Last week’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway ended with a superbly executed bump-and-run finish in Carl Edwards’ favour. Such a physical means of victory is typically a controversial means of winning a race, and it’s not the first time that Edwards has roughed up another driver on the final lap this year. For those who had an issue with the rough and tumble way that last week’s race ended, this weekend’s race at Talladega might be one to miss. With the way that NASCAR races have ended this year (Denny Hamlin edging out Martin Truex Jr. at Daytona, Kevin Harvick holding off Carl Edwards at Phoenix, and last week Carl Edwards shoving away Kyle Busch at Richmond), Talladega, one of NASCAR’s most exciting tracks, should prove to be a thriller from start to finish.
Race Preview: Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
An interesting aspect of Talladega racing is the unexpectedness of their victories. Although Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Carl Edwards have shown that they are the series’ strongest contenders so far this season, here are some other drivers that could steal a victory on Sunday:
Tony Stewart: 2016 has not been kind to Smoke. Having made his first start at Richmond after an offseason injury, Stewart managed to land a top 20 in his first race back. Although Stewart will not be qualifying for the race, there is a chance that he will run the entire 500 miles should he so choose to forego the planned driver switch with Ty Dillon. Right now, everything is up to how Tony feels in the car. In his final season, no one wants to miss Tony Stewart racing on a restrictor plate track again after missing the Daytona 500.
Martin Truex Jr.: Make no mistake about it, Truex is a strong restrictor plate driver. His highest finish so far in 2016 was a second place finish in the Daytona 500, just barely being edged out by Denny Hamlin. Consistently strong on superspeedways, this is a prime opportunity for Truex to secure a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup after a strong run for the championship in the 2015 season. With Toyota teams having won five of nine races in 2016, watch for the #78 Toyota to be at the front of the pack by the 500th mile.
Chase Elliott: Carrying such a legendary name and number means that all eyes are on Elliott to make a splash in 2016. So far, he has not disappointed, with five top ten finishes, with two of those being in the top five. The first splash made this season was a pole start at the Daytona 500. Despite the issues he faced in that race, it provided him with his first laps led this season. With the strength of Hendrick engines and their proficiency in restrictor plate racing, we could see the #24 Chevrolet back in victory lane with a new face at Talladega.
Kasey Kahne: Another Hendrick driver under pressure to perform, Kahne was once as highly touted as Elliott as a young rookie coming into the sport in 2004 under Ray Evernham. Kahne is now under pressure for very different reasons, as he appears to have become the odd man out at Hendrick. With Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. being two of the most popular and noteworthy drivers in the sport’s recent history, coupled with the up and coming Elliott, a strong race at Talladega and a berth in the Chase would put Kahne’s 2016 on the right track. One of the defining features of Talladega is that anyone can win, and Kahne would be wise to push as hard as he can and capitalize on his positive momentum from a fourth place finish at Richmond.
Joey Logano: One of the hottest contenders for the championship in 2015, Logano has yet to register a victory in 2016. He has been registering strong finishes in every race this year, with his lowest finish being eighteenth at Phoenix. Talladega would be a prime location for Logano to break through and secure a Chase spot early on after already having so many strong performances. Not only has he not won this year, but he has never won at Talladega. A victory this Sunday would cross a few goals off of Logano’s checklist for 2016, and allow him to focus on closing in on that elusive series title.