NASCAR Picks for Talladega
Length: 2.660 miles
Location: Talladega, Alabama
While I don't really believe that the Chase system is the appropriate way to crown a champion in a sport like NASCAR, I have to admit that the new elimination playoff system is at least creating plenty of drama. From Jimmie Johnson cussing up a storm on the radio to Brad Keselowski hitting everything in sight on the track and then everyone trying to hit Keselowski off the track, the action at Charlotte this past weekend was flat out fun to watch. You could hear the panic in Johnson's voice, and you could see the emotions flowing from the normally robotic Matt Kenseth, who basically pulled the NASCAR equivalent of jumping Keselowski in an alley. The pressure of the elimination format is getting to the drivers, and heading to the Contender Round finale at Talladega this weekend, title favorites Keselowski, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are all in serious danger of being eliminated from contention.
Speaking of Talladega, the massive superspeedway is already known for being one of the most unpredictable tracks on the schedule because of the multi-car wrecks that are routinely triggered by the restrictor-plate-created pack racing. Throw in all the agendas that will be at play among the title contenders as some drivers simply try to stay out of trouble and others do anything and everything they can to win in order to secure an automatic spot in the Eliminator Round, and a potential fantasy nightmare is on tap. Heck, the track is already a fantasy nightmare, and that was before championship hopes weren't hanging in the balance. The final laps at Talladega Sunday could be absolute chaos, and I'm not sure how many cars are going to make it to the checkered flag in one piece.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., #88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
He is one of the most decorated superspeedway drivers in series history, and Junior has been the closest thing to a safe bet at the plate tracks recently. In the last 10 restrictor plate races, he leads all drivers with an 11. 4 average finish, and his 335 points scored are 27 more than any other driver. For his career, Junior has eight superspeedway wins, including five at Talladega.
Brad Keselowski, #2 Miller Lite, Team Penske [Yahoo Class B]
Keselowski might not have a lot of friends to draft with Sunday after last weekend's race at Charlotte, but his numbers at Talladega speak for themselves. He has seven Top-15s in 11 starts at the track, including a pair of wins. Meanwhile, Keselowski has scored the third-most points in the series in the last 10 restrictor plate races.
Kevin Harvick, #4 Budweiser/Jimmy Johns, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Although he isn't quite as dominant at the plate tracks as he was about five years ago, Harvick remains one of the best in the business when it comes to working the draft. He has three finishes of 12th or better in his last four starts at Talladega, including a seventh-place run earlier this year. Harvick is also a former winner at both Daytona and Talladega for his career.
Matt Kenseth, #20 Husky/Dollar General, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class A]
He has three Top-10s in his last five starts at Talladega, including a victory in the fall race in 2012. Kenseth has also been one of the more dominant drivers at plate tracks in general recently, leading 262 more laps than any other driver in the last 10 races. During the same stretch, he has scored the fifth-most points of any driver at the plate tracks, and his ability to consistently lead laps makes him a particularly strong option in NASCAR.com Fantasy Live.
Denny Hamlin, #11 FedEx, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Hamlin is trying for a season sweep at Talladega this weekend, and his performance at plate tracks in 2014 has been nothing short of spectacular. Prior to winning at Talladega, Hamlin won the Sprint Unlimited and his 150-mile qualifying at Daytona during Speedweeks and finished second in the Daytona 500. He then finished sixth at Daytona in July. Add it all up, and Hamlin heads into Sunday's race with a 3.0 average finish at plate tracks this season.
Clint Bowyer, #15 5-Hour Energy, Michael Waltrip Racing [Yahoo Class A]
In his last 10 starts at Talladega, Bowyer has compiled a series-leading 8.3 average finish. During the stretch, he has logged eight finishes of 12th or better, including a pair of wins. In fact, Bowyer has four Top-3 finishes in his last 10 starts at Talladega, including a third-place run earlier this year.
Greg Biffle, #16 3M/Bondo, Roush Fenway Racing [Yahoo Class B]
He has quietly been one of the most productive drivers at the restrictor plate tracks in recent years, and in the last 10 plate races, he ranks second in the series with a 14.1 average finish and 307 points scored. At Talladega alone, Biffle has six Top-15s in his last seven starts, including an 11th-place finish last fall and a second-place run earlier this year.
Kyle Busch, #18 Mars Brands/Interstate Batteries, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class A]
He is a former winner at Talladega, and Busch has been on a tear at the track recently. He has four Top-12 finishes in his last five starts at the superspeedway, including two straight. During the same span, he has three Top-5 finishes. Busch offers plenty of upside this weekend.
Jimmie Johnson, #48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
Johnson may have to win this weekend to keep his title hopes alive, and while he has always been hit or miss at Talladega, his upside is undeniable. He has multiple wins at both Daytona and Talladega for his career, and in the last 10 restrictor plate races, Johnson has led the second-most laps of any driver.
Jeff Gordon, #24 Drive to End Hunger/Axalta, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
Gordon went through a minor slump at the plate tracks, but he has turned things around recently, especially at Talladega. He has three Top-15s in his last four starts at NASCAR's biggest track, and he ranks 10th in the series in points scored in the last 10 races at restrictor plate tracks. Gordon probably isn't the best A-List option in Yahoo! leagues, but he could still have a solid day.
Jamie McMurray, #1 McDonald's/Cessna, Chip Ganassi Racing [Yahoo Class B]
If you are looking for a mid-level driver with Top-5 upside, McMurray is your guy. After all, he is the defending winner of this weekend's race and a two-time winner at Talladega overall. In fact, McMurray has four total restrictor plate track victories in his career.
David Ragan, #34 CSX Transportation/Peanut Patch, Front Row Motorsports [Yahoo Class B]
While he crashed out of the May race at Talladega, Ragan's overall resume at the track remains stout. In five starts at Talladega with Front Row Motorsports, he has four finishes of seventh or better, including a win. For his career, Ragan 15.6 average finish at the track ranks fourth in the series and second among drivers with more than three starts.