From the coziness of Richmond, we go all out, full throttle at Talladega, AL, 2.66 miles of restrictor plate mayhem. For the uninitiated, the track at Talladega looks similar to Daytona in terms of race-style and the “12 cars under a blanket” nature of close-quarters driving, though the setup is a bit different. The start/finish line is intentionally placed beyond the natural dogleg on the frontstretch to make for a more exciting conclusion. And it will be. It always is. Things got off to a wild start already, with Jamie McMurray going airborne in PRACTICE, and Aric Almirola spinning out in Qualifying. The green flag hasn’t even dropped yet, and they’re already working towards “The Big One.” But I guess they always are. Artsy.
Here’s what to look for:
–Kevin Harvick will start out front, ahead of all the chaos, at Talladega today. He edged teammate Kurt Busch (also on this list, right below) in Qualifying on Saturday. Fords have won the last 5 races here, and the front row is a pair of Blue Ovals (one of whom will have a plaid paint scheme, can you guess which one?). Back to Harvick, he didn’t do too hot at Talladega in 2017 (23rd and 20th respectively), but carries a 15.4 average finish, 5th best of active drivers (and 2nd best of those with more than 9 starts).
–Kurt Busch will start outside on the front row, and will no doubt be nose-to-tail with Harvick by the time they hit the backstretch. Teamwork is key at restrictor plate tracks, and they’ve got the perfect ingredients right up front. He finished 6th in this race last Spring, and holds a 15.9 average finish. Both he and Harvick make their 35th Cup starts at this track today.
–Brad Keselowski somehow has 5 Talladega wins. It seems surreal. A 14.1 average finish for 18 attempts, and 5 of those he captured the flag; his most recent ‘Dega victory came last Fall. He’ll be ready to add another today, starting 10th. Next to teammate Joey Logano in a Ford.. Behind Clint Bowyer in a Ford.. Ahead of David Ragan in a Ford.. Have YOU driven a Ford lately?
–Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won this race last year, and hasn’t looked back. Instead, other drivers are looking forward to see him driving away. He won the 400-mile Daytona race next after that, and was immediately someone to watch at Talladega’s Fall race. He crashed out there (and also in this year’s Daytona 500), but his 12.1 average finish is something to hang your hat on. He’ll start 7th here, his worst qualifying position since the Fall of 2015.
–Aric Almirola, despite his Qualifying woes, will more than likely be a good pick here. He nearly won the Daytona 500 back in February, and is the only driver to place in the Top 5 in both 2017 Talladega races. If you’ve never seen this race before, watch for a few seconds and you’ll soon find out just how impressive that is.
As a result of McMurray‘s flip, NASCAR has issued restrictor plates with slightly smaller holes, now 55/64 of an inch. It is expected to cut about 10-15 horsepower, and shave off about 2 mph. It may not seem like much, but when you’re talking about cars FLYING through the air, every little bit helps. (Rusty Wallace did a test here in 2004 without a restrictor plate; his speeds got up to an average of 221 mph, peaking at 228 mph — some studies have shown that the roof flaps cannot keep the car securely grounded above 204 mph. The line between dangerous and exciting is a fine one, and may even be one in the same.)
Coverage of the race starts on FOX at 2:00pm, green flag scheduled for 2:19pm.