After eight races on the NASCAR Cup Series campaign we have seen just about every type of track there is on the circuit.
There’s been the Superspeedway of Daytona, the long wide horsepower two-mile track of Fontana, high banked 1.5 mile tracks, short tracks and an intermediate mile track like Phoenix last week. We should be well versed and ready to go for this Sunday’s outing at Talladega Superspeedway, the biggest, baddest track in the world.
Actually, we have only one restrictor plate race to go off of this week and the way things have gone this season, this race is wide open. It used to be that Talladega was an easy call. All you had to do was handicap all the Chevrolets and throw out the rest of the field because only Chevys won in restrictor plate races.
Between Hendrick, DEI and Childress, a Chevy has dominated the last decade of plate racing, not just at Talladega, but at Daytona as well. Well, things have changed, and quite fast.
Last season we saw a Dodge win once and Toyotas win three times in the four plate races. This season we saw a Roush Ford win the Daytona 500 for the first time ever making it five straight plate races that a Chevy hasn’t won. Things have always gone in cycles in racing, but the one consistent milestone all could always count on was a Chevy being the best in plate races.
When attempting to dissect this week’s race, you have to start out with the Roush Fords because of how poorly they have done on all their usually good performance tracks this season. Most of the Roush Fords were excellent at Daytona as opposed to how awful they have been everywhere else.
Is it possible Jack Roush threw all his engine marbles into one basket this season in order to win the greatest race? So far, the record indicates he did.
Matt Kenseth’s win in the Daytona 500 was completely unexpected, but all five of the Roush drivers performed very well in that race despite what the results show. David Ragan, Carl Edrwads, Jamie McMurray, Greg Biffle and Kenseth all had a great plate package for the race and it’s likely that the momentum will continue this week.
Roush had better hope that the recent plate success continues because they are in the beginning of a stretch of tracks where the team hasn’t done traditionally well in recent years. If you throw out Kurt Busch’s Roush wins, we’re looking at only Greg Biffle as a winner for Jack in the last seven years on the four tracks (Phoenix, Talladaga, Richmond and Darlington).
If the Roush drivers are in fact as good as Daytona showed amid all their recent failures on their traditionally successful tracks, they had better step up this week for the sake of competing for the Championship.
Thus far, only two of the five Roush drivers would make the Chase including Matt Kenseth with his two wins. Kenseth is only nine points ahead of Mark Martin for the 12th and final position in the Chase.
The top car this week will be the Toyota driven by Kyle Busch, who won at Daytona and Talladega last season. Just to refresh memories, Kyle had by far the best car at this year’s Daytona 500. He was en route to his first ever 500 victory until Dale Earnhardt Jr. got a little frisky as a lapped car and wrecked all the leaders.
Kyle led the most laps on that February day and wrecking him was likely the only way anyone was going to be able to stop him.
Tony Stewart won the fall Talladega race last season driving a Gibbs Toyota. He currently sits fourth in points driving his own Chevy in what is truly a remarkable story. After Daytona where Stewart led laps and competed well with an eighth place finish, we have to throw him into the mix.
Stewart knows how to play the game, stay up front or wait in the back for trouble to elude him. He has always been one of the best restrictor plate drivers on the circuit. Now that we have some data on his new car and team, we can count him as a bona-fide contender this week unlike our skepticism at Daytona.
Jeff Gordon had one of his worst finishes of the season at Daytona with a 13th, despite winning one of the Gatorade Duels a week prior. Gordon is currently the points leader and all indications are that he will be one of the drivers to beat this week regardless of Chevy’s recent droughts in restrictor plate wins columns.
Gordon’s teammate Jimmie Johnson has one career win at Talladega along with a pair of runner-up finishes. Although Johnson hasn’t looked good in the last two seasons of plate racing, when it comes time to shine he’ll be there helping any one of his teammates down the stretch. His chances are maximized as the last freight train of drivers coming storming through on the last lap.
Kurt Busch has to be the best plate racer with no wins on Superspeedways. His average finish position of 12th at Talladega currently leads all active drivers. We saw Kurt push Ryan Newman to Dodge victory in last season’s Daytona 500 when he could have easily went his own way and go for the win.
The pride of PT’s Pubs won’t have many supporters helping him on the track, but when he’s there towards the end of the race, alliances will be made regardless of what manufacturer he drives.
I’ve been touting Kurt for a few years to win a plate race to no avail. Let’s not stop now and press the bet.