Talladega, Ala – Restrictor plate racing in NASCAR is one of the most hardest things to predict. That’s why some places will offer $1-million to whoever can predict the exact same finishing order as the top five at races in Daytona and Talladega. The reason they do this? They know it can’t be done. With cars are racing at speeds in excess of 200 mph and running wheel-to-wheel, you could be running in the lead pack but fall from a top five result to sub 20th place finish in a matter of literally seconds.
So, when trying to predict favorites or sleepers, well good luck.
I’ll take a shot at it though.
Here are my favorites and sleepers for Sunday’s Geico 500 (2 p.m. ET/FOX/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Favorites Category –
How can I not start here. The restrictor plate king torch has kind of been handed over to the Team Penske driver. Keselowski, has 24 career points paying wins in the Cup Series. Six of them have occurred on plate tracks. Five of those six were at Talladega, including just last October. His No. 2 Ford is certainly a favorite.
I can’t have Keselowski and not his teammate Joey Logano either. The Connecticut native has won two of the last three fall races at Talladega and has led laps in five straight Talladega races and seven of the last nine. His No. 22 Ford was a contender back in February in Daytona and should be again this weekend in Talladega.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Again, he can’t be left off this list. Stenhouse is hungry for a win and had a great car at Daytona to start the year off with one. With how this season is going for him, he knows this weekend’s race at Talladega and the July return trip to Daytona are his best shots of winning and making the playoffs for a second straight year. So, watch out for his No. 17 Ford on Sunday.
Stenhouse, has an average finishing position of 12.11 at Talladega. He has two top five finishes in his last three starts there, including a win in this very race a year ago.
Here’s another Ford. Rightfully so too. Ford has won seven of the last eight points paying plate races. Kurt Busch is always a contender on plate tracks and was in February in Daytona. He has six top 12 finishes in his last seven ‘Dega starts, including four top fives in his last five races there.
His No. 41 Ford will be a contender this weekend.
He has two top three finishes in his last three spring starts at Talladega. He led 48 laps last May and finished third. He was second in 2016. He’s also been extremely good this season and has led laps in five straight races at the 2.66-mile track and 18 of the last 20. Can he get his fourth straight win on the season and eighth straight top three finish?
Sleepers Category –
His teammate won the Daytona 500. He has five top 10 finishes at Talladega since 2012 and was runner-up last fall. His No. 31 Chevrolet was strong during speedweeks at Daytona 500. He’s a sleeper worth watching.
He had a car to win the Daytona 500 in February. That No. 21 Ford is always a main challenger on plate tracks. Put Menard in it, a great plate racer, and you get a solid sleeper. In both races at Daytona last year, Menard finished in the top five (3rd and 5th respectively). He was sixth in February. In Talladega last year, he finished ninth and 12th respectively.
He can win on Sunday.
He’s been stellar in 2018. His No. 38 Ford has been very fast. Now, he heads to his best track at Talladega. Ragan, is a past winner there, including in this very spring race with this very Front Row Motorsports team. Plus, Ragan finished 10th in both races at Talladega last year and has a four race span from 2012 to 2013 where he finished in the top 10 in each race (7th, 4th, 1st, 6th respectively).
He won the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Talladega last year. He won the XFINITY Series race at Daytona in July 2016. He also has three straight top 10 finishes on the track (8th, 4th, 5th respectively). All of that wasn’t with Stewart-Haas Racing. In his first plate race with SHR, he was leading the Daytona 500 on the final lap. He was crashed out on the backstretch.
The No. 10 Ford should be in the favorites category.
Its been since the fall race in 2013 since McMurray has last went to victory lane. That was at Talladega. Now, he looks to end that near five year long winless drought. McMurray, is a great plate racer and finished fourth and second respectively in the last two spring races at the track. His No. 1 Chevrolet can contend for the win this weekend too.