After Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega, four more drivers will be eliminated from NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship, which will leave us with eight and only four races to go.
The volatile nature of Talladega’s massive 2.66-mile layout makes anything possible Sunday. The winner will automatically advance to the next round.
We’re going to see a lot of drivers currently sitting in the top-eight in points play it safe early on while those outside looking in are going to need to spice things up a bit to keep their season alive. The four drivers outside looking in right now are all compelling stories.
Kyle Busch is 6 points out of eighth place, and while we’ve never seen him perform well in the Chase, I think everyone was on board with him faring well this season after winning four races during a five race stretch that ended in July.
Busch hasn’t won since, and may be feeling the pressure a little at Talladega where he does have a win, but his average finish position is 22.3. This beastly track has been rough on him.
Ryan Newman is 8 points out of eighth as he looks to advance just like last season. Like last year, he hasn’t won a race, but has been playing it smart and using the rules wisely. Newman has never won at Talladega, but has finished seventh and fifth in his last two starts there. A similar performance Sunday could see him advance to the next round.
We’ve never seen Dale Earnhardt Jr. win a Championship (his Daddy won seven times) but with Talladega being the turn race into the next round, we could see him get there.
Junior’s history is of dominance at Talladega along with winning two of the last three restrictor-plate races on the season. He won at Talladega in May – his sixth win there – and then was victorious at Daytona in July, his only two wins on the season.
Earnhardt should be considered the favorite to win on Sunday. He’s 21 points out of eighth place and likely needs a win to advance or a crazy amount of help.
Matt Kenseth is 25 points out of eighth place and has to still be fuming about an over-zealous Joey Logano wrecking him late at Kansas while he was leading. Sure, you always go for the win, but with Logano having things sewn up to advance to the next round, you’d think he’d be a little less aggressive.
Logano was racing like he had to win. This will hurt him down the road in the next round and some of the veterans will look to teach him respect.
Anyway, Kenseth wasn’t a good plate racer early in his career, but has been outstanding over the past six seasons. He grabbed a win at Talladega in 2012 and then was runner-up in this race last fall. With the stakes so high, and Kenseth being close to Earnhardt Jr.’s equal in this race, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Matt and Junior bumping and banging down the stretch for the win.
I’ll stick with that scenario this week just because I hope it happens. Brad Keselowski, who won this race last season, will be right there as well. He’s a three-time winner at Talladega, which includes his first career Cup win in 2009 while driving for a part-time team.
Keselowski’s teammate Logano won the other plate race this season in the season opening Daytona 500.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Twitter: @MicahRoberts7 Email: [email protected].