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Who will rule NASCAR’s ‘Palace of Speed’?

NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Series drivers head to Talladega Superspeedway this weekend

After+a+hectic+end+to+the+last+race+at+Dover+International+Speedway%2C+NASCAR+Monster+Energy+Cup+Series+drivers+look+to+continue+their+championship+runs+into+this+weekend+at+Talladega+Superspeedway.++With+the+inevitable+chaos+at+Talladega%2C+this+could+presume+a+challenge+for+the+drivers+and+lead+to+a+mix-up+in+the+current+standings.
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Who will rule NASCAR’s ‘Palace of Speed’?

After a hectic end to the last race at Dover International Speedway, NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series drivers look to continue their championship runs into this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.  With the inevitable chaos at Talladega, this could presume a challenge for the drivers and lead to a mix-up in the current standings.

After a hectic end to the last race at Dover International Speedway, NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series drivers look to continue their championship runs into this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. With the inevitable chaos at Talladega, this could presume a challenge for the drivers and lead to a mix-up in the current standings.

Katie Linkner

After a hectic end to the last race at Dover International Speedway, NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series drivers look to continue their championship runs into this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. With the inevitable chaos at Talladega, this could presume a challenge for the drivers and lead to a mix-up in the current standings.

Katie Linkner

Katie Linkner

After a hectic end to the last race at Dover International Speedway, NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series drivers look to continue their championship runs into this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. With the inevitable chaos at Talladega, this could presume a challenge for the drivers and lead to a mix-up in the current standings.

Caylee Cicero, Features Editor

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After a dramatic finish and a series of unfortunate breaks at Dover International Speedway, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series moves on to racing at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend for some mid-October treachery.

Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro for Hendrick Motorsports, is the only one safe after stealing a win from driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick…”

— Features Editor Caylee Cicero

Among playoff contenders, Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro for Hendrick Motorsports, is the only one safe after stealing a win from driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, who dominated the Gander Mountain 400, leading 286 laps and finishing sixth.

Elliott’s team deployed a risky strategy by restarting on old tires on the final two restarts. Despite this, somehow Elliott was able to maintain the lead both times and lock himself into the next round of the playoffs through the win.

At the beginning of the race, the Stewart-Haas drivers, all of which are in the playoffs, completely controlled the race, at one point even running in order in the top four positions. Harvick had the lead and dominant car until he had to make a second stop down pit road for a missing valve stem, after which he never fully recovered. Harvick’s teammate Aric Almirola, the driver of the No. 10, worked his way to the lead where he was in position to win with just seven laps to go until a caution came out for fellow Stewart-Haas driver Clint Bowyer, who pilots the No. 14, blew a tire and Almirola made the decision to pit. Elliott then assumed the lead and Almirola ended up wrecking attempting to gain position and go for the win ending a disappointing day for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Putting Dover behind them, the focus switches to Talladega and who can survive “the big one” at Alabama’s Palace of Speed. The chaos of the race is likely to throw a wrench in the current playoff standings and championship hopes of the drivers.

Looking back to the race earlier this season at Talladega, four of the current playoff drivers finished in the top five, including race winner Joey Logano, driver of the No. 22 Ford Fusion for Team Penske. Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 and only Stewart-Haas driver without issues at Dover, came in second, while Elliott and Harvick finished third and fourth, respectively.

With half the field involved in accidents, four of the other playoff drivers ended up crashing out of contention. This included No. 78 Furniture Row Racing driver Martin Truex Jr., who currently sits fourth in standings, and driver of the No. 2 for Team Penske Racing Brad Keselowski, who currently holds the sixth position in the standings. Other notables who crashed in the spring race include No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing driver Kyle Larson and Bowyer who are all below the cutoff to make the Round of 8.

Bowyer, with 25 starts and an average finish of 16.1, has the most experience of the drivers looking to climb back in the top eight.”

