Race Weekend Central

Fantasy Friday: Junior is going to win at Talladega

The Sprint Cup hits a restrictor plate track for the second time this season with Sunday’s 1 PM FOX race at Talladega. There’s been some debate in recent weeks on the long green-flag runs that have occurred in races this year. Some like it because the actual best car gets to win, but others like to see more action (translate that to wrecks for some) and closer side-by-side racing. Well, one reason to watch at Talladega is that there is a possibility for both. The fact that the cars will be running in tight packs at nearly 200 mph for much of the race makes it exciting enough. However, there is always a possibility for the “the big one” as its called, that can wipe out big chunks of the field.

The unpredictability is one of the things that makes Talladega great. Just as a warning, or sign of hope, depending which side of the fence you’re on, that long green flag run is possible, too. In fact, in 1997, Mark Martin won a caution-free race at Talladega with a NASCAR Sprint Cup record average speed of 188.354 mph in a race that took 2 hours, 39 minutes and 18 seconds to complete. So, really, no one knows for sure what’s going to happen Sunday. That’s great as a race fan. Not so great in trying to pick who will win. But at any rate, here we go:

Top 5 Picks

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Yes, it’s been a long time, 138 races, since Junior pulled into Victory Lane, but I say that streak’s going to end Sunday. If I had just one pick for Sunday’s race, Junior is my pick with five wins at the 2.66-mile oval, and as a bonus, Talladega fans love the Earnhardts. No better place for the losing streak to end other than here.

Brad Keselowski – The Penske cars have raced well on restrictor plate tracks for a while now. Keselowski has calmed down down a bit since he sent Edwards airborne to win at Talladega and then Edwards returned the favor. And besides, if there’s a red flag with drivers having to stay in their cars, we know who to follow on Twitter to find out what’s going on.

Jimmie Johnson – Five-timer comes in looking for his first win of the season. He’s won here once before and been close to victory several times this season.

Kevin Harvick – He’s truly one of the guys who knows how to hang around until the end and then finish strong and contend for the win. He’s also got one win here and if by some miracle Junior doesn’t win this race, the next best thing for fans might be seeing the guy who took over Dale Earnhardt’s seat win it. And besides, you’ve got to pick at least one Childress car on this kind of track.

Juan Pablo Montoya – OK, this is a bit of an upset special. But after the jet dryer accident at Daytona, don’t you have to give this guy a chance on a plate track? Well maybe not, but it would make for a great storyline. Too bad though that the 88 winning will make a better one.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda – Jeff Gordon’s numbers jump off the charts at Talladega. Mainly, it’s the six wins. But lady luck has not been on his side this year, even though most weeks he’s unloaded at the track with a fast car. It would be interesting to see the amount of trash thrown in the track though, if he does pull off the victory.

Here’s a look at how last week’s picks fared at Richmond.

Denny Hamlin – 4th. Never led a lap, but hung around for a nice finish on his home track. Jeff Gordon – 23rd. Had early issues and never recovered, finishing a lap down.

Jeff Gordon – 23rd. Yet another sub-par performance from the No. 24 team, but this time it was thanks to a cut tire Gordon was never able to recover from.

Kyle Busch – 1st. That’s four straight spring wins at Richmond for Rowdy, and though he didn’t start off all that strong, he was right there at the end (even if there was some question about the final caution).

Kevin Harvick – 19th. He was a contender early leading 13 laps, but adjustments backfired and the team spent the rest of the race trying to get back what it lost.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – 2nd. He never really got close enough to win it, but it was such a wacky race anything could have happened at the end.

Season Stats

45 picks
3 wins
15 top 5s
17 top 10s

Grade for the week: B+. Not a bad day with three top 5s, including the winner.

One Last Thing: When scrolling down through the standings, starting at the top, who is the first driver to not lead a lap this year? You’d have to go all the way down to 23rd where Kasey Kahne sits tied with Aric Almirola just 13 points outside the top 20. Kahne did help his cause with a fifth-place finish Sunday at Richmond.

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