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We’ve got five races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup remaining with Matt Kenseth holding on to a slim three-point lead over Jimmie Johnson with the biggest wild card race of NASCAR’s version of the playoffs coming up this week at Talladega Superspeedway‘s massive 2.66-mile layout. The only thing certain on this beast of a track is that nothing is certain.

It doesn’t matter how many points a driver has, who practices well, or who has a great history is restrictor-plate races, Talladega does not play favorites to any driver or sympathize with any teams’ needs. That uncertainty plays well into several drivers plan on catching Kenseth and Johnson in points.

It’s unlikely that we’ll see Kenseth or Johnson slip up massively on 1.5-mile tracks or shorter layouts like Martinsville or Phoenix. They’re too good and their teams are on top of their game. But at Talladega, they have to race like they’re on egg-shells, and rather than race the other drivers, they have to race the track.

If they happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time on the track, they could quickly find themselves a feeling the wrath of the track as “The Big One” happens with 10 to 15 cars wrecking at once. There is no escape, even when a driver is running his line perfectly when some one three or four rows ahead slips. There’s nowhere to go but into the rear of the car in front, and as the tornado of cars spin around, they wipe out just about everything moving.

Because of the volatile nature of the race, many regular NASCAR bettors take a beat seat for this race and wager only a small portion of their allotted bankroll. Every edge they have in handicapping a race on tracks that run true goes out the window at Talladega because now instead of being an advantage player, that bettor is reduced to play roulette at random odds.

In any race of the season other than the four restrictor-plate races, you would never think of a wager on David Ragan’s No. 34 car, but because of his win at Talladega in May at 100/1 odds, he has to be considered, as does his teammate, David Gilliland in the No. 38, who finished second.

So now that we have to consider cars that are jalopies in the other 32 races, it reduces the chances from drivers that statistically have a chance to win. Usually, there are about 15 to 18 drivers a week that a case to win can be made for. At Talladega, that number goes up to 35 drivers. It’s hard enough to win a race weekly under somewhat controlled circumstances, now we have pick one out of 35 that have a chance?

This is why many sharp bettors take a pass on not only Talladega odds to win, but also the driver matchups. The odds for the top drivers are much better, all usually over 10/1, but it’s still not as advantageous as the other races.

However, there aren’t many NASCAR races that provide as much excitement in the final 20 laps of a race, and that feeling is accentuated even more with a wager on one of the drivers. Chances are, because they’re all bunched up so tightly, that no matter who you wager on, he’ll have a chance to be one of the top six drivers on the last lap, and then anything can happen. It’s like the Kentucky Derby on the final turn, except with 850 horses pulling the chariot.

That thrill can’t be matched with any other track, including Daytona, just because Talladega is so much more wider and allows for up to four-wide. The restrictor-plates keep everyone about equal and there really aren’t many tricks teams can do now to gain an edge in their creative engineering. Based on the three restrictor plate races run this season, there are a couple of drivers that have shown to be at least as consistent as one can be under such random conditions.

Jimmie Johnson won at both Daytona races and was fifth at Talladega in May. The No. 55 car has finished in the top-5 of all three races, with Michael Waltrip expected to drive it this week again. And then that’s about it.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #99 Carl Edwards (18/1)
2) #2 Brad Keselowski (14/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (10/1)
4) #18 Kyle Busch (12/1)
5) #20 Matt Kenseth (10/1)

NASCAR Expert Picks
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