It’s NASCAR’s version of the lottery.
Putting 43 cars on the Sprint Cup Series’ biggest track and just watching what happens. There’s no pit strategy. There’s no point racing. It’s put the pedal to the medal and hope for the best.
When the green flag falls on the Aaron’s 499 Sunday, NASCAR’s best drivers will be doing that. Expect the unexpected and never let your guard down is the key. Talladega doesn’t play favorites and after two surprise winners in 2009, and two big crashes in 2009, don’t expect things to be any different.
Even with the new spoiler making its debut, things are bound to get interesting.
Jimmie Johnson takes his point lead to a track that he’s won at before. But it’s a track that he’s always seemed to find the ‘big one’ at in the spring race. If he and teammate Jeff Gordon haven’t settled their disagreement from last Monday in Texas, which sources are saying included a heated discussion back at the shop; they both could find trouble again.
If they do, Talladega ace Dale Earnhardt Jr. could be there to pick up the pieces.
After leading 47 laps at Texas and finishing eighth, Earnhardt Jr. comes to a track that he’s won five times at and finished second in this race a year ago. There’s no better place to end his 65 race winless streak than in Earnhardt Country.
Earnhardt Jr. though, won’t be the only one looking to end winless streaks at Talladega. Kevin Harvick, who just found out he’ll lose his sponsor after this season, hasn’t won since the 2007 Daytona 500. He’s also never won in Alabama.
Teammate Jeff Burton hasn’t won since October of 2008 at Charlotte, can he stay out of trouble on Sunday?
And of course, don’t count out ‘Wild Thing’ Kyle Busch. The past few years have seen Busch develop into a great restrictor plate racer and he’ll look for his second win at Talladega on Sunday. It would also be his first with crew chief Dave Rogers, after coming close over the last few weeks.
Or, will it be another fantastic finish?
Brad Keselowski earned his first career Sprint Cup win a year ago and with an anything goes race, it may come down to the driver that was in the right place at the right time.
Our Creatures believe they know who that’s going to be. After failing to capture the bonus points in Texas, they’re ready to play the lottery and hope to have the winner number.
Here’s whom they believe will be the first to the finish line in the Aaron’s 499.
Misan Akuya: Jeff Gordon
I could bore you with Gordon's amazing stats here at Talladega with his six wins among other things. But I will just tell you why I am picking Gordon. The last three races he has been a contender for the win and has come up short. I figure that ends soon.
James Broomhead: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Firstly, you have to realize just how much this pick hurts me.
However, Earnhardt Jr. is quietly having a very good start to the season, safely in the top 12 in points and turning in performances that he could only have dreamed about over the past few years. And now he gets to go to a restrictor plate track - will he get a better chance to break that epic barren spell?
Probably not - he finished second in the Air Edwards finish a year ago, second again at Daytona in February. A win would go down very, very well indeed.
Kelly Crandall: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
While some might say it’s a long shot to pick Earnhardt Jr. for anything, the way this team has turned their performance around from last year speaks volumes. They’re seventh in points, leading laps, and getting the finishes they didn’t even come close to last year.
But, now it’s time to show everyone that they can still win. After finishing second in this race a year ago, running solid in the fall Talladega race, and that amazing run at the end of the Daytona 500, it would be shocking if Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t a contender on Sunday.
The No. 88 team is bringing a car that they tested a few weeks and was so good the only complaint Earnhardt Jr. had was a stray strand of tape he picked on his crew chief for. Speaking of his crew chief, Lance McGrew said this week that everyone on the team is pumped up for this race and that, “we’re not going there to get a point finish. We’re going there to lead laps and win the race.”
Sounds good to me.
Billy Fellin: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Yeah, I'll jump on the bandwagon this week. Junior led laps last week at Texas and he and Lance McGrew may finally be figuring out how to get the 88 where it needs to be.
When he was in the 8 car, he owned Talladega. Here's hoping he can remember that.
Adam Heasley: NO PICK SENT
No pick sent.
Christopher Leone: Joey Logano
Joey Logano is my pick for this weekend’s race. Keep in mind that we had a surprise winner in Keselowski last year, a definition that Logano would certainly fit.
He led laps in both Talladega races last year, finishing ninth in the spring and third in the fall. His team has also gotten it together this year, and they’re legitimate Chase contenders. Hey, it’s worth a shot.
