With NASCAR rewarding a Chase spot for all race winners now, its made the restrictor plate races during the regular season a crap shoot. These are three good chances for drivers who wouldn’t normally have a good chance of winning on a weekly basis, to reach victory lane and put themselves in the playoffs come September.
Then, came the stages and playoff points available. It made Daytona back in February carnage.
Well, the Daytona 500 saw Kurt Busch go to victory lane and stamp his name into this year’s 16 driver playoff field. Since, we’ve seen seven total different winners through the first nine races of the 2017 season, meaning there’s only nine guaranteed spots left. With that being said, with so much on the line this Sunday at the Talladega Superspeedway, here are the best sleepers who’ve yet to win this year who could race their way into victory lane on Sunday at the 2.66-mile high banked Alabama oval.
It’s hard to believe Joe Gibbs Racing has yet to go to victory lane this year. They’ve been struggling as a whole. Last weekend at Richmond was supposed to be their slump buster, instead they saw just one of their four cars even get a top 10 finish. Also, in the season opener at Daytona, none of the four came away with a top 10 either, and Busch was the only one of them to even lead a lap, eight of them to be exact.
But, after riding around last Fall at Talladega, I think they can regroup and work together towards the front and stay there. Busch has four top 10’s in his last nine Dega starts, but hasn’t won there since 2008. That can change Sunday.
I’m not going to put all four JGR drivers in here, but I do think Hamlin will be in the mix as well. He’s a great restrictor plate racer and even won this very race in 2014. He has three top fives in his last six Talladega starts. With how his season is starting to come around, I think Hamlin will be in the mix on Sunday.
He’s have a vastly improved year, and if he can run as well as he did at Daytona, minus the running into people, McMurray will win on Sunday. Period. I know he will have the car, and he has the ability on plate tracks. He finished fourth in this very race last year and is a two-time Talladega race winner. If he’s there in the end, McMurray wins.
Stewart-Haas Racing had strong cars in the Daytona 500. If not for that Lap 128 crash, all four would have been around challenging for the win. This time, I think Bowyer will get his chance to go to victory lane.
Bowyer, is a phenomenal plate racer, and despite his frustrations the last few years, restrictor plate tracks were where he still excelled. He came home seventh last year, eighth in 2015, third in both races in 2014 and a first and second place effort at Dega in 2011.
So, with a much better car and already a ton of success in the past at Talladega, Bowyer is among the favorites to watch.
Front Row Motorsports made the Playoff last year by virtue of rain in Pocono. If they were to make it though, most would predict a win at Talladega instead. David Ragan won for FRM back in 2013, and if the chips fall his way, he can do it again. He had four consecutive top 10 finishes then, but no top 20’s since.
With what’s on the line, Ragan has to be taken seriously on Sunday. He was even strong at Daytona before having an issue.
Fords were strong at Daytona and that’s why there’s so many on this list. Almirola, is a great plate racer as he two total Cup and XFINITY Series wins combined, each were at Daytona. At Talladega, Almirola has been good too, finishing eighth in the Fall last year and 10th in 2015. Mix that with a fourth at Daytona, and his No. 43 Ford could easily be in victory lane this weekend.
Penske’s will be strong, we already know that, so why not Ryan Blaney with a Wood Brothers team that has an alliance with Penske. He finished second in the Daytona 500 and ninth and 11th respectively at Talladega last year.
He’s a good plate racer with a good restrictor plate team.
I’d say Blaney will be a threat this weekend to win.