As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway for the second race in the Round of 12, only one thing is certain. Anything can, and probably will, happen.
After his win at Charlotte, Martin Truex Jr. is the only driver who is safe from elimination. For the remaining Playoff contenders, everything is on the line. Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are in the bottom four but no one is safe from the chaos of the unpredictable 2.66-mile track.
Chase Elliott has the series-best driver rating of 91.4 at Talladega with one pole, one top five and one top 10, but, he only has three starts. He’s no stranger to the wild nature of the track, finishing 30th in May after being involved in a crash.
Jimmie Johnson is in seventh place in the Playoffs with the fifth-best driver rating of 88.1 at Talladega with two wins, one pole, seven top fives and 12 top 10s. He’s keeping his eye on the prize and says his goal is “to make it through the race and have a good finish. We don’t want to go to Kansas fighting to stay alive in the hunt for an eighth championship.”
Keselowski, currently 10th place in the Playoff standings, is a popular pick to win this Sunday. He has the series third-best driver rating of 88.7, four wins, six top fives and 10 top 10s at the track. It wouldn’t be the first time that he won in a do or die moment. Did you know that in 2014 he had to grab a victory to avoid elimination in the Playoffs and he did so at Talladega?
Stenhouse may have the biggest challenge this weekend among the Playoff drivers. He’s sitting in 12th place in the standings with only the 11th-best driver rating but a closer look reveals why the Alabama 500 could provide the perfect opportunity to advance. Did you know that he has two wins this season, both at restrictor plate tracks, Talladega in May and Daytona in July?
Matt Kenseth is presently just outside the top eight with one win in 2012, six top fives and 10 top 10s at the track. He has the series sixth-best driver rating (87.1) but did you know his best finish in the last five races was 23rd in 2016? The Joe Gibbs Racing driver and his team will have to rely on experience, strategy and luck to make it through to the next round.
You can’t talk about Dega without talking about Dale Earnhardt Jr. He may not be competing for the championship but he is desperately searching for a win in his final full-time season in the Cup Series. Of the remaining tracks, this is probably his best chance.
Although Earnhardt’s season has been disappointing, it’s difficult to ignore his impressive stats at Talladega, even taking into consideration that he’s only won once since 2004. He has the series second-best driver rating (91.0) and he leads all active drivers with six victories and 12 top-five finishes. But did you know he leads all active drivers in laps led at Talladega with 960?
Earnhardt also seems to have a knack for winning when the most is on the line and his emotions are heightened. As he heads to Talladega for what may be the final time, his desire to add one more checkered flag to his collection is evident.
“There are two things that are going to be incredibly motivating this weekend. One of them is going to be the fan support that we’re gonna see. I know they’ll be out there strong, they love the Earnhardts.
“Also, put that camera on my helmet so I’m wearing that helmet cam all weekend. I purposely asked for that helmet cam for the Talladega race ‘cause imagine, it’s gonna hold me accountable and motivate me to be aggressive. I want to put some stuff on film that people are gonna want to watch. Between that and the fan support, I think we’re going to be in the gas all weekend,” he said.
I won’t be running the helmet cam during Sunday’s race. It obstructs my view of the corner and the rear view mirror too much.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) October 13, 2017
Will talent or Lady Luck prevail this weekend in the Alabama 500? Tune into NBC Sunday at 1:30 p.m. ET to find out. In the meantime take a look at 12 reasons to watch Talladega as you prepare for what promises to be a wild weekend of racing.
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