Talladega? Thanks, but no thanks

Talladega? Thanks, but no thanks

October 10, 2018 3:00 AM
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Chase Elliott’s win last week at Dover locked himself into to the next round of NASCAR’s Playoffs, so unlike the other 11 championship-eligible drivers in the second round, he doesn’t have to sweat racing on the beastly 2.66-mile layout of Talladega Superspeedway where anything can happen and any driver can win.

It’s the randomness of restrictor-plate racing that drivers chasing a championship hate having to deal with in the Playoffs. Almost every car in the race can win, which is why you won’t see 500-to-1 longshots offered at the sports books like with other races. You also won’t see heavy favorites like we see each week with Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr being 9-to-2 or less.

No matter how hard a driver tries to run a clean race and simply try to finish, the track’s nasty temper can instantly wipe out half the field in a spectacular chain reaction wreck. The drivers are going 200 mph and have little time to react or get out of the way because they’re bunched up bumper to bumper sometimes going four-wide. 

For drivers like Harvick, Busch and Truex, this race scares the heck out of them because it is the one race where they no longer have an edge. And if they roll into one of those wrecks, they won’t score many points and have less of a chance of advancing, not only in the second round but also the third round. Imagine being the best for the first 30 races and then one track ruins everything. That’s Talladega.

Despite all the cars being equal, there are a few drivers that have shown a special flair for plate racing. In the four races between Talladega and Daytona each season, a couple of drivers always seem to find their way to the front. And being up front has proven to be the safest place on the track.

Joey Logano wrecked early at Daytona in July, finishing 39th, but in April he won at Talladega for the second time in his career. In February he had an amazing Daytona Speedweeks with second-place finishes in the Clash and one of the Duels before finishing fourth in the Daytona 500. Overall, Logano has four wins in plate races. 

The best statistical driver at Talladega is Logano’s Penske teammate Brad Keselowski who has five wins there and also won once in the summer at Daytona. His six plate wins are more than any other driver. Jimmie Johnson has five wins and Jamie McMurray has four. 

Keselowski and the high banks of Talladega have been getting along well right from the start of his career and he’s the perfect example of any driver being able to win. In 2009 he drove an underfunded part-time ride to his first career Cup win at Talladega. He won this race last season as well.

Because the Penske Fords have been so good, you can throw their teammate Ryan Blaney into the betting equation as well. Denny Hamlin and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also have two plate race wins.