Each year, we talk about the four annual races at Daytona and Talladega being “wild card” races. But, when it’s all said and done, one of the favorites still lands in victory lane.
Think about it, since 2014, here are the race winners at Talladega.
Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski (2014)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano (2015)
Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano (2016)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski (2017)
Joey Logano, Aric Almiorla (2018)
None of those are real “wild card” winners. Yes, Stenhouse Jr’s win in 2017 could be attributed at the time as one, but he later won the July race in Daytona and has turned into one of the best plate races.
Aric Almirola’s win last year wasn’t because he was already in the playoffs.
Really, the last real “surprise” winner was David Ragan back in 2012. But, in that season, we didn’t have the rules like we have today where you win and you’re into the playoffs. Other than that, just go back to 2004 (postseason rules started) and look at all the spring race winners.
Jeff Gordon, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, David Ragan, Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Joey Logano respectively.
Anyone really surprise you other than Ragan there?
So, the odds of having a driver steal a playoff spot on Sunday are really more slim than you’d think.
If we do see one, here are the top five who can end a winless drought.
Paul Menard (277 Races, Last Win at Indianapolis 7/31/2011)
Menard is always a threat on the two plate tracks. The Wood Brothers driver was really strong during Speedweeks in Daytona to go along with five top 10 finishes in his last nine plate starts.
He finished ninth in the spring race in 2017 and ninth in the fall race last year. His No. 21 Ford should be strong.
David Ragan (215 Races, Last Win at Talladega 5/5/2013)
We talk about this a lot too, but Ragan has always been a good plate racer. Both of his victories came on plate tracks and each year, he’s always strong. Three of Ragan’s last four Talladega finishes were in the top 10. From 2012 though 2013, the Georgia native had four straight top 10 finishes as well.
Chris Buescher (96 Races, Last Win at Pocono 8/1/2016)
Believe it or not, JTG Daugherty Racing actually has a good restrictor plate program. Rookie Ryan Preece finished eighth back in February at Daytona and that same No. 47 Chevrolet that was previously driven by AJ Allmendinger scored seven top 10 finishes in its last 10 plate starts.
Chris Buescher finished 15th and 11th respectively in the two races at Talladega last year and has typically been good too.
That’s why I have Buescher on this list. He has the capability to get it done.
Jimmie Johnson (68 Races, Last Win at Dover 6/4/2017)
Believe it or not, this could be a chance for Johnson’s chance to end a near two year long winless drought. Johnson, is a past winner in Talladega and has two top 10 finishes in his last four starts on the 2.66-mile oval. He won the Clash back in February and if he and Hendrick have the same speed in them like at Daytona, then if luck is on his side, he can win.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (64 Races, Last Win at Daytona 7/1/2017)
Stenhouse is becoming the new Jamie McMurray when it comes to plate races. He’s always fast, but sometimes a little too aggressive. But, when that aggression doesn’t get them in trouble, they win.
See, like Ragan, both of Stenhouse Jr’s Cup wins came on plate tracks. Stenhouse, is arguably one of the more talented plate racers in the game today. He has 11 top 10 finishes in his last 20 overall plate starts including eight top five finishes since 2016.
I like his chances on Sunday.