Mike Lovecchio · Friday April 15, 2011
Will the two-car draft be as prominent at Talladega as Daytona?
This year’s Daytona 500 may have been the coming out party for the two-car draft, but the evolution of restrictor plate racing began after Talladega was repaved in 2006. The Alabama superspeedway may not be as smooth as it was five years ago, or as smooth as Daytona in February, but with the perfect alignment of the front and rear bumpers, the two-car draft has been perfected and will be necessary to win on Sunday. Whether or not you like the new incarnation of plate racing, there’s no denying it’s here to stay unless NASCAR does more to affect engine cooling, something they’ve tried but seem to have backed off on lately.
Drivers are prepared for what should be a very similar race to the Daytona 500 and have already worked on which drivers they want to have two-way communication with. If you’re a fan of traditional plate racing and despise the two-car tango like many do, tune into today’s ARCA race and you’ll see a similar race to how plate racing has been over the past decade.
Is this the week Dale Earnhardt Jr. snaps his winless streak?
The most famous winless streak in NASCAR is now at 100 races. Yes it’s been a while since Junior Nation has had the privilege of watching Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrate in victory lane, but during what’s been a return to relevance this season, the sting of the winless streak isn’t as bad as it once was. Still, every time the Sprint Cup Series heads to Talladega, fans wonder if this is the weekend.
It’s been 13 races since Earnhardt last finished first at Talladega, but the restrictor plate magic he had between 2001 and 2004 still fells like yesterday, and you still get the feeling that the breakthrough win is right around the corner. Given this seems to be a Chase-caliber season, I’m sure most Earnhardt fans would just like to see him finish the race unscathed and maintain what’s been a solid campaign with four top 10s in seven races and a current standing of sixth in points. But don’t be surprised if he gets hooked up in the right pairing and wins it this weekend. One thing is for sure, there won’t be a bigger party in Alabama.
Can Trevor Bayne make magic twice and win on Sunday?
It sure seems like Trevor Bayne used a season’s worth of luck in one weekend. Ever since his shocking Daytona 500 victory, it’s been a year of misfortune capped off with a trip to the hospital last week with an insect bite. It hasn’t been the dream season I’m sure he would have liked, but he has a chance to become the next king of superspeedways with a win again on Sunday…something that is very possible.
Maybe his Daytona 500 win was a fluke. But remember he was in that position because of his uncanny ability to push, and he should have the same ability again this weekend, with one more advantage. Bayne proved himself to a few drivers during the Gatorade Duel qualifying race and the Daytona 500 itself, but this weekend he goes to Talladega as one of the few drivers others will want pushing them. He shouldn’t have a problem finding drafting partners as there will be more than a few wanting a shove from the No. 21. If he can avoid the Big One this weekend, Bayne will be a player in the outcome of Sunday’s race.
Who could be the next first time winner to win at Talladega?
There a few drivers who could breakout this weekend and pull a Bayne-esque upset. If you’re talking superspeedways, you have to consider Regan Smith an underdog candidate. He has an unbelievable ability to avoid misfortune (at least until this season) and he’s been a contender already in a few plate races, including a near-win/loss to Tony Stewart in 2008. He looked strong at Daytona and should be again this weekend.
Another contender to get his first win this weekend is a guy having a breakout season. Paul Menard has defied his critics week-in and week-out and sits 11th in points after seven races. He has three top 10s this year, finished ninth at Daytona and has the same equipment as the current restrictor plate king Kevin Harvick. If there is one winless driver who wouldn’t be a surprise in a victory lane, it may just be Menard.
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