After seeing the first half of the short track season completed, the first race of May and 10th race of the Sprint Cup season takes us to the biggest, baddest track on the planet.
When I watch races on the 2.66-mile, high-banked monster at Talladega Superspeedway, I like to get the full effect of how awesome it is by turning the volume down on the TV and cranking up Tchaikovsky or Darth Vader’s Imperial March and just watch these drivers play a symphony at over 200 mph, side-by-side, four-wide for three straight hours.
Yes, it may sound a bit dramatic, but it really just plays out better that way, and it makes me real excited twice a year when Talladega races occur. The spring race is actually the best of the two just because I’m not pre-occupied with all those pesky Sunday NFL games in the fall.
The reason Talladega gets theme music and no other track does, is because it’s a beast, an element like no other track. It becomes as much an enemy to each driver as the drivers themselves. It will allow anyone to win, and doesn’t play favorites to any team.
Joe Gibbs Racing has won four straight races on the schedule coming in, but Talladega doesn’t care. Austin Dillon or Ricky Stenholuse Jr. have just as good a shot to win as Carl Edwards, who won the past two races. I like that equality, and we don’t get that anywhere else but Talladega. Daytona is the other track featuring plate racing, but when looking at both tracks from above, Talladega just screams like a horror film. Bad to the bone.
To begin the handicapping process for Sunday’s race, you’ll want to start with what happened in February during Daytona SpeedWeeks where Denny Hamlin won the Sprint Unlimited and Daytona 500. I’ll also suggest that you throw out everything that has happened in the past eight races, where JGR cars have been dominating.
The only problem is that the Daytona results all show JGR cars dominating as well. Hamlin won the Daytona 500 by 0.01 seconds over Martin Truex Jr. who was using Gibbs equipment. JGR’s Kyle Busch was third and Edwards was fifth. Four of the top-five were in Gibbs Toyota’s with Matt Kenseth finishing 14th after leading 40 laps (second-most).
The best bet to derail the JGR train this week is six-time Talladega winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won this race last season. He’s won in three of the past eight plate races and his 960 laps led at Talladega is more than twice as much as second most (Jimmie Johnson 467). He’s been close to winning a race (three runner-ups) this season and I like him to get it done this week.
There’s no bad bet at Talladega until it loses. Really, 36 of the 41 drivers can win. The cars are so bunched up and so equal that all it takes is being able to stay close and make that winning move on the last lap.
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].