After this weekend's race at Talladega Superspeedway, I think we will be able to confidently eliminate about half of the Chase field's hopes for winning the championship, and maybe even more. The races at these super-speedways are nearly impossible to predict, so as I did in my previous Daytona and Talladega previews, I will be switching up the format for this week's article. Although I view them as borderline worthless, there are two practice sessions scheduled for Friday afternoon and the starting lineup will be set on Saturday afternoon. The Good Sam Club 500 is set to start around 2:15 eastern time on Sunday.
During The Last Race At Talladega...The five-time champ Jimmie Johnson got a push by 4th-place finisher (and team-mate) Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to get his first victory of this 2011 season and second at Talladega. Clint Bowyer, who led the most laps that day (38), finished runner-up, with Jeff Gordon ending up 3rd. Kevin Harvick, who started 38th that day, rounded out the top 5.
My Views On The Chasers:
Carl Edwards - Cousin Carl is actually one of the more consistent drivers when it comes to the restrictor plate race tracks. In the last eleven races at either Talladega or Daytona, Edwards has the best average finish of anyone in the series (13.5) and only one DNF. However, until his 6th-place finish at 'Dega in April, you have to go all the way back to 2006 to find Carl's last top 10 here. His career average finish here of 20.9 is nothing stellar, but I think the #99 Ford should be in the top 10 by the end of the race on Sunday.
Kevin Harvick - Harvick is always a good pick when it comes to the big tracks and his career average finish of 14.3 at Talladega backs that up. What's even more impressive to me is that he doesn't have one single DNF here in twenty-one career starts. Kevin won the April race in last season and is on a streak of three-straight top 5s at Talladega. He also has six top 10s in the last seven restrictor plate races.
Matt Kenseth - You won't find Kenseth on my rosters this weekend, I'll tell you that, even though I usually like the most recent winners when it comes to fantasy racing. He has just five top 10s in twenty-three career starts at Talladega and hasn't finished there since this race in 2006.
Kyle Busch - Despite having the third-best average driver rating in the past five races at Talladega, Kyle Busch is pretty risky pick on the big tracks. His average finish in thirteen races here is 24.2, but he has led at least one lap in nine of the last ten. If he starts in the top ten on Sunday, though, I'd think about giving Busch a shot: last season he started 6th in the April race last season and finished 9th, won the April race in 2008 after starting 5th, and finished 11th in the October race in 2006 after starting 6th.
Tony Stewart - "Smoke" used to be an awesome pick when the series stopped at a restrictor plate track, but now I'd just put him in the "kind of good" category. He finished 17th here in April, and in the two Daytona races this season he ended up 13th and 11th. In those three races, though, Stewart has led a combined total of one lap. Since his win here in the October race in 2008, Tony hasn't finished better than 16th. I think there are much better picks than "Smoke" this weekend.
Brad Keselowski - If "Bad Brad" wants to make it known that he's serious about this championship run, he better have a good run on Sunday--and it's not impossible that that will happen. As you may or may not remember, Keselowski made his first start at 'Dega in 2009 driving the #09 car for Phoenix Racing. He started 9th in that race, and despite only leading one lap in that race, he led the most important: the final one. Since then, Brad has made four starts at 'Dega and has ended up with two top 10s and has led at least three laps in all races. He struggled in the first two restrictor plate races of the 2011 season, but Keselowski finished 15th in the second Daytona race.
Kurt Busch - I'm assuming BK's dancing partner on Sunday will be the elder Busch brother, so if one has a good race you can reasonably expect the other to as well. Kurt won both the Shootout as well as his Duel race in Daytona earlier this year and is considered by many as the best restrictor plate driver to never win a race. Over the last eleven races on them, Busch has the best average driver rating (96.4). He has completed 96.5% of the laps ran in his twenty-one starts at Talladega, which is very impressive.
Jimmie Johnson - I usually don't like JJ at all in the spring race at Talladega (I actually had him on my Avoid list for the first race here, which he ended up winning) but the fall race is completely different. Johnson has four-straight top 10s in the October race here, and if he wants to win a sixth-straight championship, Jimmie will need a great run on Sunday, which is very possible.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - We all know the story of Junior at the restrictor plate race tracks. He pushed his team-mate, Jimmie Johnson, to the win here in April, and if they work together again on Sunday, I'm expecting top 5s out of both once again. Earnhardt has the best average driver rating (102.1) over the last five races here and he has just two finishes worse than 13th in the last seven races at Talladega. Junior's average driver rating of 90.2 over the last eleven restrictor plate races is fourth-best in the series.
