TALLADEGA, Ala. (TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY) – The biggest race track on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule is gearing up for one of NASCAR’s biggest races, Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500, where unpredictability adds a riveting dose of drama to the NASCAR Playoffs.
Sunday marks the middle race of the playoffs’ second round. Currently, 12 drivers remain in the championship hunt; following next week’s (Oct. 21) event at Kansas Speedway, the contenders list will be trimmed to eight, after which three more races will produce a “Championship 4” showdown going into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Come Sunday at the famed 2.66-mile TSS layout, a victory by one those 12 contenders will result in an automatic berth into the next round. Unpredictability — via the always-looming prospect of a results-shuffling “Big One” – aside, a solid favorite to win the 1000Bulbs.com 500 is a driver who isn’t in the playoffs, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17 SunnyD Ford).
Stenhouse, one of the most capable competitors at the two biggest tracks on the schedule (Talladega and Daytona International Speedway), has a series-leading average Talladega finish of 11.4, based on 10 starts in the Monster Energy Series. He has one victory, in the 2017 spring race, his first victory at NASCAR’s top level.
“It’s always coming back to the place where you got your first win,” Stenhouse said. “Excited to get back on the track. I think we had a real good run here in the spring (fifth-place finish). I wish I had done a few things different coming down to the last few laps. Hopefully, I learned a little something that if it comes down to it [Sunday] we can put ourselves in a better position to cross the finish line first.”
Another driver who is outside the playoffs but still merits attention is Bubba Wallace (No. 43 Medallion Bank/Petty’s Garage Chevrolet). A native of Mobile, Alabama, Wallace is a Monster Energy Series rookie. His first Talladega start, this past April, produced a 16th-place finish.
“There are good vibes already,” Wallace said. “As soon as we stepped off the plane here there was a big crowd of fans at the airport to greet us for autographs. It’s shaping up to be a good weekend.”