We’ve had a run of short tracks (dirt and pavement), but now we’ve arrived at NASCAR’s longest oval. The high banks of Talladega are here. Those used to laps less than one mile in length for the last month will need to adjust to the 2.66-mile circuits before them today. A highly volatile venue where The Big One ever looms, today’s winner will arrive in Victory Lane via equal parts skill, strategy, and luck.
Here’s what to look for:
-Our winner last Spring was Ryan Blaney, who had also won the previous Fall race. Fords have had a pretty good hold on this place for years, winners of 9 of the last 11 races. His Penske teammates Joey Logano (3x) and Brad Keselowski (2x) were among some of those 9 winners, no coincidence there. They work well together, the three of them, and will look to keep that train rolling today.
–Denny Hamlin has broken up that 9 of the last 10 Ford Wins by being the most recent winner here. Last Fall he started 1st and finished 1st. Today..he starts 1st and..well, we’ll have to wait and see. His average finish of 11.3 over the last ten races is 2nd best among active drivers. Whatever the case, he’s got the best view from the front, at a place where you typically don’t want to be driving behind anyone unless you’re sitting 2nd on the final lap.
-Considering how treacherous this place is, Aric Almirola‘s eight Top 10s over the last ten races is incredible. His average finish in that span (10.5) leads all drivers. As unpredictable as Daytona can be, ‘Dega seems to be an even tougher nut to crack. Almirola, however, has found a way to be there at the end of most of these races, and even went to the Winer’s Circle in the Fall of 2018. A fly in the ointment, though; his last finish here was a 37th last October.
-In four starts at Talladega, Ryan Preece is actually the 3rd best driver in terms of average finish. He’s pulling down an 11.5 with two Top 10s, a great number for him on a smaller team. His teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is actually the 6th best average (13.0), and won the 2017 version of this race from the Pole. Expect both of these guys to be mixing it up all day.
-Gotta give some respect here to some lesser known teams. This track, even more than Daytona, lends itself to the opportunity for a smaller groups (or solo drivers) to break through. We already talking about JTR-Daugherty, but the teams get even smaller! Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley swept the Xfinity races last year (and didn’t get the chance to make it three in a row because of rain!), already has a Cup victory at the 2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona, and finished 11th here last Fall. StarCom Racing’s Quinn Houff finished 13th in that same race. Ricky Ware’s Joey Gase is paying homage to Davey Allison today shedding his usual #53, and rocking a #28 that harkens back to those classic Havoline days. He’s got a great message on board, too; getting people to register as organ donors. Davey Allison was an organ donor, and when he met with an untimely death, crucial parts of him were sent to four different recipients who went on to live a combined 25 more years. Amazing stuff. You can do your part, too, at registerme.org/28 .
Last year we had some buttermilk fried chicken, today we’ve got something I’ve been after for years:
Shrimp ‘n Grits! Yes! Grits are very much a southern thing, and they like their grits down there. It is something that a lot of people from Rochester, NY may not have had before — I’d describe them as “oatmeal, but corn.” That’s a good summary, I think. Anywho, I’ve only had them as part of a breakfast or with ribs, never as a vehicle for shrimp! Lisa did her usual thing and tore it up big time. These turned out excellent, and before I was even done I knew I’d want to have them again some time. Just like Frogmore Stew has worked its way into non-NASCAR rotation, I’m hopeful that these guys make the leap here, too. Great job, Leese!
Coverage of the race starts on FOX at 2:00pm, green flag scheduled for 2:20pm.