Last week’s Dover winner, Chase Elliott, is a legitimate favorite as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway this weekend for the 1000Bulbs.com 500.
He won the Busch Pole position in his first-ever NASCAR Cup Series race there in 2016 and has two top-five finishes in five starts, including a third-place showing there in April.
And when it comes to the NASCAR playoffs, the 22-year-old Elliott boasts the second-best average finish (9.0) in playoff races. He has one win, eight top-five finishes (four of those runner-up efforts) and 10 top-10s in 14 career playoff races.
In the last 11 races, he’s tied with Kevin Harvick with six top-five finishes in the last 11 races.
Harvick back on top in points
Harvick reclaimed the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points lead last weekend at Dover International Raceway, with a valiant sixth-place finish and dominant 286 laps out front.
He owns a five-point advantage over Kyle Busch heading into Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (1 p.m. on NBC).
As good a season as Harvick has had in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Ford — seven wins and a series-best 25 top 10s — this is only the third time he’s topped the championship standings. He’s never held the lead more than a week.
Harvick hopes he can sustain this week. He and regular season champion Kyle Busch each have one previous win at Talladega, with both of those coming a while ago. Harvick won in the spring of 2010 while driving for Richard Childress Racing. Busch won in 2008, also in the spring.
Harvick’s best finish in the fall Talladega race is runner-up back in 2004. He crashed out in the 2017 ‘Dega playoff race, collected in a 16-car accident with 15 laps remaining.
He has five top-10 finishes in the last nine races at the track and led laps in seven of those.
However, this three-race second round playoff stage (at Dover, Talladega and Kansas) looks favorable for the 2014 champion.
He won at Dover and Kansas earlier this year and won the pole position at both Talladega and Kansas.
After leading a race-best 286 laps at Dover last Sunday, he had a pit-road issue late in the race and still rallied to finish sixth, best among the “Big 3” (also including Busch, who finished eighth and Martin Truex Jr., who finished 15th).
Talladega’s tough legacy
For all their excellence in 2018 — all four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers are still racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs — the organization hopes to raise the bar this weekend and score the championship team’s first-ever Talladega Superspeedway trophy.
Since the team’s 2009 inception, it has won 49 races, 42 pole positions and a pair of Cup championships, but it has never won on the notorious 2.66-mile Talladega high banks.
Harvick has a win on the track, something he scored back in 2010 while racing for Richard Childress Racing.
Clint Bowyer has two Talladega trophies — earning them in back-to-back fall races (2010-2011), also driving for RCR.
SHR teammates Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola have been close. Busch started second and finished runner-up to Joey Logano at Talladega this spring, his best-ever showing. Almirola’s best work was a fifth place, also this spring.