NASCAR Sprint Cup at Talladega: Previewing the Regular Season's Wild Card Race

Paul Carreau@@PaulCarreauAnalyst IApril 14, 2011

TALLADEGA, AL - APRIL 25:  Kevin Harvick, driver of the #29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet, races Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, to the finish of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 25, 2010 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images)
Jason Smith/Getty Images

Normally when I preview a race, I like to pinpoint a handful of drivers that should be in the mix when the race is in its final stages. If I were to name all of the drivers with a realistic shot of winning this weekend, this would be the longest race preview in the history of journalism.

The cold hard truth is, that all 43 drivers have a real shot of winning this race. Unless of course you are one of those three or four cars who plan to do the start and park gig.

Last years two races at Talladega both provided memorable finishes. The spring race saw a two man breakaway for the final lap as Jamie McMurray pulled Kevin Harvick around the 2.66 mile super speedway. Then, with about 100 yards to go, Harvick slipped underneath McMurray to win by a bumper.

On top of the fantastic finish, this race also saw the record for number of lead changes in a NASCAR race, with 88.

The fall race saw two, two car breakaways run side by side as the field took the white flag. Juan Montoya was pushing Clint Bowyer, while David Reutimann was latched on to the back bumper of Kevin Harvick.

It appeared as if it was going to be a four man fight to the finish line, when all of a sudden there was melee as the field entered turn one. The big one was happening behind the lead pack, and the caution flag came out.

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Per NASCAR rules, once the leader takes the white flag, the next flag whether the caution or the checkers ends the race. The only problem was Bowyer and Harvick were side by side at the moment of caution. So NASCAR officials had to go to the tape to determine the winner.

In the end it was determined that Bowyer, by the slimmest of margins, was slightly ahead of Harvick at the moment of caution, and therefore he was declared the winner.

It could be hard to top either one of last years races, but no matter what, there promises to be plenty of action, and a lot of hold your breath moments.

It is widely expected that this race will look very similar to the Daytona 500. Instead of the 30 car pack of racing that we have grown accustomed to at Talladega, expect two by two tandems to rule the day once again.

So, how do you possibly pick a favorite? If you base it on who was strong in Daytona, then Kurt Busch would more than likely have to be the odds on favorite. Prior to losing an engine midway through that race, Jeff Burton was also very strong, so I look for him to turn his season around this weekend.

Juan Montoya has proven to be a strong restrictor plate racer, and don't ever forget about his teammate, Jamie McMurray, who won last years Daytona 500, and was seconds away from winning this race a season ago.

Bowyer and Harvick should be in the mix right up until the end this year as well. And don't ever forget about Kyle Busch. He is strong no matter what track the series heads to.

Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr., seem to run well together when it comes to the restrictor plate races, and for a while, Earnhardt Jr., the king of Talladega.

Two potential spoilers for the weekend could be Paul Menard or Regan Smith. Menard is in the midst of a career year, and was a contender from start to finish in the Daytona 500. Smith meanwhile spent the entire Daytona 500 doing nothing but pushing people to the front of the field. He and Kurt Busch were by far the best two man team all race long.

So, when it comes right down to it, if you are trying to pick the winner for this weekend's race in Talladega, it would probably just be easier to put all 43 car numbers into a hat, and pull one out. When it comes right down to it, that may just be the most scientific way to do it anyway.