We’ve arrived at a segment of the schedule full of high banks and high pressure. Kurt Busch is the only driver smiling today as his ticket is punched for the Round of 8 after winning last week’s tilt at his home track in Las Vegas. The boys are in ‘Dega this afternoon, a race packed with five lanes of mayhem, and nothing guaranteed.
Here’s what to look for:
–Ryan Blaney has been eliminated from Championship contention, but did you know he is the last driver to win here, and he’s done it twice consecutively? Yes, he won this race in 2019, and then followed that up with a Spring trophy. Certain guys have knacks for different tracks, and it seems as if he’s the guy to watch today. (And Blaney likes the way the 2021 schedule looks — if you haven’t seen it, give it a once over! They’ve got a dirt track race at Bristol!!..)
–Aric Almirola is riding a streak of eight straight Top 10s at Talladega. That is incredible! Unsurprisingly, he’s got the best average finish over the last ten races here (8.4) of those with more than one start (John Hunter Nemechek finished 8th in the Spring in his only attempt). He’s had some success on what were formerly known as “Plate” tracks (Daytona included), and unlike Blaney, he IS still alive in the Playoffs. Will Aric be Almirollin’ to a Win today? We shall see!
–Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is another guy who knows his way around these types of track. It is his last realistic shot at a Win this season, though nothing is off the table for anyone ever. I expect him to be up on the wheel, and we saw that at Daytona with him, too. The pressure of the Playoffs is off of him, and he doesn’t have much to lose out there. Points. Respect. You name it. Stenhouse could be in for a solid run today.
–Corey LaJoie doesn’t get much press on this site, but here is a chance for it. Like some others on this list, he doesn’t have the best average finish (18.6), but he’s had some great runs. He’s got a streak of three straight Top 16s at Talladega, finishing 16th in the Spring, and then bagging an 11th and 7th at least year’s events. He’ll have plenty of traffic to work through, but he seems to come out just fine when the smoke clears.
–Brendan Gaughan is a guy I pick in my personal Fantasy Nascar league any time I get a chance to do it. He doesn’t have the BEST numbers at Talladega, but he has put forth some quality finishes. He finished 21st in the Spring, which you might say “well that isn’t very good..,” but think of the types of guys that he’s beating and the equipment they’re driving. Since you need a little more convincing, he finished 12th in the 2018 version of this race, and 8th in the 2019 Spring race. Even though Gaughan starts 40th today, I like him in this events.
And it also marks his final Cup Series start. He’s been running the four Plate races (Daytona x2, Talladega x2) recently, but had a full rookie season back in 2004. That came with some Rochester connections, driving the #77 Penske Racing Kodak car after they left the iconic #4 we were so used to seeing. He did a meet and greet at Kodak one time and I had to meet he and Penske. Good conversations, dude was a class act. That year, he got his best career Cup finish; 4th place at — you guessed it — Talladega. Good luck today, Brendan! #NotGaughanYet
It’s that time again, some great food coming from Alabama. Earlier this year, we had some Country Sausage Gravy and buttermilk biscuits (MMM!!), and today we’re dropping some stuff in the fryer..
Fried Chicken! And some homemade mac and cheese! These have made an appearance before in the household, but find some bonus action here on a NASCAR day at Talladega. Good stuff! Its funny when looking at this picture, doesn’t seem like there’s much to the chicken in terms of size, but I’ve just got a honkin’ clump of Mac ‘n cheese, haha. Tasty, and good for the soul, too! This is stop #1 on our chicken tour today as we’ll have some wings whipped up for halftime of the Bills game today later on. Yowza! Nice job, Leese, keep up the great work!
Coverage of the race starts on NBC at 2:00pm, green flag scheduled for 2:08m.