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Alabama 500 Preview
The beauty of NASCAR's playoff system will be on display Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, the most volatile track in the series. Eight drivers will advance to the next round and four drivers will be eliminated.

It was designed that way by NASCAR to create the most drama possible just because races on the 2.66-mile restrictor-plate track are major crap shoots. No one knows what's going to happen and the cars are going 200 mph, but they're driving on egg-shells being ever so cautious.

Everyone has a shot to win and everyone also has a chance at seeing their car wrapped up in a 15-car pile-up. No driver is out of harms way. So while we're all watching 40 cars shuffle around for the lead, we've also the drama of 10 drivers try to take six of the remaining spots in the Round of 8 which begins next week at Martinsville.

Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick have already advanced by virtue of winning the first twoi races of this round. For those on the cusp of not advancing, Talladega is definitely not the track they wanted to see to decide their 2016 fate.

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The problem with restrictor-plate racing is that every car is equal and up to 35 of the 40 drivers have a legitimate shot to win. Just glance over the odds-to-win sheet this week and you'll notice a huge change from what was listed last week for Kansas. You won't see giant odds of 200/1 on anyone because almost anyone can win. Last week at Kansas only 15 drivers could legitimately say they could win.

Things happen fast at Talladega and drivers are sitting ducks. All it takes is for one driver to wiggle in line while 40 cars are stacked three-wide and it turns into a massive pile-up. At Kansas, there's a strategy, but at Talladega it's a crap shoot and the main goal for 178 of the 188 laps is to simply avoid trouble. It's easier said then done, but for a couple of early season favorites who are outside looking in to the transfer spot this week, they have to figure a way to win.

Let's take a look at the four drivers on the chopping block:

Austin Dillon: He's actually tied with Joey Logano for the eighth and final Chase spot heading into this weekend, but he loses a tie-breaker because Logano has had the highest in finish among the two races in the Round of 12. He comes in having to feel pretty good about his chances since he had a career-best third-place finish at Talladega in May. If we include results from the other restrictor-plate track at Daytona, Dillon's 11.9 average finish in 11 races since 2014 is second-best in the series.

Denny Hamlin: He's currently 6-points behind the eighth-place transfer position, a situation similar to last season when he was involved in a late wreck and ended his chances of winning his first championship. The Beneficiary was Kyle Busch who made the eighth slot and went on to win his first title. What Hamlin has going for him is being one of the elite plate-racers in the series. His 11.7 average finish in 11 plate races since 2014 is tops and he's captured two wins, including this years Daytona 500. He won at Talladega in 2014.

Brad Keselowski: He's just 7-points out of the eighth-place transfer position and he's going to his best track. Talladega seems to fit his style fine. He won his first career race there in 2009 driving for an underfunded part-time team and won in 2012 when he went on to win his first and only championship. He then won this race in 2014 to transfer to the next round and won there in May. That's four Talladega wins in 15 starts. A Ford driver has won the last two at Talladega and five of the past eight.

Chase Elliott: He's almost in a win or nothing category sitting 12th in points, 25-points behind the eighth position. His daddy set the track record for speed at 212 mph in 1987 and he's got a little bit of those genes in him based on his first Cup start at Talladega in May where he finished fifth.

While throwing darts at the dart board attached with car numbers, like I do to pick winners for most Talladega races, I came up a scenario that both Hamlin and Keselowski would advance meaning that two drivers currently sitting pretty will have some poor luck while being involved in somebody's wreck. My darts selected Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr. as the most unluckiest this week.

As for winning the race, bring out the dart board again or roll the dice. However, we have seen the Hendrick, Gibbs and Penske cars look strong winning 10 of the past 11 plates races between Talladega and Daytona.

One long shot to take a long hard look at this week is Alex Bowman driving Dale Earnhardt Jr's No. 88, a car which has three plate wins over the last 11. Bowman has never won a race before and he has a 30th-place average in four Talladega starts, but that car will be strong. All he has to is keep the pedal on the floor, stay out of trouble and he should have a great day. He's someone to at least consider among the many.

Not Talladega wager is a bad bet until they wreck. be cautious yourself at the windows and leave the match-ups alone unless some crazy book posts +115 on any driver against. Paul Menard +115 vs Kyle Busch? Give me Menard, please. Thank you. And I even like Kyle to fare well this week. But that's just it. It's so random that 15 cents of value is huge.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #20 Matt Kenseth (10/1)
2) #11 Denny Hamlin (10/1)
3) #2 Brad Keselowski (10/1)
4) #18 Kyle Busch (10/1)
5) #22 Joey Logano (12/1)

Chase Clinching Scenarios for Talladega (per NASCAR)

Note: Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick have already clinched a spot in the Round of 8. With only one race remaining in this round, a new winner would be a win by Joey Logano, Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski or Chase Elliott. A win by any other driver would be considered a repeat winner for the clinching requirements (so, Johnson/Harvick, or a non-Chase driver, or a driver ahead of Logano in points).

Matt Kenseth (0 Wins, 3074 Points) - Would clinch on points with 13 Points (28th and no laps led, 29th and led at least one lap, 30th and led most laps) and a new winner. If there is a repeat winner, would clinch on points with 11 Points (30th and no laps led, 31st and led at least one lap, 32nd and led most laps). With a win, would clinch a next round spot on wins.

Kyle Busch (0 Wins, 3072 Points) - Would clinch on points with 15 Points (26th and no laps led, 27th and led at least one lap, 28th and led most laps) and a new winner. If there is a repeat winner, would clinch on points with 14 Points (27th and no laps led, 28th and led at least one lap, 29th and led most laps). With a win, would clinch a next round spot on wins.

Carl Edwards (0 Wins, 3069 Points) - Would clinch on points with 18 Points (23rd and no laps led, 24th and led at least one lap, 25th and led most laps) and a new winner. If there is a repeat winner, would clinch on points with 16 Points (25th and no laps led, 26th and led at least one lap, 27th and led most laps). With a win, would clinch a next round spot on wins.

Kurt Busch (0 Wins, 3062 Points) - Would clinch on points with 25 Points (16th and no laps led, 17th and led at least one lap, 18th and led most laps) and a new winner. If there is a repeat winner, would clinch on points with 24 Points (17th and no laps led, 18th and led at least one lap, 19th and led most laps). With a win, would clinch a next round spot on wins.

Martin Truex Jr (0 Wins, 3058 Points) - Would clinch on points with 29 Points (12th and no laps led, 13th and led at least one lap, 14th and led most laps) and a new winner. If there is a repeat winner, would clinch on points with 28 Points (13th and no laps led, 14th and led at least one lap, 15th and led most laps). With a win, would clinch a next round spot on wins.

Joey Logano (0 Wins, 3045 Points) - If there is a repeat winner, would clinch on points with 41 Points (2nd and led most laps). With a win, would clinch a next round spot on wins. Could clinch on points with a new winner and help.

Austin Dillon (0 Wins, 3045 Points) - If there is a repeat winner, would clinch on points with 41 Points (2nd and led most laps). With a win, would clinch a next round spot on wins. Could clinch on points with a new winner and help.

Denny Hamlin (0 Wins, 3039 Points) - With a win, would clinch a next round spot on wins. Could clinch on points with help.

Brad Keselowski (0 Wins, 3038 Points) - With a win, would clinch a next round spot on wins. Could clinch on points with help.

Chase Elliott (0 Wins, 3020 Points) - With a win, would clinch a next round spot on wins. Could clinch on points with help.

  
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