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The second of three NASCAR Playoff races in the Round of 12 is at Talladega Superspeedway, the meanest, baddest track on the planet.

It’s 2.66-miles of nastiness with 33 degrees of banking that begs for four-wide racing at over 200 mph. This beast of a tri-oval is the most volatile track in the series and always produces the most spectacular crashes of the season.

The drivers are all bunched together bumper-to-bumper, side-by-side for 188 laps. Think rush hour on the highway in any major city, except going at 200 mph. All it takes is for one driver to make a tiny mistake, a wiggle, and then “The Big One” happens where there is a chain reaction of wreckage that can sometimes take out half the drivers. There’s no way for them to avoid it. It just happens in an instant.

It’s those types of things that make Talladega the least attractive track to wager on. Of course, I still make wagers on a few drivers to win, but I don’t play any driver match-ups specifically because of the volatility. Because no driver is safe, their individual driver rating for a race doesn’t hold true like it might with a driver like Kyle Busch at Bristol. If I feel I don’t have that normal edge, I drop down the bankroll from what I usually play weekly. 

But I love the racing so much at Talladega that I have to bet a few drivers and hope I get lucky. These Talladega races really are crapshoots, and it’s a thrill to watch it all unfold and hope my drivers escape “The Big One.” The randomness is like playing Sigma Derby (The D Las Vegas still has one), except it’s a three-hour Sigma Derby race and some of the horses don’t cross the finish line.

Despite the volatility of Talladega, I still keep a driver rating for each on the assumption they’ll stay out of harm’s way and finish the finish. Some drivers are better at the chaos of racing at a track like Daytona and Talladega, which we used to call restrictor-plate tracks — the final restrictor-plate race was the 2019 Daytona 500. Some drivers have the art of reading the airflow and using it to their advantage to catapult themselves past a driver in front of them. All the cars are equal or supposed to be, so it’s little tricks to gain more speed like “drafting” that helps separate some drivers from others as the best on these tracks.

The aerodynamics of the cars also play a role in how the air flows over the body design giving a particular manufacturer an edge over an extended period of time. Before Chase Elliott won the April Talladega race for Chevrolet, a Ford from three different organizations had combined to win the seven previous Talladega races. Joey Logano won three of those for Team Penske and his teammate Brad Keselowski won two.

Keselowski is the active leader with five Talladega wins and he’s done it driving for three different manufacturers. His first career Cup win was at Talladega in 2009 driving a Chevrolet for a part-time underfunded team. He won there in a Dodge for Penske in 2012 and then for Ford in 2014, 2016, and 2017. It sounds like he’s due, right?

The new race package for Talladega and Daytona with aero ducts, taller spoilers, and engines producing 550 horsepower were used in the April Talladega race and the rain-shortened July Daytona race. Keselowski did not fare well in either of those with the new package, but Logano did leading five times for 40 laps at Daytona and leading nine times for 37 laps at Talladega before finishing fourth. He’s almost in a must-win situation in the playoffs after an awful 34th-place finish last week at Dover.

The driver that looked just as good as Logano was 2018 Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon in his famed No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. The former driver of the No. 3, Dale Earnhardt, holds the Talladega record with 10 wins. RCR has always had a knack for Daytona and Talladega and they’ve been Dillon’s best chances of winning in 2019. He started from the pole at Talladega in and finished 14th, but finished in the top-five in each of the first two stages. He was in a wreck at Daytona in July but dominated the race before trouble leading a race-high 46 laps and winning the second stage. Dillon will definitely be one of my darts I throw at the Talladega dart board this week.

Be sure to shop around to get the best price on him because he should be offered at a chunky number. At this time of year with all sports going on at the same time, NASCAR takes a back seat in priority, so it’s possible you may an oddsmaker may fall asleep at the wheel and post numbers as if Dillon is racing at Richmond where he would be over 100-1 odds.

One last note on this race is that Brendan Gaughan will be driving his No. 62 South Point Chevrolet, giving us three Las Vegas guys to root for along with Kyle and Kurt Busch. All three of them finished in the top-10 of the April Talladega race, which was very cool Vegas Proud moment. If looking for a dart to throw $5 on, go to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook and get the long shot Gaughan — eighth at Talladega in April — and root for the local guy long shot.

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