Sprint Cup race at the Talladega Superspeedway

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This Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at the monster 2.66-mile high banked track of Talladega Superspeedway will be quite different from what we have seen in the last six weeks of NASCAR competition.

Even though we’ve had a few surprises, like Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick winning while the likes of Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin haven’t, restrictor-plate racing levels the playing field for everyone.

The Daytona 500 was the last restrictor plate race run and it was won by Trevor Bayne who was driving an under-funded Wood Brothers car. In the last six races, there has been no better example of just how under-funded the car Bayne drives is, but all of sudden, this week he’s a contender again, as are the 42 other drivers who start Sunday’s race.

Bayne wasn’t the only surprise finisher at Daytona. We also saw David Gilliland finish third, Bobby Labonte fourth and Regan Smith seventh, all drivers who don’t fit into many betting strategies.

The top contenders to win this week all have the ECR engines and won every plate race in 2010. They also combined to have some of the best practice sessions during Daytona speed weeks. Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer, Harvick, Juan Montoya and Jamie McMurray will all be good once again this week.

The next wave of contenders begins with Kurt Busch who won the Bud Shootout and one of the Gatorade Duel races at Daytona. Kurt finished fifth in the Daytona 500 and will be looking for his first plate win in a NASCAR points race. He’s come so close at both Talladega and Daytona and I think I have bet on him in each and every one of those losses, so there’s no point in stopping now.

The driver who could surprise everyone is Dale Earnhardt Jr. who comes in on his best stretch while driving for Hendrick Motorsports. In his last six starts, Junior’s worst finish position was 11th. He came a few laps from winning at Martinsville and now has gone 100 straight races without a win after finishing ninth at Texas.

Junior is a five-time winner at Talladega who has been runner-up three times. Based on the way his season is going, there may be no better time to bet on Earnhardt to win than this week.

Jeff Gordon is a six-time winner at Talladega who should find himself in the mix of things late in the race. The Roush Ford’s are also on the rise in plate races the last three years. The little guy of the group, David Ragan, has had some of his best career finishes at Talladega with a fourth, third and sixth place finish.

I’m going with the epic return of Junior to the winners circle. I can visualize it now and it seems very fitting and also, very possible.

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