Dustin Off The Next Race: Aaron's 499 at Talladega
A track that's unpredictable, exciting, scary, and sometimes jaw-dropping is on the bill this weekend for NASCAR.
The restrictor plates are going back on the cars, a taller spoiler will be on the deck lid, and the name of the game will be how to work the draft. This weekend, the track for the Sprint Cup Series will be Talladega.
This race last year had everything a race like this would offer to the fan. Early in the race, on the seventh lap no less, the big wreck occurred, taking out many top contenders.
As the race wound down, it became a four-way battle for the lead. Of course, we all know what happened after that.
Carl Edwards was the one making headlines for his flight into the catch-fence, followed by his run across the finish line.
It was Brad Keselowski shocking everyone by leading only one lap the entire race. But, it was the lap that mattered most. Although a lot of controversy came after the race, the record books have Keselowski as the winner of last year's race.
Will that happen again this year? It's up for debate, but let me dust off the drivers to watch out for in Sunday's Aaron's 499.
With six wins at the 2.66-mile Talladega track, Gordon is the favorite when looking at the statistics. Last year in this race, he did not get to show off how tough his DuPont/Pepsi Challenger car was.
The early wreck took him and other strong drivers out of the running. Whether he will avoid that wreck this year is yet to be seen, but we all know that Hendrick is tough at this track.
The No. 24 is my pick for Sunday, and he will for sure be hungry for a win.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Simply put, this is Earnhardt country. Earnhardt won here 10 times, and his son has followed in his footsteps, as he has five of his own.
Junior would have six wins had he and Jimmie Johnson not gotten together on the last lap in the 2006 fall race.
At the same time, look back at his run at Daytona. With two laps to go, Junior was in 10th and appeared to be out of contention for the win.
By the time the field was coming off turn four on the last lap, he was battling Jamie McMurray for the win. His daddy taught him well, and those lessons have proven to be a major advantage at this track.
When it comes to Talladega, there's no more beloved driver than the one in the No. 88. Junior will be strong come Sunday.
Not necessarily a dark horse pick, but Rowdy is a former winner at this track. He won this race in 2008, and then followed it up with a win at Daytona the same year.
Joe Gibbs has shown a lot of strength in his restrictor plate program the last few seasons, and could be on tap to get another win this season. His team will have to hold off the Hendrick power and the Richard Childress Racing experience to get it.
I still think Busch could get his first win of the season at this track. Wouldn't be a shock if he did.
So he's with a new team, so what? Keselowski learned how to race on these type of tracks from Earnhardt Jr.
There's no better teacher on how to drive Talladega than one with that last name. He won this race last year because he was smart and knew the rules.
He admitted he was not going below the yellow line, and despite the catastrophic results, Keselowski was the winner.
Can he play spoiler again? It's highly possible.
Considering he won the Daytona 500, McMurray has a chance to play spoiler again. At the same time, it's not going to be much of a surprise if he does win. Last fall, McMurray got his second, and ultimately final, win with Roush at this track.
This year, he's with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, a team that has always been tough at restrictor plate tracks.
Considering Daytona and Talladega have similar configuration and banking, McMurray has a good shot at winning. He lost his Daytona car to the Daytona 500 Experience, but in a way it is a good thing.
Teams do build different cars for this track, so he'll have a strong Chevy come Sunday.
When race time rolls around, the "what ifs" will begin and the prayers will be said. I will be on site for the entire weekend of activities in Talladega.
On a personal note, this weekend's race will be happening on my birthday. It's the ultimate honor and the ultimate gift, attending a NASCAR race while celebrating at the same time.
Should be an exciting day at the track. Coverage of the Aaron's 499 will be on FOX at 1 p.m. ET/Noon CT. The pre-race show will start an hour before.
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