2021 NASCAR Cup Series preview: Talladega 1

Expecting the unexpected is what should be expected anytime the NASCAR Cup Series visits Talladega Superspeedway, and the 2021 season is no exception, as the field will race at the track Sunday afternoon. 

Although the race will not bring low-downforce conditions like the previous three races in the Cup Series, make no mistake – the high banking, coupled with 2.0-plus-mile distance, will give the field additional spice to what is an already parity-laden 2021 season. 

Denny Hamlin will start on the pole. Despite finishing inside the top five in eight of his nine races this season, the No. 11 Toyota driver has yet to pick up a coveted win to lock in his spot in the playoffs. In 30 career Cup starts at the track, Hamlin has won twice, with his most recent victory coming in the Round of 12 of last year’s postseason (Oct. 4). 

Ryan Blaney will start in seventh. Although he finished 25th at Talladega during the Round of 12 last year, the 27-year-old for Team Penske won the two prior races at the track (Oct. 14, 2019 and June 22, 2020). Blaney’s only other finish inside the top five at the track came in his second career Cup race there (he finished fourth on May 3, 2015). 

Chase Elliott will start the race in eighth. Aside from Hamlin, Elliott is the only driver inside the top seven in season points (285) to not win a race yet this season. In 10 career Cup starts at Talladega, Elliott has won once (Apr. 28, 2019) and finished inside the top five four times. Three crashes in three separate races, however, has netted the 25-year-old Hendrick Motorsports driver a 14.9 average finish at Talladega so far through his Cup career. 

Among all active Cup drivers, Aric Almirola leads the field in terms of average finish at Talladega (8.4). Over his past 10 Cup races at Talladega, Almirola has finished inside the top 10 in eight of them, with his best finish coming on Oct. 14, 2018, when he held off Clint Bowyer to win the race. In 97 career superspeedway races, Almirola has finished inside the top five 10 times. The No. 10 for Stewart-Haas Racing will start the race in 14th

20-year-old Harrison Burton will take part in his first career Cup race at Talladega this weekend. In three career races at the track in the Xfinity Series, Burton has finished outside the top 20 in two of them (32nd on June 20, 2020 and 23rd on Oct. 3, 2020). Burton will start 39th. Burton cracked the top 10 in his most recent Xfinity race at Talladega on Apr. 24 (10th).

Stage lengths for the race will be 60-120-188. Coverage for the race will begin at 2:00 p.m. EST on FOX. 

Starting lineup: 

Pit stall assignments:

Goodyear tire notes: https://www.jayski.com/2021/04/20/goodyear-fast-facts-talladega-6/

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