Mash The Gas – Talladega Preview

It’s back to plate-racing as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the massive Talladega Superspeedway for what could very well be one of the most unpredictable events of the season. Winners at the 2.66 mile tri-oval last year were Jimmie Johnson in the spring and Clint Bowyer in the fall. Sunday’s Aarons 499 consists of 188 plus laps, “plus” because there is a high probability the race will end under the green-white-checker scenario, maybe a couple. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 1:19pm eastern on May 6th.

Anyone in the starting line-up has a legitimate shot at winning as the restrictor plates have equaled the competitive gap between the powerhouse teams and those with less financial backing.

Don’t be surprised to see an unexpected winner standing in victory lane.

We look at who’s hot in the season so far combined with who runs well at the upcoming track as well as hunches to come up with the following list and discussion.

#16-Greg Biffle
Dan Margetta – Biffle may have had the fastest car in the Daytona 500 earlier in the season but found himself behind teammate and eventual winner Matt Kenseth late in the race. Coming off his worst finish of the season last weekend, Biffle and the team will be out to erase the Daytona second-guessing of the armchair quarterbacks and score his second win of the season.

John Wiedemann – The current point leader will be strong this week along with the entire Roush Fenway Racing team. Biffle has held on to the top of the standings and should be on top following the Aaron’s 499. A win hasn’t been recorded by Biffle at Talladega yet, Sunday may change that.

#17-Matt Kenseth
JW – But, if the winner is going to be a Roush driver, Matt Kenseth is my choice to win on Sunday. Kenseth seems to be able to close out the restrictor plate races and be there at the end. Kenseth has three top five and six top ten finishes at Talladega, no wins yet. While Chevrolet has won the last five races at the Alabama track, the Fords are strong at plate tracks led by Roush Fenway Racing.

DM – Like Biffle, Kenseth had a very strong car in Daytona and he drove it to the win. That car, however, now sits in the Fan Experience in Daytona so he’ll have to rely on a new ride for Talladega. Normally not a huge fan of plate racing, Kenseth is actually looking forward to Talladega more than he ever has in his previous 24 starts.

#99-Carl Edwards
DM – Edwards sat on the pole at Daytona and drives a third ultra-fast Roush-Fenway Racing entry. The team appears to be back on track, having posted recent strong runs at Kansas and Richmond, and they could be ready to find victory lane for the first time this season.

#15-Clint Bowyer
JW – At this point, I’m going to start going off the board (or wall) for picks. When we get to the plate tracks in fantasy racing, I tend to make picks with the thought that they are throw away picks. I don’t want to waste a driver (we get to use a driver 9 times during the season) and the plate tracks can be a toss up. That being said, Bowyer has won two out of the last three races at ‘degga and finshed second the other time, Bowyer is going to victory lane on Sunday for the first of multiple Michael Waltrip Racing wins this year.

DM – A look back at the last nine races at Talladega shows one driver outperforming the others by a large margin and surprising to some, that driver is Clint Bowyer. He won the last event held here while driving for Richard Childress but some key Childress employees followed him to his current home at Michael Waltrip Racing and he’s been fast all year.

#88- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
DM – Junior’s late race charge at Daytona netted him a second place finish and restrictor plate pack-style racing suits him perfectly. He’s come so close to snapping the nearly four year winless streak so many times this season, he’s got to find victory lane sometime Talladega lines up nicely as the place to do it.

#51- Kurt Busch
JW – Junior will be a popular pick this weekend but, I’m thinking Kurt Busch. Caught up in the opening accident of the Daytona 500, Busch wasn’t able to show what he can do. Busch is a talented plate racer. He leads the series in time spent in the top fifteen and is second in green flag passes at Talladega. It has been a frustrating year for Busch, but Talladega will allow him to have fun racing at the front again.

#48- Jimmie Johnson
DM – He only lasted two laps at Daytona before getting wrapped up in a crash and the team exited the ‘500’ with questions concerning the legality of their cars. The ominous “C” posts are gone for Talladega and they’re ready to stop answering the questions of when they’re going to win this season.

#42- Juan Pablo Montoya
JW – Yes, I am picking JPM as a favorite. The expert open-wheel racer has two pole positions, three top fives and three top tens with the series third best average running position at Talladega. It would be cool to see Montoya add a win in Alabama to his list of racing accomplishments.

#20- Joey Logano
DM – He has four top-ten finishes in his six Talladega starts and he needs a strong run to stay out of the “Silly Season” talk later in the year. His past performances show a penchant for avoiding trouble here which is key to being in the right position late in the race to challenge for the win.

#22- AJ Allmendinger
JW – Kurt Busch finished six out of twelve races in the top ten while driving the Penske #2/22 ride. Allmendinger picked up the ride just prior to the season starting and has been climbing up the standings as he gets used to his new ride and team. While he doesn’t have great stats at Talladega, AJ has spent time at the front. Another driver that didn’t get a chance to shine at Daytona after having the car damaged early in the race, Talladega gives AJ another shot.

More Thoughts:
JW – #43-Aric Almirola: Almirola is currently tied for 23rd in points, not bad company since he is tied with Kasey Kahne, but Kahne is climbing up the standings while Almirola is pretty much staying put. This week, Mike Ford was hired as crew chief for the #43 Richard Petty Motorsports team replacing Greg Erwin. Ford, who had seventeen victories with Denny Hamlin including a run to second place in the standings in 2010, will be tasked with guiding the young driver. Almirola has had some decent runs but needs to improve during the race and finish better than he starts. Communication is the key and if the synergy between Ford and Almirola works, look for top tens and a few top five finishes from this team.

DM – It could happen: Talladega has been known to produce some surprise winners over the years and that scenario could play out on Sunday. Brad Keselowski scored an out-of-nowhere win driving James Finch’s car in 2009 and Finch’s current driver is plate racing specialist Kurt Busch. A win by Busch would greatly help the team with their struggling sponsorship issues this season. Regan Smith and Paul Menard have been quiet so far this year despite driving for very capable teams and Aric Almirola brings a new crew chief in Mike Ford to Talladega. Finally, Dave Blaney finished third at Talladega last October nearly found himself in the right place at the right time to win the Daytona 500 back in February.

Share Button