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As always, speed will rule at Talladega

By Pete Pistone  (Point Spread Weekly) 

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Brendan Gaughan (62, mid-air) at Talladega last year

Fasten your seat belts. NASCAR heads to the longest and fastest oval track on the schedule Sunday with the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. The 2.66-mile Alabama speed plant has provided one of the most exciting and challenging stops on the schedule since opening in 1969.

 

Talladega and its sister track at Daytona create high speeds due to their length and degree of banking in the turns. In an effort to bring down speeds beginning in 1986, NASCAR has implemented rules packages designed to keep horsepower in check. The result creates huge packs of racing in the draft, with two- or three-wide racing the norm throughout the afternoon before a mad scramble to the checkered flag. In the aftermath of Ryan Newman’s violent last-lap accident at the Daytona 500, NASCAR tweaked Sunday’s rules hoping to cut speeds to the high 190s.

 

However, because the cars are so closely packed, one minor bobble or spin can generate a mammoth accident — “the big one” — and literally wipe out a dozen or so cars in one fell swoop. It has created strategies among teams to run with one another and hang out in the back of the pack to try to stay out of trouble. But even that approach isn’t foolproof.

 

Despite all those caveats, skill is still involved in superspeedway racing. Here’s a look at four drivers to consider in the Geico 500.

 

JOEY LOGANO

He has three Talladega wins dating to 2015 and an average finish of 11.7 over the last 10 races at the track. Logano is a master of using the draft and not afraid to get physical if need be, sometimes much to the chagrin of his competitors. He has top-five finishes in four of the last five Talladega races. He has led 263 Talladega laps dating to 2015, the best in the series.

 

BRAD KESELOWSKI

His recent numbers say otherwise, but Keselowski is an adept superspeedway racer like Team Penske running mate Logano. Keselowski won in 2017 but has been involved in incidents in the last four Talladega races that have taken him out of the running. He is right behind Logano with 248 laps led in the last 10 races.

 

CHASE ELLIOTT

It has taken a little time, but Elliott has evolved into a solid contender at Talladega. He is the defending Geico 500 winner and followed that with an eighth-place run last fall at Talladega. Look for Elliott and his Chevrolet teammates at Hendrick Motorsports to work together in the draft Sunday.

 

ARIC ALMIROLA

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has the best Talladega average finish since 2015 at 9.6. Almirola won in 2018 and brings a streak of seven top-10 runs into Sunday’s race, with four of those inside the top five.

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