anomaly. Sometimes just because something isn’t the latest tech doesn’t mean it isn’t needed. That’s something NASCAR should remember when it makes changes down the road.

See also
Michael McDowell Spins from Lead, Corey LaJoie Flips in Last-Lap Talladega Calamity

Where… did the other key players wind up? 

Pole winner McDowell almost had it won. After leading a race-high 36 laps, McDowell was the leader coming to the checkers. His one block too many cost him the day with a 31st-place result. The good news? Everybody knew he was there. 

Last week’s winner Chase Elliott rode the momentum into leading laps early. He wasn’t able to get back to the front during the mayhem at the end, though, and finished 15th.

Defending race winner Kyle Busch also looked good early, only to get bitten by the big crash at the end. Busch was competitive, leading three times for five laps, but was in the wrong place at the wrong time coming to the checkers and wound up 26th.

Active Talladega win leader Keselowski reminded fans why he has six victories under his belt. He trailed McDowell at the white flag, and their row had almost dispatched the outside line in the final corners. He took McDowell up the track and then broke back to the inside, drawing a block a split second too late. McDowell spun off his nose and Reddick snuck by on the outside, but Keselowski played to win all day and finished a strong second.

Making his first Cup Series start on an oval at Talladega, Shane van Gisbergen led three laps, and he also learned how quickly things change by getting shuffled out of the top 20 afterward. Van Gisbergen is still learning these cars and tracks, and it’s interesting to watch his progression. He comes from a series that’s more similar to NASCAR than other international series, but still different enough that there’s a learning curve. Van Gisbergen made a solid charge in the closing laps but was swept up in the last-lap carnage to finish 28th, a finish that doesn’t represent his entire day.

When… was the moment of truth?

All they had to do was stay in line and they had the field dead to rights.

While most of the field played the fuel mileage game, six Toyota drivers teamed up and came to pit road for fuel. The move set the group up to be able to go the distance without having to pit or worry about overtime. With the frontrunners going full throttle and drawing the others into running harder than they wanted to, the six suddenly had a major advantage as long as the race stayed under green.

The closing rate at Talladega is crazy fast, and the cars closed on each other just as they hit the biggest bumps on the track. John Hunter Nemechek got into the back of Bubba Wallace, who got into the back of Erik Jones, and suddenly, the plan almost evaporated.

Reddick, who had been leading them and missed the crash, ended up the leader when the majority of the field pitted for fuel. Though with more than 20 laps to go, it wasn’t the advantage it might have been … but they made it work. When McDowell’s bad block slowed up Keselowski just enough, Reddick was able to capitalize on the track position the early pit stop gave him and take the W.

See also
Noah Gragson's Upward Swing Continues With Career Day

Why… should you be paying attention this week?

The Cup Series heads north to Dover Motor Speedway for race No. 11 of 2024. Dover has lost a lot of luster in recent years, but it still poses a challenge for drivers because of its unique layout. A high-banked concrete mile, Dover has made passing difficult on drivers in the Next Gen car.

The driver probably looking forward to Dover the most is Martin Truex Jr. With four wins, Truex leads full-time Cup drivers at Dover. Truex is from up the road in New Jersey, and the Dover mile seems to suit him. Without a win so far in 2024, Truex is second in driver points and in fine shape for the playoffs, but a win would cement his spot. 

His closest competition could come from Elliott and Kyle Larson, who also have wins under their belts at Dover and who both have the edge over Truex in average finish. All-time Dover win leader Jimmie Johnson will also make an appearance, but he has not raced the Next Gen car at the track and has struggled with the car in previous races.

How… does the playoff picture look 10 weeks in?

Reddick makes the seventh driver currently in the playoff field on wins. Unless there’s a barrage of new winners in the next 16 weeks, he should be safe. The other winners to date include William Byron (3), Denny Hamlin (2), Larson, Elliott, Christopher Bell and Daniel Suarez.

That’s a solid group. Truex is currently the highest driver in points (currently second) without a win, but there are several winless drivers currently in good shape. They’ll likely either win between now and the playoffs or stay solid in the standings.

Like previous years with the Nest Gen car, though, it’s way too soon to pick a favorite. A couple of weeks ago, Byron was the obvious choice; Hamlin was in that discussion as well, but they’ve cooled off a bit, while defending champ Ryan Blaney and Elliott have heated up.

In the next couple of weeks, look for teams to reassess their seasons, and while a few might reach for the panic button, many should stay the course, because things will change — and change again.

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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kb

Interesting McD. caused a wreck for many, and crickets. Brad, Joey or others block, and the world comes to an end, Armageddon! The hypocrisy is staggering.

DoninAjax

Every driver who wins a restrictor plate event “steals” the win! Except of course Humble Denny who “deserves” to win every event he is in.

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