Talladega’s next up

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The NASCAR Cup Series gets their first break of the season for Easter Weekend after 10 straight weeks of racing and will return the following week at Talladega Superspeedway’s monstrous 2.66-mile layout.

There have been nine points-paying races so far this season and all nine wins have come from two organizations: Joe Gibbs Racing with six wins and Team Penske with three wins.

Despite the appearance of the new race packages introduced at Atlanta (engines with 550 horsepower) and Phoenix (750 horsepower) being elitist, I’m seeing several other teams compete well because of the package that in the past hadn’t come close to being able to compete with the top teams.

For instance, Ryan Newman from Roush Fenway Racing has had top-10 finishes the past two weeks. Last week, Chris Buescher in the No. 37 was running in the top-6 for most of the race at Richmond. Paul Menard in the No. 21 finished 10th at Richmond.

Hendrick Motorsports is still adjusting along the way, as is Stewart-Haas Racing, but they’ll catch up. Seeing Richard Childress Racing’s No. 3 driven by Austin Dillon finish sixth last week was great news for parity.

I like the new packages, but I still have some gripes about it and it relates to what a few of the drivers complained about last season when hearing what was about to happen in 2019. They said the driver’s skill was going to be taken away due to the package featuring a huge spoiler and creating loads of downforce. Some drivers said that anyone can jump in the car and do well.

If you’ve noticed in the past eight races this season, there aren’t many drivers spinning out for trying to max out their speed around turns. It was a fine line of pushing the car to the limit and where a drivers ability came to the forefront.

But between the tire compounds and the packages, especially on downforce tracks like Las Vegas and Fontana, they could mash the gas pedal all the way around the track with never getting loose like they’re on rails. Anyone can do that, right?

Now the strategies are about side-drafting and briefly slowing the other down helping to make a pass. It’s about avoiding speeding penalties on pit road which seem to be at an all-time high and keeping your pit crew from getting penalties with loose tires. I want good racing to determine the race winner, not penalties.

Overall, I think it’s a growing process for all involved. But I don’t think I want to see a race like Martinsville when Brad Keselowski is leading 446 of 500 laps, one of only three drivers to lead a lap that day. However, I don’t like off weekends so when there’s no racing this Sunday I’d take Keselowski leading all 500 laps anywhere rather than nothing.

Here’s a look at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook updated NASCAR Cup Championship odds:

Kyle Busch (5-2): The 2015 Cup Champion leads the series in points, wins (3), and top-10s (9). That’s nine races, and nine top-10s showing he’s been fast in both packages.

Joey Logano (6-1): He’s second in points and has a Las Vegas win to his credit and probably should have another. The defending Cup champion has all the right stuff to go back-to-back champ.

Kevin Harvick (6-1): At this time last season, the 2014 Cup Champion already had three wins and was the favorite to win the title. No wins yet as the new package has been a work in progress.

Martin Truex Jr (8-1): The 2017 Cup Champion is sixth in points and comes off his first win of the season at Richmond giving Joe Gibbs Racing their sixth win.

Brad Keselowski (8-1): The 2012 Cup Champion sits fifth in points and has two wins (Atlanta, Martinsville) and obviously leads the series in laps led due to 446 led in one day.

Ryan Blaney (12-1): He doesn’t have any wins yet, but he’s been real close. He’s got four top-five finishes and his 353 laps led are the most among all drivers with no wins.

Denny Hamlin (14-1): This is the best value on the board right now. Like teammate Kyle Busch, he’s got six top-five finishes. Two wins already and hungry to cement his legacy with a title.

Chase Elliott (14-1): No consistency or momentum, especially on the downforce tracks using 550 horsepower package. Just one top-five. They’ll get better but at the same price, Hamlin is already better.

Kurt Busch (18-1): The 2004 Cup Champion has been one of the best stories of the season with six top-10s in nine starts, three top-fives. Chip Ganassi Racing might have a title contender.

Kyle Larson (20-1): He came out charging at Atlanta, leading 142 laps, but none since. He was supposed to be the CGR star, but instead, Kurt Busch has been. He’s 19th in points. Yikes!

Clint Bowyer (20-1): He sits eighth in points and has had a couple near wins already. Five top-10s in nine starts is pretty good and his team should only get better.

Jimmie Johnson (25-1): The seven-time Cup Champion should get better soon. Up and down so far sitting 13th in points. Athlete? He almost cracked 3 hours in Monday’s Boston Marathon.

Erik Jones (25-1): He sits 17th in points but he raced much better than that. He’s the fourth driver for JGR so he’s got stuff almost as good as Kyle, Hamlin, and Truex. A win is coming soon.

Aric Almirola (25-1): He’s 11th in points and at times he’s looked to be the top SHR Mustang running better than Harvick or Bowyer. Six top-10s in nine starts.

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