Why Ford Could be Due to Overcome Talladega, Who Can Get it Done

By Cole Cusumano, Staff Writer

Chase Elliott may have snapped a 42-race winless streak, but he also added fuel to what’s been a fiery, season-long gauntlet for supremacy in the NASCAR Cup Series, while extending a drought for another manufacturer.

Going into the 10th race of the season, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing have combined for eight wins, with Trackhouse Racing narrowly emerging victorious in the other event.

This leaves Ford and their new Mustang Dark Horse still in search of their maiden win in 2024 entering Talladega Superspeedway

Frequently labeled “unpredictable and treacherous,” the 2.66-mile track represents a clean slate and an equal opportunity for all to turn their season around. Many may cringe at the thought of racing in Talladega, but the Ford camp has every right to be eager for 500 miles of 180-plus mph racing.

Ford’s Dominance on Drafting Tracks in 2024

Although still in search of their first win heading into the 10th race of the season, there’s reason to be optimistic about Ford’s chances going into the GEICO 500 at Talladega, given their dominance on drafting-style tracks in 2024.

Speaking solely on raw speed, Ford has the evident upper-hand over Chevy and Toyota at tracks like Talladega. 

The blue ovals swept the front row at Daytona International Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway in the form of Joey Logano and Michael McDowell swapping turns in the top-two starting spots.

Not only have the Fords had the best single-car speed at drafting-style tracks, that speed has also translated to the main event.

Ford combined for most laps led in both races with 103-of-200 (52%) at Daytona and 178-of-260 (68%) at Atlanta. That means Ford has been out front 61% of the time at drafting-style tracks this season. 

Additionally, a driver from the blue oval bunch led the most laps in each of those two races.

Who’s Most Likely to Stop the Streaks

Ryan Blaney is arguably as much of a sure-thing at Talladega as the Earnhardt’s, Jeff Gordon and teammate Brad Keselowski during their respective, record-setting reigns. Going into the GEICO 500, the current champion is the odds-on favorite at +900 per BetMGM, and for good reason.

To put it simply: No one is better in the Next Gen era at Talladega than Blaney. His three top-fives, 109 laps led and fourth-place average finish in four starts are all the best in the series. The 2023 champ enters the 2.66-mile track hot off his third win in the most recent race, which also extended a three-race top-two streak. 

While Blaney opened the season with a DNF at Daytona, he missed out on bringing Ford their first win by 0.003 seconds to Daniel Suarez in the following race at Atlanta.

Brad Keselowski asserts himself as a contender every time the Cup Series heads to a drafting track courtesy his notoriously aggressive nature, which has cemented him among the all-time greats at Talladega.

Baptized by fire in his infamous maiden win at NASCAR’s premier level back in 2009, Keselowski has gone on to become a six-time Talladega winner, tying him Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon for second-most wins in series history.

As a matter of fact, Keselowski’s most recent victory came at the Alabama track in the spring of 2021, meaning he sits at a 107-race drought entering the 500-mile event. 

After a tough start to the season – crashing and finishing 33rd in both drafting races – the former champion has hit his stride, scoring four top-10s over his last six starts this season. Keselowski actually came within one spot of ending his winless streak after a runner-up outing at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend.

If there’s such a thing as peaking at the right time, now is that moment for Keselowski. 

The Underdogs

Front Row Motorsports teammates McDowell and Todd Gilliland have been in-your-face fast on drafting-style tracks in 2024. Outside of those two races, there hasn’t been nearly as much to brag about compared to last season just yet, but one win is all that’s needed to turn things around.

Just how fast has FRM been at Talladega-like tracks? 

McDowell has two front row starts, including a pole, in both starts with a top-10 and over 30 laps led. Although only a best finish of 26th between the pair of races, Gilliland led the most laps at Atlanta and actually has the most laps led at drafting-style tracks this season with 74 combined. 

Both drivers have two top-10s at Talladega in the Next Gen car.

Chase Briscoe has proven in recent weeks that he should no longer be slept on. After passing the eye test as one of the faster Fords in what’s been a trying season, the 2021 Rookie of the Year has now begun to string together consistent results and solidify himself as one of the strongest blue ovals through nine starts.

With no national series superspeedway wins to his name, it may even be a stretch to call Briscoe an underdog, but he’s been that much of a stand-out in the Ford camp. 

He’s currently riding back-to-back top-10s and coming off his season-best effort of sixth at Texas. Briscoe now has four top-10s, including one at Daytona, and the third-best average finish among Ford drivers through nine races at 14.6.

Outside of a DNF in his Next Gen debut at Talladega, Briscoe has two top-10s, a best finish of fourth and lowest finish of 13th, which came in the most recent race.

What About Joey? 

Look, Joey Logano has proven on three occasions he could get it done at Talladega – most recently in 2018. Heck, he has two front-row starts and the second-most laps led between both drafting-style races this season.

However, in the Next Gen era, Logano doesn’t hasn’t placed above 24th  at Talladega and has the second-worst average-finishing position among drivers with four starts in that time at 28.3. 

That shouldn’t take away from the fact he still has Coleman Pressley atop the spotter stand and four superspeedway wins. Not to mention, Logano was the driver who brought Ford to victory lane for the first time last year at another drafting track in Atlanta.

Find Out

The GEICO 500 from Talladega Superspeedway starts at 3 p.m. ET on Fox, MRN and SiriusXM on April 21.

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