Ford Performance has been dominant on restrictor plate tracks this season. In fact, the manufacturer has won the past six races, dating back to the first Talladega race of the 2016 season. However, so far in the NASCAR Playoffs, Toyota has won every race.
Will Ford continue its restrictor plate dominance this weekend and win again at Talladega Superspeedway?
It’s Time For(d) a Change
It’s no secret how dominant Ford has been on restrictor plate tracks this season, and for the past two years, for that matter. Six straight wins, a plethora of laps led and the arguably the strongest ponies underneath the hood in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage.
But all good things must come to an end; that’s why a Ford won’t grace Victory Lane this weekend in the Alabama 500 from Talladega Superspeedway.
I’m no mathematician (I think I’ve said that before in a previous 2HM, so you already know that by now), but I know that their luck has to run dry at some point. And it’ll come this weekend.
After all, IT’S DALE EARNHARDT JR.’S LAST RACE AT ‘DEGA! HE HAS TO WIN, RIGHT?
Well actually, contrary to popular belief, he doesn’t have to win, and NASCAR won’t manipulate the outcome to make sure it happens. Would it be incredible if Earnhardt pulls out another win at the place where he’s had the most success at? Hell yeah. But the way he’s running, it doesn’t look likely.
Junebug’s six wins at the 2.66-mile tri-oval and knack for “being able to see the air like his daddy” always make him a factor. The same, however, can be said for his Hendrick Motorsports teammates right now.
Chase Elliott is in the midst of what might be the best, and more important, stretch of his career right now, with two straight second-place finishes heading into a place where his father, Bill, ran extremely well at and set the qualifying record. Oh, and they also have Jimmie Johnson, who has two wins at ‘Dega to go along with his seven championships and Kasey Kahne.
Don’t forget about Jamie McMurray from the Chevrolet brigade. In my opinion, he’ll be the one to provide the best opportunity for the bowties to win on Sunday. He has two wins at Talladega in his career and is heralded as a top-tier restrictor plate racer with a knack for winning the big races.
His teammate ain’t too shabby, either. Kyle Larson doesn’t have any wins at Talladega, but his two top 10s are proof that the No. 42 can be up front. And we all know that at a place like ‘Dega, half the battle is being in the right position to capitalize at the end.
And then there’s the Toyota’s. You know, the ones that actually earned their way to the top of the totem pole rather than them cheating … anyways, back to the topic at hand.
There’s a reason Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch has won the last four races to open up the playoffs: because they’re really good. Sound analysis, I know.
Truex Jr. has two top fives and eight top 10s in his career at Talladega and Busch has one win to go along with six top fives. And the way that these playoffs have been going, it seems as if the No. 78 and No. 18 will be in a position to win when the checkered flag flies after 500 miles.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin each have one win apiece and have been steadily running better at restrictor plate tracks, specifically Talladega, in recent races.
This isn’t to mention RCR drivers Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman, who have been eliminated from the playoffs, that are looking to play spoiler, along with a handful of other long shots like Ty Dillon, Paul Menard, Michael McDowell, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones.
I know Ford has the big dogs when it comes to Talladega. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch have won this season, and they could very well do it again this weekend. But there comes a certain time when enough is enough. And the Toyotas and Chevrolets will tell that to Ford this weekend. – Davey Segal
Can’t Af-Ford Not To
The Fords will pull off the season sweep of the restrictor plate races and win the Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday.
The Blue Ovals have been horrendous since Joey Logano’s encumbered Richmond Raceway win (which is sketchy that their performance dropped off after that), but Ford has still been the class of the field at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega in 2017.
From Logano’s win in The Clash, to Kurt Busch’s Daytona 500, to Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s back-to-back plate wins, Ford has had a knack for finding Victory Lane in those types of races this season.
The Ford drivers have found a way to avoid the carnage of The Big One, or, in Busch’s case, still be fast despite being caught up in it. They have worked the draft to perfection and found ways to beat the likes of Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.
In fact, Ford is the only manufacturer to win a restrictor plate race since Denny Hamlin’s Toyota won the 2016 Daytona 500.
Ford will win at Talladega, not because they are the dominant car, but because they absolutely have to. They have fallen so far behind the other manufacturers that they need this win to save face and still have a horse in the championship battle.
With Ford’s stable of drivers, it may very well have the lineup with the best plate drivers.
Obviously, Stenhouse is the guy to watch, given that he has won the last two restrictor plate races. You can’t count out his teammate Trevor Bayne either. Who can forget his 2011 Daytona 500 win?
However, Ford’s best plate driver has not yet won on a superspeedway thus far this season. Brad Keselowski has won five restrictor-plate races, including four at Talladega. After Dale Earnhardt Jr. retires, Keselowski will be the new restrictor plate king.
The 2012 champion is currently two points below the cutoff line, but he does his best work at Talladega when the pressure is amped up. A large reason he is a full-time driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is because of his daredevil maneuvers to win his first race at Talladega when he was a part-time driver for James Finch. In 2014, Keselowski faced elimination from the playoffs and got the job done in a must-win situation.
Keselowski’s teammate is not too shabby either. Logano could play the spoiler this week and beat all of the playoff drivers. After all, he is the defending winner of the race, having won it the past two years.
Kevin Harvick has three plate wins to his credit and could get the job done on Sunday, given that he has been the best performing Ford driver in recent weeks. Harvick won both stages last week and has momentum on his side.
Kurt Busch could win his second plate race of the year. Busch had never won at a restrictor plate track until this year’s Daytona 500. Despite that, he is still one of the greatest to work the draft. Prior to this year, he had pushed several different drivers to wins in that style of racing over the years.
Clint Bowyer, David Ragan and Aric Almirola are Ford drivers that have also found Victory Lane at Daytona and/or Talladega at the Cup level before. How much of a boost would it be for Richard Petty Motorsports’ stock for next year if Almirola takes home the checkered flag?
And you cannot have a conversation about Ford winning at restrictor plate tracks without mentioning Wood Brothers Racing. The iconic No. 21 has won five Daytona 500s (granted, most were before restrictor plates) and driver Ryan Blaney has shown prowess in pack racing. Blaney could have won this year’s Daytona 500 if he had a couple more ounces of fuel. Instead, he finished in second place.
With Blaney sitting five points below the cutline, winning Talladega would be his safest bet for advancing to the next round.
With 40 cars going nose-to-tail and three-wide on Sunday, it will be the cars powered by Roush Yates Engines will come out on top.
I can’t think of a better tribute or a better setting one week after the passing of Robert Yates than to see a Blue Oval return to Victory Lane at a track where horsepower prevails. – Michael Massie
About the author
Davey is in his fifth season with Frontstretch and currently serves as a multimedia editor and reporter. He authors the "NASCAR Mailbox" column, spearheads the site's video content and hosts the Frontstretch Podcast weekly. He's covered the K&N Pro Series and ARCA extensively for NASCAR.com and currently serves as an associate producer for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and production assistant for NBC Sports Washington. Follow him on Twitter @DaveyCenter.
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