Ryan Newman - This is another reason I don't like Tony Stewart this weekend: his team-mate, "The Rocketman." Over the past five races at Talladega, Newman has an average finish (24.4) that is worse than Robby Gordon (23.8)...seriously. Ryan's 3rd-place effort here in 2009 is his only bright spot in the last six races, as he hasn't finished better than 23rd in the other five. I can say with near certainty that Newman will be out of championship contention once the race is over on Sunday.
Jeff Gordon - In the last five restrictor plate races, Gordon has notched four top 10s and has led laps in all five. At Talladega specifically, Jeff has finished in the top 10 in the last two races, but those are his only finishes better than 19th since he won both races here in 2007. Over his entire career here (thirty-seven races), Gordon has visited victory lane six times and has an average finish of 16.1.
Denny Hamlin - Hamlin is hit-or-miss at Talladega, so keep that in mind if you pick him this weekend. In eleven career starts here, has has notched four top 10s, but those are also Denny's only top 20s here, bringing his average finish down to 18.7. In the three restrictor plate races this season, Hamlin has finished 21st, 23rd, and 13th.
The Non-Chasers I'm Keeping My Eye On:
Clint Bowyer - Clint won this race last season after starting 2nd and with his 2nd-place finish here in April, he now has three-straight top 10s at Talladega. What's impressive to me, though, is that in the last eight races here, Bowyer has finished worse than 12th just once. He has the fifth-best average driver rating (88.6) over the last five races here.
Kasey Kahne - Kasey Kahne has two 2nd-place finishes to his name in fifteen career starts at Talladega Superspeedway, but those are his only top 10s as well. However, you can't overlook the fact that he has had some super fast Toyotas for the past few weeks. He'll probably work with his team-mate, Brian Vickers, on Sunday, who since joining Red Bull Racing in 2007 has three finishes of 13th or better at Talladega, but also four finishes of 29th or worse.
Greg Biffle - The Biff's stats at restrictor plate tracks won't blow you away, but he's quite consistent. In the last eleven races on them, Biffle has finished outside of the top 20 just once, although he has just two top 10s. At Talladega, he hasn't finished worse than 19th since 2008 and has notched three top 10s in that five-race span.
David Ragan - Well in case you didn't believe it before, the second Daytona race this season proved that Ragan is a legitimate contender at the restrictor plate tracks. At Talladega, David has an average finish of 17th in nine career starts and has notched three top 10s. He has the ninth-best average driver rating in the last five races here.
Juan Montoya - If you're looking for a high risk, high reward driver, Montoya is your guy. In the last three Talladega races, Juan has two top 5s to his name, and he finished 2nd here in 2008. His career average finish of 16.4 here is actually tenth-best in the series. Also, over the last eleven restrictor plate races, Montoya has the second-best average finish (13.6) and six top 10s. He should be working with team-mate Jamie McMurray, who can get to the front at these tracks.
Joey Logano - Joey has just six top 10s this season and one of those came in the first race at 'Dega, where he finished 10th after starting 36th. Surprisingly, though, Talladega is Logano's second-best track on the circuit. In five career starts here, "Sliced Bread" has notched four top 10s and completed all but twelve laps. Who knows, maybe his 12th-place run last week in Charlotte will give the youngster some momentum heading into this weekend.
Trevor Bayne - We all know how Trevor won the Daytona 500 to kick of this 2011 season (as well as the ensuing Bayne-mania) but he finished 40th in his first start at 'Dega and was out of the second Daytona race this year after just four laps. He should have the car to get a solid top 10 for fantasy owners on Sunday, but you better hope he doesn't wreck.
David Gilliland - No, I'm not joking here. In the three restrictor plate races in 2011, Gilliland has started 39th, but he finished 3rd in the season-opening Daytona 500 and followed that up with a 9th-place effort at Talladega in April. In the second Daytona race, David finished 16th. What can I say, I guess the guy knows how to stay out of the wrecks.