This weekend, the Sprint Cup Series will go from one of its shortest tracks on the circuit to the longest oval. Yes, this weekend it’s finally time for Talladega, and the NASCAR world is clamoring for more restrictor plate racing.
It’s been over two months since the Daytona 500, making fans antsy for another massive superspeedway race. Let’s just straight into the eight things NASCAR fans need to know ahead of the Geico 500:
Where: Talladega Superspeedway
When: Sunday, May 3 at 1 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Radio: Motor Racing Network
Vegas Odds: Dale Earnhardt Jr. 8-1; Brad Keselowski 12-1; Denny Hamlin 12-1; Jimmie Johnson 12-1; Joey Logano 12-1; Kevin Harvick 12-1; Kurt Busch 12-1; Carl Edwards 12-1 (Courtesy Sportsbook.ag)
2. Qualifying Quandary
Take a deep breath, NASCAR fans. Qualifying in Talladega will not look exactly like it did last season or during the Daytona 500. The format has gone back to a style more similar to the previous style with no packs of drafts necessary to get the top position.
That might also save some of the carnage we saw at Daytona. Which is a welcoming sight for Danica Patrick, whose boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. missed out on ‘Dega last year due to the old format.
“One of the things that I said to NASCAR after being frustrated last year at Talladega at the end of the year was it doesn’t always have to be exciting,” Patrick said, via Bob Pockrass of ESPN.com. “Unfortunately, there’s no way around it. Crashing 17 cars at Daytona was not good for really anybody. Maybe it was a little interesting, but by no means was it really fair.”
Expect a much more uniform knockout round this time. That’s still an exciting format for drivers who want to see their favorite driver keep his or her best car intact.
3. Victory Lane Carousel
Years ago, Dale Earnhardt ruled Talladega. Following his death, Dale Earnhardt Jr. carried on the torch with five wins in a seven-race span that included two more top-two finishes.
Junior’s run came to an end in 2004. Since then, the results have been far different with 13 drivers winning in a span of 20 races. Over the last five races, no driver has repeated in Victory Lane. If NASCAR fans are looking for fresh faces to add to the Chase Grid, this weekend might be their best chance.
4. Superspeedway Logano?
During his young career, Joey Logano typically hasn’t thrived at superspeedways. In fact, he does not have a top-10 finish at Talladega since joining forces with Team Penske.
But the Daytona 500 changed all that.
His trumph at the first restrictor plate track makes him one to watch even with his lack of past success. The only factor that might derail his chances at adding another checkered flag? Well, The Big One, of course.
5. “The Big One”
It’s what restrictor plate races are known for, and this weekend should see some serious carnage. The last time NASCAR was at a superspeedway, Kevin Harvick and Logano tussled during a meaningless exhibition race. Things haven’t cooled down much since, with Harvick nearly wrecking Logano in Texas.
Harvick was also a little pissed about a move that Logano pulled last year at ‘Dega, which will add fuel to the fire.
“I’m a full believer in karma,” @KevinHarvick says, referencing Logano’s run at Talladega. Harv insinuated Joey was blocking to help Brad.
— Alan Cavanna (@CopaCavanna) November 12, 2014
Then there’s the issues that transpired on and off the track between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart. The two got tangled up at Richmond and traded words in and out of the car. If there’s one place where tempers shouldn’t boil over, it’s ‘Dega. That’s what makes superspeedways so fun.
Go back to No. 3 just quickly and look at the final stat about no driver repeating in Victory Lane. The only driver to do so in the last six races has been Brad Keselowski. The 2012 Sprint Cup champion pulled off a win that season and advanced in the Chase last year with a triumph in ‘Dega.
Can he now do what no driver has done since Jeff Gordon in 2007 and pull off a repeat? It’s clear Kes knows how to get to the front of the pack at restrictor plate courses. Now, with Logano likely teaming up with him near the top of the pack, Penske will have the speed to pull off the sweep at restrictor plate tracks in the spring.
Jamie McMurray is known for big performances on the biggest stage. With NASCAR competing against myriad other huge sporting events this weekend, it’s finally his time to shine.
Let’s look at the history here. McMurray has two wins at the track since 2009, but has also been shuffled outside of the top 20 multiple times in that span. Since a poor finish in the Daytona 500, McMurray has recovered to 11th on the Chase Grid and ninth in points.
Riding high after a top-five finish at Richmond, this weekend might finally be when he clinches a Chase spot. With such huge expectations coming into the season, it would be a huge payoff for the Chip Ganassi Racing team as a whole.
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