This week it’s Talladega for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. Like many tracks on the circuit there are those who revere ‘Dega as the kingpin track, they live for this. Known for “the big 0ne” an accident which can drastically change a race and take out half a field there is very little that can be predicted about any race at the largest oval track on the schedule.
Last year teammates Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer made it a clean sweep for Richard Childress Racing. Harvick held off Jamie McMurray (who had gained the reputation as a restrictor plate track king) while Bowyer held off Harvick in the fall event.
All three of the aforementioned will have a chance to win on Sunday but there are plenty of others who also expect to fare well.
At Texas Matt Kenseth ended a 76 race win less streak dating back to 2009 and the spring race at California, at Phoenix Jeff Gordon snapped a similarly long streak dating back to the the 2009 spring race at Texas. That has everyone talking about Dale Earnhradt Jr and his 100 race winless streak. All three figure to be in contention this weekend. Gordon (6) and Earnhardt Jr (5) trail only Dale Earnhardt (10) in trips to victory lane. Though it’s worth mentioning that none of those wins came with the new two car drafting technique that should consume much of Sunday’s race. Both have looked great at moments this year and both were strong during speedweeks at Daytona earlier this year. Kenseth is coming off a great win at Texas and while his numbers at the plate tracks are not up to his stats at other ovals he’s been solid week in and out since the end of last year. In addition he also ran well leading up to Daytona prior to a wreck with teammate Greg Biffle.
Biffle is one driver who has done very little at Talladega. His last four finishes at ‘Dega are 7, 4, 17 and 19. Yet Biffle is coming off a fourth place run at Texas and is slowly starting to climb back into chase contention. Biffle is one of the more trusted drafting partners in the field and shouldn’t have any trouble finding help.
Kurt Busch is gaining the reputation of being perhaps the best plate driver on the circuit who hasn’t won a race. Busch won the Bud shootout and his Gatorade Duel this year at Daytona. He’s finished inside the top-10 13 times in 20 starts at Talladega and has finished 17 of those races.
Like wise should be the case for the other two RCR cars of Jeff Burton and Paul Menard. Burton is one of the drivers who as of late have looked so good at the plate tracks only to find himself being caught up in a mess created by someone else. Menard’s best Cup finish came at Talladega in 2008 when he finished second to Tony Stewart. Menard probably won’t find victory lane this weekend but he should put up another solid run and provide good air time for his family brand.
Juan Pablo Montoya is still looking for his first win on an oval and you’ll hear your share of “is this the week” based largely on his two third place finishes last year. I’ll go on record as betting against that to happen this week.
A lot of air time has and will continue to go to Trevor Bayne this week. Bayne won at Daytona in just his second Cup start but since then things have been a struggle for the youngster. Since his Daytona win he’s been largely been trying to hang onto the car and has been in the way more often then not. I wouldn’t expect much from Bayne this weekend or going forward.
Expect Robby Gordon, Michael Waltrip and David Ragan to find there way to the front at some point and mix it up but don’t expect them to stay there when the race finishes.
One last thing I’ll be looking at is whether Ryan Newman finishes. Prior to finishing 23rd in the fall Talladega race he had crashed out of the last four plate races he had been in.
Like every other track, things can change in a moment at Talladega. It’s just the number of cars whose moment may be up that is different. Most any car in the field could win this week but I would be mildly surprised if someone else stepped forward.