NASCAR: Dark Horse Drivers Who Could Win at Talladega

NASCAR: Dark Horse Drivers Who Could Win at Talladega


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Austin Dillon celebrates Daytona 500 win

Sunday afternoon, the NASCAR Cup Series drivers will head onto Talladega Superspeedway for the Geico 500. There are several big names that will enter the race as heavy favorites, including Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Brad Keselowski. However, three other “dark horse” drivers have a legitimate shot to reach Victory Lane.

Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch, and William Byron have all failed to take the checkered flag at Talladega in their careers, but they all have shown the ability to find success on ovals longer than two miles. Each driver has also registered a win at Daytona International Speedway, a track known for its high speeds and wild wrecks.

These three drivers all have something else in common in that they face decent — but not great — odds overall as they prepare for the Geico 500. Several drivers sit ahead of them, but fans should not overlook this trio.

Dillon’s biggest wins have taken place at iconic tracks

A driver for Richard Childress Racing, Dillon has reached Victory Lane three times in the No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro. He won the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in July 2020, officially booking his trip to the playoffs. Although this victory paled in comparison to his first Cup win.

Back in 2017, Dillon took the iconic No. 3 Chevrolet back to Victory Lane for the first time since 2000 when Dale Earnhardt Sr. was the wheelman. He completed a grueling 400-lap race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, passing Jimmie Johnson on lap 399 after the No. 48 ran out of gas. Dillon held off Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. to win the Coca-Cola 600, one of the Crown Jewel races.

The victory at Charlotte was only the first Crown Jewel of Dillon’s career. He added another in 2018 by winning the season-opening Daytona 500 after sending Aric Almirola into the wall. Daytona International Speedway is one of NASCAR’s longest tracks — next to Talladega — one where Dillon has registered three top-five finishes and a win in 16 starts.

According to NASCAR, Dillon has 35-1 odds to win the Geico 500 after previously posting three top-10 finishes at the Alabama track. These numbers aren’t the best overall, but they place him ahead of Bubba Wallace and Matt DiBenedetto among other drivers. More importantly, Dillon’s best finish in 2021 was third place in the Daytona 500.

The 2004 Cup champion has a history of solid performances at Talladega

GettyKurt Busch at Pocono Raceway

Busch has yet to reach Victory Lane in 2021 while driving the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro, but he has posted two top-10 finishes. He finished fourth at the Daytona Road Course and then eighth at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Now his next challenge will be finally taking the checkered flag at Talladega Superspeedway.

Busch has made 40 starts at the iconic track during his career, finishing top-10 on 21 different occasions. His list of starts also includes eight top-five finishes, as well as a career-best second-place finish in 2018 behind race-winner Logano.

While Busch has yet to win at Talladega, he has found success at other superspeedways. He has one win at Daytona and three more at Ponoco, “the Tricky Triangle.” Busch has consistently fought for top finishes at NASCAR’s top superspeedways, and now he will do so while facing 16-1 odds to win Sunday’s race.

Hendrick Motorsports’ rising star has impressed in 2021

The 23-year-old Byron is only in his fourth full-time Cup Series season, but he already has 38 top-10 finishes to his name, as well as two wins. His first trip to Victory Lane was the regular-season finale in 2020, which secured his spot in the playoffs. Byron also made history as only the second driver to take the No. 24 Chevrolet to Victory Lane, joining Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon.

Byron added to his win total early in 2021, taking the third race of the season. He outpaced Tyler Reddick and Truex to take the checkered flag at the Dixie Vodka 400. However, this race was only one of many in which Byron impressed.

While his season started slowly with struggles in the Daytona 500 and the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253, he has since rebounded in a major way. Byron has not finished a race outside of the top 10 since winning at Homestead-Miami. His No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro is among the best on the track every single week, whether the race is at a short track, a speedway, or on the dirt.

Of the three “dark horse” drivers, Byron the fewest starts at Talladega and the fewest top-10 finishes. He finished fourth during October’s playoff race while Hamlin reached Victory Lane. Byron also finished 11th during the 2020 iteration of the Geico 500. Now he will face 20-1 odds as he tries to win his second race of the season.

These three NASCAR drivers will join a stacked lineup on Sunday while trying to reach Victory Lane for the first time at the Alabama track. Byron will have the best starting position out of the group, lining up next to Truex on the second row. Dillon will start on the sixth row while Busch will start on the eighth. Hamlin will lead the field to green after winning the Busch Pole.

The Geico 500 takes place on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET. Fox will provide coverage for the 188-lap race while Mike Joy, Gordon, and Clint Bowyer call the action from the booth. MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will provide audio coverage.

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