— Features Editor Caylee Cicero

Going into the race, Harvick and Joe Gibbs driver of the No.18 Toyota Camry Kyle Busch have 68 and 63-point cushions, respectively, making them likely to still be in the top eight if they do get into trouble, but with championship hopes ahead of them both drivers don’t want to have to rely on using up their current points. Truex Jr. and Logano are behind them with fairly large 36 and 31 point leads, but this could quickly change if the drivers are swept up in wrecks early. While Kurt Busch and Keselowski are both 21 points to the positive, a decent margin but one that can easily be diminished at Talladega. Rounding out the top eight is Ryan Blaney, Team Penske’s No. 12 driver. Blaney is only 10 points above the cutoff and needs an incident-free race if he wants to stay in the green.  

Almirola, Bowyer, Larson, and Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman, find themselves on the outside looking in, sitting ninth through 12th in the points standings. Bowyer is the only one out of the group that has won at Talladega before, with his last win there taking place back in October of 2011. Bowyer, with 25 starts and an average finish of 16.1, has the most experience of the drivers looking to climb back in the top eight. Statistically speaking, Bowyer has the best chance of improving his current playoff position of these drivers, but at a track like Talladega, nothing can be certain.

Although Almirola doesn’t have a win at Talladega, he’s won at the only other restrictor plate track on the circuit, Daytona, in 2014. In addition to his win in 2014, Almirola was a turn away from winning there this season until he was spun by eventual race-winner Austin Dillon. Almirola has lost races in the final laps several times this year, including last week at Dover, making him even hungrier for a win. He’s also the only winless Stewart-Haas driver this season further adding to his motivation. Almirola’s stats at Talladega are very promising. He’s scored a top-10 finish in the last four races there and has a 97.8% lap completion rate praising his luck in avoiding the inevitable wrecks.

Larson, who lacked speed last weekend, needs to do well at Talladega in order to avoid a must-win situation the following week at Kansas. This could be a challenge though since Larson has never won at a restrictor plate track. Larson’s stats at ‘Dega have been a mixed bag from scoring a sixth-place finish in 2014 to finishing dead last in April’s race there.

Although not in the playoffs, fellow Georgia driver David Ragan, driver of the No. 38 for Front Row Motorsports, is likely to find success at Talladega as well after bragging promising past finishes there.”

— Features Editor Caylee Cicero

Even though Larson has struggled at Talladega in the past, Bowman is in the toughest situation going into the race. Bowman sits 34 points below the cutoff in last place and will need to avoid trouble and score a good finish at Talladega if he wants to go into Kansas in a favorable playoff position. Bowman’s best finish at the track was earlier this year when he took home eighth, but out of his six cup starts at Talladega he has only completed the race in half of them.

Georgia driver Chase Elliott prevailed to win last weekend and is in a good position to go for back-to-back wins. Elliott’s average start at ‘Dega is 4.0 while his average finish is 13.2. In his five Cup starts there, he has scored two top-10s and one DNF after wrecking out in May of 2017. Elliott’s also had success at Daytona winning two poles there a well as a Can-Am Duel race at the beginning of the season. Going into Talladega, Elliott’s locked into the next round and is the only driver who can fully commit to going for the win and not have to worry about points. Taking this account in addition to his recent success makes him a favorite for this weekend.

Although not in the playoffs, fellow Georgia driver David Ragan, driver of the No. 38 for Front Row Motorsports, is likely to find success at Talladega as well after bragging promising past finishes there. Ragan scored a sixth-place finish at ‘Dega in April, his only top-10 of 2018, making this one of his best tracks. In addition to last year, Ragan’s had a top-10 finish at Talladega two years in a row prior, along with a win there in May of 2013. Ragan’s only other Cup win came at Daytona in 2011 showing his success at restrictor plate tracks.

Fans can catch all the action of the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series 1,000Bulbs.com 500 airing on NBC Sports at 2 p.m. on Oct. 14.

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