One of the biggest, wildest races of the year will take place this weekend at the Talladega Superspeedway. See, between the two annual stops at the Daytona International Speedway and the spring visit to the 2.66-mile high banked oval in Alabama, these three races have the potential each year to shake up the playoff standings.
Will it happen in Sunday’s GEICO 500 (2 p.m. ET/FOX/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)?
Here are the top five storylines for Sunday’s 188 Lap race.
TALLADEGA, AL – MAY 07: Trevor Bayne, driver of the #6 AdvoCare Ford, and Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Ford, lead a pack of cars during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 7, 2017 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
How Will The New Rules Package Play Out
Talladega will be the first race of this new aero rules package on a superspeedway track. Back in February at Daytona, we ran last year’s restrictor plate package, not the new one that debuted a week later in Atlanta. Now, the drivers will use the new tapered spacer as well as some updates to the aero ducts and spoiler to still slow the cars down and restrict the horsepower. This will also give them downforce in the corners too.
But, slowing them down will work at every other track minus the two superspeedways. They will actually carry 100 more horsepower than with the restrictor plate. In the test at Daytona earlier this season, drivers were going at speeds in excess of 200 mph in the draft with this certain aero package. That forced NASCAR to try to make some changes to slow them down a bit. Will it work?
No one knows for sure what this race will still look like. Will it look as if they still have restrictor plates on them? Will there be a little more separation or will it race even closer than before? Will the speeds be higher than anticipated? Will we see tandem drafting?
In theory, NASCAR is hoping it will still have the visual that nothing has changed. No one though really knows what exactly will happen until the green flag drops on Sunday’s race.
That’s why this is the biggest storyline to watch.
All four Stewart-Haas Racing Fords line up during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 14, 2018 in Talladega, Alabama.
Will The Ford’s Play Nicely
The Ford camp by far has had the most superior equipment on restrictor plate tracks. Granted, we aren’t racing restrictor plates anymore, but the tapered spacer should still give them an advantage. In Daytona, they looked like the clear cut favorites to win the season opening Daytona 500. No one had anything for them by themselves.
That’s why Hendrick and Joe Gibbs Racing made the alliance that they did. More on that later. Between the alliance and Ford’s self destructing, they only put two drivers in the top 11 of the race in February.
That can’t happen again.
Last year, Stewart-Haas Racing lined up and dominated the fall race in Talladega. They ran 1-2-3-4 for a majority of the race and if not for a late race caution, would have finished that way. That set up what we saw in Daytona. Again, more on that later.
Ford has won the last three spring races in Talladega to go along with the last five races in the fall. They should win, so long as they don’t get in each others way.
Joey Logano was mad at Ricky Stenhouse Jr. He was also mad at Michael McDowell for not working with him at the end of the Daytona 500. Stenhouse, was later mad at Logano. There was a ton of in house fighting in the Ford camp, so much so they had to address it with the teams and driver in the week after.
Did they all clear the air and agree to work better with one another on Sunday?
Aric Almirola during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 14, 2018 in Talladega, Alabama.
Did SHR’s Plan Last Year And HMS/JGR’s Alliance In February Change The Way We See Racing At Talladega/Daytona?
SHR had a brilliant plan last October in Talladega. They lined up in a row and just worked together. They were teammates, so they took care of one another. The only way to get by them up front was to break them up. Everyone failed to do that.
As a result, they’d run 1-2-3-4 for 98-percent of that race. In turn, that led to everyone trying to replicate that in Daytona this past February.
The Ford’s initially wanted to line up all together. They’d all line up and go to the high line with four Stewart-Haas Racing Fords, three Team Penske’s, a Wood Brothers car, both Roush/Fenway Racing cars and anyone else who wanted to join the train. That’s 10+ cars, all the best in this racing package, running together.
JGR and Hendrick knew that they didn’t have the strength in numbers to beat them. If the only way to get ahead was to break them up, how could you gain enough energy and speed to remain up front with them and break them up?
JGR only has four Toyota’s in their camp and a fifth with Matt DiBenedetto in Leavine Family Racing. Five Toyota’s aren’t enough to hang with 10+ Ford’s.
HMS knew that they had the superior equipment in the Chevrolet camp but they couldn’t be dragged back to Chip Ganassi Racing or Richard Childress Racing. The CGR not RCR cars would get to the front and stay there.
So, HMS and JGR pulled an unlikely relationship. The weekend of the Daytona 500, they thought, why not team up and work together? Between the two four car organizations and the LFR car, that’s nine cars who all had good speed to work together. If they could line up and work together in tandem like teammates, they could hang with the Ford’s up front.
That frustrated the Ford’s which caused them to self destruct. It worked in the end, because JGR went 1-2-3 and HMS was much stronger than initially planned.
Do we see these games on Sunday?
TALLADEGA, AL – MAY 07: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 Fifth Third Bank Ford, leads the field past the green flag to start the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 7, 2017 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chevy/Toyota Haven’t Had Much Success At Talladega Lately
I say this all above, but if this race comes down to the best and pure speed in the draft, the Ford’s can still win. That’s because Chevy and Toyota haven’t had much success at Talladega in the past.
Chevy has just one win since 2012 in the spring race. That came in 2015 with Dale Earnhardt Jr. They also have just one win in the fall race in that time frame too which came in from Jamie McMurray in 2013. Both drivers have since retired.
Toyota has just three career wins at Talladega, two of which came in a sweep in 2008. The other came back in the spring race of 2014. That’s it.
Can these two manufactures team like and get a car to victory lane on Sunday and end Ford’s reign?
TALLADEGA, AL – APRIL 29: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil/Autotrader Ford, takes the checkered flag to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 29, 2018 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Sleepers? Don’t Count On It
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.
The usual suspects should still contend.