NASCAR heads to Talladega this Sunday for what’s to be another restrictor-plate fantasy nightmare for team owners. Four times a year, there’s nothing more disheartening than coming back from commercial to see your team that was all running inside the top 14 is now all wadded up at different spots on the backstretch. I am sure I’m not the only one that’s ever happened to, and I have news for you: I am powerless to prevent it from striking again. The Big One doesn’t discriminate; it’ll nail any car, at any time, so long as they’re running in the main pack.
How do you cope with the force of such devastating wrecks? There’s no perfect answer, but to me, the secret to winning this week is finding drivers that historically finish plate races more than others. Can you find the ones with the hidden four-leaf clover? Read on to see which drivers will get to the finish line and who will likely fall short (among them: the reigning four-time champ) in the latest edition of your Frontstretch Fantasy Insider.
Jeff Burton – While not the dominating numbers you want from your top driver, Mr. Burton has compiled four straight top-12 finishes at Talladega, which is better than most drivers can say. He also is coming off an 11th-place run at Daytona, leading one to believe that Richard Childress Racing has its restrictor-plate program up to snuff in 2010.
Greg Biffle – Like Burton, Biffle hasn’t run up a pile of wins here or even top fives. But he placed in the top 10 in both races last year, and ran third at the first restrictor-plate event of 2010. Biffle also has three teammates that run up front in these races to go to for drafting help. Off to a great start this year (third in points) that means another top 10 is well within the realm of possibility for this weekend.
Who Will Carry You
David Ragan – We’re gonna go with the youth movement here, starting with 24-year-old Ragan. David is one to the teammates I spoke of with Biffle who runs well at the restrictor-plate events. Since a crash in 2007 at ‘Dega, Ragan has finished no worse than 17th. He ran 12th in this event last year, 16th at Daytona in February, and half of his eight career top fives have come with that plate attached. Sitting 27th in points, he’s also relatively inexpensive to grab for this weekend.
Brad Keselowski – We stay young with this pick (26), but young Brad has had nothing but success at the big, nasty track in Alabama. The defending champ, his previous races at Talladega resulted in a win and an eighth-place finish, driving for a small, underfunded team owned by James Finch. Again, he’s also a cheap date, as he sits 25th in points and is well worth the risk of grabbing this weekend.
Joey Logano – Finally, we’ll rob the cradle for this pick. Like Keselowski, 19-year-old Logano has a little history but a ton of success. His line reads, in two career starts: two top 10s and a top five. Throw in his top 20 at Daytona earlier this year, and he also is well worth it to have on your team this Sunday.
Who Will Bury You
Jimmie Johnson – The cost of having Johnson on your team this weekend is way too high for a guy who has an average finish of 17th at Talladega. Johnson also ran 35th at Daytona this year, so this may be the week to bench him. I also don’t want to just say that Jimmie seems to be in the middle of a lot of restrictor-plate wrecks… but Jimmie seems to be in the middle of a lot of restrictor-plate wrecks (six DNFs in 16 ‘Dega starts, to be exact). And don’t let qualifying fool you; even up front, Jimmie isn’t safe. If you recall the EA Sports 500 back in 2002, he was run into by Mark Martin on the pace lap before even taking the green flag from the pole position. He finished 37th in that race.
Carl Edwards – Cousin Carl also doesn’t finish a lot of these restrictor-plate events – and at Talladega, he hasn’t had a lot of success. Edwards hasn’t run higher than 14th there since 2006, and has two finishes for 40th or worse during that time frame. Add in his near-flip into the stands last year and, well… he’s not exactly the safest bet for Sunday.
Some Other Value Picks
A few other mid-pack drivers worth looking at are Jamie McMurray and Elliott Sadler. Jamie has four career wins, and three of those have come at the big plate tracks. Plus, you could say he’s now on a roll, as he’s won the last two plate events in a row. Sadler, on the other hand, hasn’t won anything recently, but has posted top-20 finishes in five of the last seven Talladega races and is coming off a ninth-place run last trip there. Throw in his top 25 at Daytona, and he’s well worth the small price you pay to have him on your team this weekend.
So there you have it, a combination of youth and experience to get you through another plate event in NASCAR’s top series. So go set your lineups with confidence, then cross your fingers and hope for the best! We’ll see you back here next week as we preview who you want for Saturday night’s race at Richmond.