When it comes to making fantasy picks for restrictor plate tracks, you might think those two simple words of advice are all that you need. And for sure, there is some luck involved, but also for sure, there are some guys who seem to have a knack for restrictor plate racing.
That doesn’t mean they like it, as most drivers pretty much aren’t comfortable running about 200mph, while being surrounded by other cars, just foot, or less, away. Or being pushed by somebody when you’re already going that fast and trusting they’ll know when not to push.
It’s just a different kind of game and something to keep in mind as we take a look at which drivers may or may not fare well on the 2.66-mile tril-oval and high banks of Talladega Superspeedway Sunday afternoon.
LOOKING FOR SOME ACES
When looking at the top names in the A list on the two Frontstretch Fantasy teams on Yahoo! it’s not hard to find who has been successful there in the past. Of course, you’ve got Jeff Gordon, who has led 839 laps in 40 career races at Talladega and has six victories there. Gordon is sitting 14th in points and some would say he needs a win to give his team a boost. But let’s be real here, he may well need a win to give himself a boost. The only problem with taking Gordon here is that he’s had a lot of bad luck the last two seasons. Talladega is not a place where luck can be tested.
Tony Stewart was looking for a fight with Kurt Busch after last week’s crazy finish at Richmond. Sure, it was a recipe for disaster there at the end with the three lead cars running on older tires and the rest of the field having two or four new tires. Busch did bump Stewart and cost the driver of the No. 14 what looked to be a sure-fire top 10 finish that he desperately needed. But Stewart ended up 18th and now he’s more desperate for a win than ever.
Stewart was leading on the final lap of the fall race at Talladega when he admitted coming down just a second too late to block Michael Waltrip and causing one of the biggest “big one”accidents of all time. But the reality here is that Stewart hasn’t been fast enough to block anybody lately. That will however change at Talladega. Stewart has one win and eight other top-five finishes at Talladega, and he knows this is a place where he can get back on track. He’s mired 22nd in points and this is a place to make up some points and go for a win with little else to lose.
Kevin Harvick proved he could win again last week, and hey, this might be his chance to get two in a row. He has a knack for hanging around in the back of the pack at these plate races, then showing up just in time to contend for the win. Hence, his nickname of “The Closer.” Harvick has one win and five other top five finishes in 26 races at Talladega, so you know he’s capable of pulling off back to back wins following Richmond.
And one last guy to look at in this top category is Clint Bowyer. He’s got two wins in just 14 races at Talladega. He’s generally not considered a plate-track ace, but he’s got something figured out here for sure.
MIDDLE OF THE ROAD
It’s seems hard to believe that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. once dominated at Talladega. His career numbers are gaudy with five wins and 737 laps led in 26 races there. Junior once won four straight races at Talladega, but those days are long gone. Junior’s last win there was in the fall race of 2004. But here’s the deal: Just because he hasn’t won there in a while doesn’t mean he’s still not a force to be reckoned with at the plate tracks. He does have two top-10 finishes in his last four trips to Talladega, and has finished second in the last two Daytona 500s. He may not be as dominant as he once was as a plate racer, but he’s still pretty good and he’s not a bad choice this week.
In what has to be one of the more amazing post-race scenes last week, it was Kurt Busch, who diffused a potential scuffle with Tony Stewart. Busch was followed into the pits by Stewart, who emerged from his car upset and ready to have some words with Busch. It was Busch, however, who remained calm in the situation, telling Stewart he didn’t mean to bump him, and the last two laps were basically a free for all. I’ll never be a Kurt Busch apologist, but I think this time he was right. So, maybe with this snippet of maturity — just maybe — it’s time for Busch to give a single car team a victory. A plate track is certainly one of the places it could happen and Busch has a good sense of how to draft. He does have 13 top 10 finishes at Talladega in 24 races. Sure, a lot of people will pick guys like Stewart, Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, etc. to win this week, but I’m going out on a limb here though, and making Kurt Busch my pick to win this week.
Another driver to think about in this category, too, is his brother, Kyle Busch. He’s got one win at Talladega, and plate tracks seem to be all-or-nothing kind of races for him. He’s probably worth saving for other races, but if you need to go for a win, then you might want to use this Busch this week.
Plate tracks seem to bring out some different characters and it will mark the return of one of its biggest characters this week in Michael Waltrip. He’s limited himself to plate tracks now, and for good reason. It’s the one style of racing that he does very well. If you’re on driver limits, Waltrip is someone to consider this week.
The other driver who fits into the must consider category is Trevor Bayne. The 2011 Daytona 500 champion will be in the No. 21 as he is running a partial schedule again this year. Bayne has one top 10 finish, an eighth, in four starts at Talladega, But just the fact that he’s won at a plate track puts him high on the list to consider in this bottom group.
Another driver to look at in this type of race is Danica Patrick. She was impressive at Daytona, showing patience and also not even really coming close to causing a “big one” and finished eighth.
One other different entry this week is the No. 81 that will be driven by Elliott Sadler. He doesn’t have a great history at Talladega with an average finish of 23.61 in 23 races. But if you need a sleeper, he at least does have some experience there.
The overall leader in the two Frontstretch Fantasy leagues on Yahoo! remains the cdakost team with 2,404 points. The next closest team is RWO Motoring with 2,395 points. No other team is within 89 points of the lead. But don’t get too disheartened if you’re not up near the top, because this is just race 10 of a 36 race season and as you know, anything can and usually does happen at a plate track. That could be good or bad news.
The top point scorer last week was the Ford Malone Motorsports team with 329 points. It had second-place finisher Clint Bowyer, then Carl Edwards in sixth, Kurt Busch in ninth and A.J. Allmendinger in 14th.
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