Engine durability is definitely something worth paying attention to in the 499-mile race at Talladega on Sunday. With drivers expected to play it safe for 20 laps or so, engine temperatures could spike through the course of the race.
Gone is two-car tandem drafting, and in its place is a return to cars running around side-by-side in a large group. But the return to pack racing comes with inherent risks, as restrictor-plate racing is more about surviving and not getting swept up in the "Big One" whenever it inevitably occurs.
The old adage, "To finish first, one must first finish" is the mantra of the weekend. Look for many a driver to try and play it safe until there's about 20 or so laps to go. After that, expect a free-for-all with at least one, if not more attempts at a green-white-checkered finish. Think of this as NASCAR's version of a reality show, where the field will slowly be whittled down until one contestant is left standing.
Check out Bianchi's list of favorites at Talladega, led by Dale Earnhardt Jr., and "sleeper" pick Joey Logano:
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Coming off a great run at Richmond, where he finished runner-up to Kyle Busch and moved up to second in the standings just five points behind leader Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. appears ever closer to finally snapping his 138-race winless streak.
What better place for it to happen than Talladega, where he's been victorious five times and has three runner-up finishes. And if Earnhardt Jr. were to win today, he would likely move to the top of the standings for the first time since September 2004.
2. Clint Bowyer
You may be surprised to be see Clint Bowyer's name on this list, but you shouldn't be. In his last three starts at Talladega, Bowyer has two wins and finished second in the other. However, it's worth noting that his prior success all came while he was driving for Richard Childress Racing - a powerhouse on the plate tracks - and not his current Michael Waltrip Racing team.
3. Matt Kenseth
As evidenced by his win in the Daytona 500, Matt Kenseth has this pack-drafting thing down pretty well. And to win today, it's going to take patience and know-how to avoid the many pratfalls that racing at Talladega presents, both of which Kenseth more than possesses.
In a race that just about anyone can win, let's roll the dice on Joey Logano, who won yesterday's Nationwide Series race, has a better average finish at Talladega than anyone else in today's field and has posted top-10 finishes here in four of six starts.
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