Kara Martin: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
I’m sticking with one of my main men this weekend and hoping that Junebug can win his sixth Talladega race and give me my second Creature win.
Dustin Parks: Jeff Gordon
I picked him last week and had it not been for a late wreck, probably would have picked the winner. So, I'm going with him again. Here's a driver who is extremely good at this racetrack. Among active drivers, Gordon has the most wins at Talladega with six. He swept both races here in 2007, including the first race in NASCAR's current Cup car with a restrictor plate.
He is bound to win a race soon, and has proven he can run up front for a majority of the race. He just can't complete the deal. My other reason is because of a very unique fact. This year's Aaron's 499 is happening on my birthday, April 25. The last time NASCAR raced on my birthday was at this track in 2004.
On that afternoon, a controversial decision caused beer bottles, cans and debris to litter the racetrack from irate fans as the checkered flag flew. That afternoon, it was Gordon going to victory lane in his No. 24 Chevrolet. I'm hoping for a case of déjà vu this weekend.
Patti Rodisch: Paul Menard
So my pick this week may be out of left field but at Talladega that is exactly what occurs. The guy you expect to win could finish dead last and the guy you never expect to win finishes first. A year ago picking Paul Menard for any race might have been way out in left field, but in 2010 he is showing he is a contender.
He has run well at Talladega in fact his best finish was third in 2008. I think this weekend Menard could win this race and really I don’t think he will luck into this win.
Sal Sigala Jr.: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
It’s been six years since Earnhardt Jr. has been to victory lane at ‘Dega. In 20 Sprint Cup Series starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Earnhardt Jr. has scored five wins, eight top five finishes and 11 top 10s which makes him a threat.
Earnhardt Jr. had a second place finish at Daytona, which is the only other restrictor plate track, and his consistency should be good for at least a top five finish if he doesn't visit victory lane.
Rob Tiongson: Jamie McMurray
He's lately been making a name for himself on the plate tracks and prior to his victory in the Daytona 500 earlier this year he was somewhat under the radar during Speedweeks at Big Bill's track. Well, we're back at the second track in which Grand Daddy France established in 1969 and if there's any driver who's going to go all out and not give an inch to Victory Lane, it's the man behind the wheel of the No. 1 Chevy.
Having won here last fall, I wouldn't be surprised if he makes a return trip to the winner's circle, but this time, as a member of the Bowtie Brigade.
David Yeazell: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
After seeing what he did at Daytona, charging from 10th to second in the last two laps, Earnhardt Jr. has the best shot of anyone to win at Talladega. However, that’s only if he can stay out of the big one.
Kara Martin (1,122 ) Jeff Gordon finished 31st (1 )
Kelly Crandall (1,092 ) Matt Kenseth finished 20th (0 )
Sal Sigala Jr. (1,071 ) Jimmie Johnson finished second (0 )
Dustin Parks (1,060 ) Jeff Gordon finished 31st (1 )
Christopher Leone (1,050 ) Tony Stewart finished 32nd (1 )
Billy Fellin (1,002 ) Matt Kenseth finished 20th (1 )
David Yeazell (991 ) Jeff Gordon finished 31st (0 )
Patti Rodisch (914 ) Kyle Busch finished third (0 )
James Broomhead (908 ) Jeff Gordon finished 31st (1 )
Misan Akuya (894 ) Matt Kenseth finished 20th (0 )
Rob Tiongson (868 ) Jeff Gordon finished 31st (0 )
Adam Heasley (725 ) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished eighth (0 )
Sunday at Talladega will not be scripted. When fans, drivers, media, and broadcasters say all weekend that anything can happen, it’s because anything can happen. Cars can fly (a la Edwards), drivers will cry (a la Brad Keselowski in victory lane), and some fans will sigh (a la those whose driver didn’t win).
All in a hard days work. Brad Keselowski will be back in the field and hoping to repeat in victory from a year ago. Other drivers will be in the field just hoping that the new spoiler doesn’t change racing for the worst.
Fans and media alike will be clued to the action of 188 laps around the Superspeedway in Alabama. The only things to do are sit back and watch and wait to be amazed.
Summary of Picks
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 5
Jeff Gordon – 2
Joey Logano – 1
Jamie McMurray – 1
Paul Menard – 1