Every year, the fall NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway is circled on the calendar. Of the 10 playoff races, it is a wild card.
This year’s Round of 12 cutoff race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway was circled, as is next week’s Round of 8 cutoff race on the “roval” at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, and the Nov. 1 Championship Four cutoff race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
But even though Talladega is not a cutoff race, cue the playoff music anyway because it is simply a wild card race that anyone can win.
The good news for Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is that he has 3,104 points with a 61-marker lead over the Round of 8 cutoff position.
The bad news is that if he gets involved in an early accident at Talladega, most of that big lead could disappear.
The truth is, Talladega and its sister track Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway are different animals when it comes to stock car racing because they are races that, literally, anyone can win. Drivers must draft together, side-by-side, at speeds approaching 200 mph, and a lot of the race is spent getting into the best position on the final lap to try and win the race.
Harvick has started 78 races in his career at Talladega and Daytona with three total victories in point-paying races. He will make his 40th Talladega start in the NASCAR Cup Series Sunday, where he has one win, two poles, seven top-five finishes, 16 top-10s and has led 262 laps there.
He scored his lone win at the 2.66-mile superspeedway in April 2010, when he started fourth, led two of 200 laps and beat runner-up Jamie McMurray by .011 of a second.
Harvick earned his first Talladega Cup Series pole in May 2005 with a speed of 189.804 mph. He won his second Cup Series pole there in April 2018, when he recorded a lap of 49.247 seconds at 194.448 mph. Harvick has three career Cup Series runner-up finishes at Talladega, most recently in October 2010, when he started 14th, led 12 laps and was beaten by now-SHR teammate Clint Bowyer.
And while his superspeedway win percentage isn’t his best, Harvick did win the biggest race of them all when he led just four laps to take the 2007 Daytona 500 victory.