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The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season has set the standard much of the year for how wild and unpredictable stock car racing can be. Yet, one of the races most associated with such craziness essentially shuffled the standings back into order.

Chase Elliott gathered his series-leading fifth win of the season in a race that featured only two cautions because of a wreck, and seven of the top 10 finishers are still eligible to win the championship.

Talladega traditionally produces some of the most unpredictable races of the NASCAR season

An overview of the 2022 NASCAR Playoffs race at Talladega Superspeedway
An overview of the field during the 2022 NASCAR Playoffs race at Talladega Superspeedway | Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Typically, Talladega Superspeedway is known for at least one big crash and often multiple big ones. It is also generally considered a wild-card race because the superspeedway-style racing that keeps much of the field bunched into a pack often of at least 30 cars allows a much wider range of drivers to race toward the front than in a traditional oval race.

Sunday’s race had the most drivers in the NASCAR Playoffs finish inside the top 10 in the fall Talladega race since the 2015 edition also featured seven. Otherwise, no more than five playoff drivers had recorded top-10s at Talladega in the six years in between.

Many playoff drivers spoke of the need to maximize the Round of 12 opener at Texas Motor Speedway because the 1.5-mile track would allow them to control their fate more than the superspeedway race at Talladega or the upcoming road-course event at the Charlotte Roval to close the round.

Texas and Talladega effectively switched roles in this edition of the playoffs. The Texas race had a track-record 16 cautions, drivers had tire problems throughout the event, and Tyler Reddick won the race after he had been eliminated from championship contention the week before in the first-round finale at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The 2022 season has been much different than previous years

It has been a season much more in line with the type of race the Cup Series had at Texas, aside from the constant tire problems, than what happened Sunday at Talladega.

The new Next Gen car model NASCAR introduced for this season leveled the playing field for many smaller teams in the series, which showed up in the statistics.

The Cup Series has 19 different winners through 31 races, which ties 2001 for the most different winners in the modern era (since 1972). It also had 16 different drivers win a regular-season race for the first time since NASCAR moved to its current 16-driver playoff format in 2014.

Sure, Hendrick Motorsports driver Elliott still leads the series in wins, but Reddick, Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez, Austin Cindric, and Chase Briscoe all won their first career Cup Series races this year. Drivers like Erik Jones and Chris Buescher also won playoff races to snap winless streaks that spanned more than three seasons.

Among that group, only Cindric and Briscoe drive for teams that field more than two cars each week.

The storyline of the 2022 season has built upon the idea that anything and everything can happen on a week-to-week basis, and that has primarily been true – until the series shuffled back into its more traditional order at the most unexpected of venues.

Typical top drivers and teams are back atop the playoff standings after Talladega


Chase Elliott Directs Stern Words at NASCAR Just Moments After Talladega Win, and Reveals Why He Could No Longer Keep His Mouth Shut on Safety Concerns

Ryan Blaney finished second for his fifth finish of 11th or better in the last seven Talladega races. He has led laps in eight of his previous nine trips to the 2.66-mile track that is the largest oval on the NASCAR schedule, and his 9.9 average finishing position in the last eight races is the best among all full-time Cup Series drivers.

Blaney also drives for Team Penske, which has had a driver finish sixth or better in the championship standings in each of the last eight seasons.

The surprising part of Elliott’s win is that the 2020 Cup Series champ and one of the most successful drivers in the sport since his full-time debut in 2016 hadn’t won at the facility since 2019. He does lead all active drivers with a 14.2 career average finishing position at Talladega, after all.

Elliott now sits atop the playoff standings once again and has an automatic berth into the Round of 8. Blaney is two points behind him in second, with championship-contending mainstays Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Kyle Larson all tied for fifth or higher. Chastain in third for Trackhouse Racing is the only remaining outlier.

Perhaps the 2022 season will return to its wild ways this upcoming weekend at the Roval. For one week, however, the series sure looked a lot like it did for the previous five years or so, although Talladega likely would have been near the bottom of any list of tracks to set the standings back in order.

Stats courtesy of Racing Reference

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