NASCAR Geico 500 preview

NASCAR heads to the legendary Talladega Super Speedway for the Geico 500

Talladega. Getty Images.

This Sunday, The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the largest oval in the world, Talladega Super Speedway. This race is one of the most anticipated races on all of the schedule as it is known for its three and four wide racing and the amount of surprise winners we usually see here. This is the race that I always circle on the calendar to watch; there is simply no predicting on what will happen when the green flag drops at the self-proclaimed "Baddest racetrack on the planet." The obvious variable to watch out for this weekend is the infamous "big one." It seems every time they come to a track like Talladega or Daytona, there has been a multi-car wreck that wipes out most or a lot of the field.

We have seen it every year they have come here so there will be strategy to try and avoid it. One of the most popular ways drivers try and steer clear of this is by riding around towards the back of the field. This has worked very few times. Drivers like Dale Jr and Jeff Gordon have done this and won races because of it. On the other hand, there have been many times to where it hasn't worked. It should be interesting to see how these drivers tackle the high banks.

One of the main headlines of this race is the decision to ditch the Restrictor-plates here that NASCAR has used for nearly 30 years. The new cars will carry a larger tapered spacer and will make their spoiler on the back of the car much larger. These changes are to reduce Horsepower down to 550 which in large part will slow the cars down. While it sounds like a lot, NASCAR officials say they don't expect the style of racing to change too much. A lot of people scoffed at this decision but overall, I am not sure it will make too much a difference come race day. On the bright side, a lot of racing fans will get their wish as the sport has finally abandoned plate racing. It should be a sight to see come first practice on Friday afternoon.

The clear favorite coming into this weekend has to be Aric Almirola. As you know when we come to tracks like this, I have always had him as king of the underdog but this weekend, I truly think he has the best chance to win. Since 2016, he has a 4.25 average finish including a win in last year's fall race so it's clear he knows how to get around tracks like this. It has been good to see one of the good guys in NASCAR get a chance driving for one of the sport's top teams and he has made the most of his opportunity. Look for Aric to be one to watch come sunday.

If you are looking for sort of an underdog story this week, look no further than Matt DiBenedetto. As everyone knows, Bob Leavine and his group of guys have really done a lot to help improve their race team, from forming an alliance with Toyota and Joe Gibbs to hiring a new crew-chief in Mike Wheeler who has been successful with Denny Hamlin. They had a great run going in the Daytona 500 after Matt lead a race high 49 laps until a late race incident knocked them out of contention. This week, I think they get their redemption and get a solid finish if not a victory. I think that Matt can win in this series and what a statement it would be if he was to get his first win here at Talladega.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).

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This week, NASCAR heads for Sin City in Las Vegas for the South Point 400. This is the opening round of NASCAR's version of the playoffs. Sixteen drivers will come to Vegas with a chance to move on and continue their path to a championship. Located just outside Downtown, This track is a mile and a half oval that includes twenty degrees in banking, usually with the Las Vegas heat, the track's surface becomes much more slick. This caused many tire issues last season that took out many contenders including Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott. With temps as high as 100 degrees on Sunday, this should be a factor to watch for.

Last week, Kevin Harvick put a beat-down on the field to go on and win his second Brickyard 400 and his third win of the season. Harvick led a race high 118 laps and was never really challenged until the closing stages after a battle with Joey Logano on a restart in the final few laps. The race was marred by many spectacular crashes including Brad Keselowski and Erik Jones as Brad hit a tire barrier at over 170 miles per hour causing the car to come to a dead-stop instantly. Luckily, no one involved was injured. Overall, many of the contenders were caught up in accidents including teammates Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch. When the smoke cleared, there were also some drivers who had great results including Darrell Wallace Jr who came home third. This was Bubba's best finish since last year's Daytona 500. While many will attribute attrition to why he ran so well it is important to note that he ran around the top 10 for much of the race.

For much of the season, NASCAR's greatest driver Jimmie Johnson has been in the spotlight but for all the wrong reasons and unfortunately this continued at Indy after he was eliminated from playoff contention when he was swept up in a multi car wreck on lap 108. This ends a 14 year streak of Johnson making NASCAR's postseason. While 2019 has been a dreadful year for him, Johnson has been adamant that he crew-chief Cliff Daniels are not done and will be much better come next season. If I could compare this to any other major sport, I would say it is close to what happened with LeBron James missing the playoffs this season with the Lakers. For both athletes, while things may be hard now I think they will be better next season as they both make moves to improve their teams. It will be interesting to watch seven time champion try and play spoiler to help his teammates Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and William Byron compete for a championship.

The NASCAR world was met with some good news this week as well as it was announced that fan favorite Matt DiBenedetto will drive for the Wood Brothers in 2020 in the #21 Menards Ford Mustang, the ride will include resources from Penske racing. The move was met with much surprise as it was announced Tuesday on the Wood Brothers Twitter page. The team's current driver, Paul Menard announced his retirement at the end of the 2019 season. While he won't be racing, Menard and his sponsor of the same name will remain with the team as Paul was gracious enough to suggest they hire DiBenedetto after he had many great results this season driving for Bob Leavine. Even though he will not return to full-time racing in NASCAR, he will continue to race on a part time basis more than likely for Penske racing's Xfinity team. In the grand scheme of things, many people have criticized Paul for his avenue into the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series, the one thing people can't say is he and his family haven't done a lot for the sport. While many sponsors have left, Menard and his bright yellow paint scheme have always been around to keep a lot of these competitive teams going, I have to thank Paul for everything he has done for this sport and while his career wasn't perfect he wasn't such a bad race car driver either, he will always be remembered for his victory in the 2011 Brickyard 400 (ironically enough) and qualifying for the chase back in 2014. He will be missed come Sundays on the track

The driver that I have winning this week is Martin Truex Jr. This season, Truex has been fast at times but surprisingly he has kind of flown under the radar when compared to his teammates. While he still has four wins, he's been in a bit of a slump over the past two weeks. At both Indy and Bristol, he has finished 15th and 27th. The results have kind of taken the radar off the 2017 champion but I think this race is where he gets back into the swing of things. Over the last couple races here, Truex has the second highest average finish has led 23 percent of the laps completed. Come Sunday when the green flag drops, Truex and his Camry should be hard to beat.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).

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