GEICO 500 Preview
May 2, 2017
By Micah Roberts
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Talladega Superspeedway, you big, ugly, beast of a badass. You show no favorites whether a champion or an also-ran; your wrath is dished out equally to all class of drivers. You're such a beast that NASCAR had to find ways to slow the cars down. You're wide high-banks made them go too fast. Yes, Talladega Superspeedway, you're a big, beautiful, 2.66-miles of awesomeness. The stage is yours for the 10th race of the NASCAR Cup season, have a great show!
I'm not one of those fans that roots for crashes and big pile-ups, but I can say that the possibility of it happening at any moment in a spectacular fashion like only Talladega can provide has me at the edge of my seat in anticipation like no other race track. It's the most amazing high-speed traffic jam in automobile history with the drivers sometimes stacked up in four-wide formations. It's bumper-to-bumper at 200 miles per hour.
If one driver slips or makes the wrong move it can take out half the field in a chain reaction. It is in this randomness that forces me to change my weekly wagering patterns. I play more drivers to win and I rarely play any driver match-ups, unless getting obscene plus-money on a driver. Most of the cars are equal because of the restrictor-plates, but a few teams have proven to have a slight edge over the past three seasons and the package for these cars have been about the same for the past three seasons.
So between the random wrecks which can take away my driver bet at any moment, no big edge with the cars and practices and qualifying not meaning anything, these type of races are really just crap shoots. Your bet is kind of like one of those scratch-off lottery cards, but with better odds. Formula's used for rating the drivers are different for Talladega -- very vanilla based more on past history.
Because of the randomness, the books usually give a fair shake on the favorites while chopping off the long shot odds. Anything can happen with plates on.
The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has last week's winner Joey Logano as the 7/1 co-favorite to win along with Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin. Every other driver is 10/1 or higher beginning with six-time Talladega winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. who announced last week that 2017 would be his last Cup season.
Junior probably should be the favorite to win this week because he's got 10 restrictor-plate wins, because Hendrick Motorsports has a great plate program and also because of supply and demand.
In the good old days when Junior won four straight Talladega races from 2001-03, he would have his odds shaved down lower than he should be just because every sports book knew they would get loaded on Junior action. And then he'd go out and win and make it look easy.
For this week's race because of his popularity and retiring, he will be bet down as risk piles up. People will bet him at Talladega and if they don't win they'll have a nice souvenir from his farewell season. He's got two races remaining at Talladega and then it's over. It's the end of a long era, a love affair the Talladega fans had with Earnhardt Senior and Junior. Dale Jr. feels that love too from this sector of fans and I think he'll feed off it on Sunday.
He last won a race in the fall of 2015, a season he won three times, one of which came at Talladega. Last season he missed the final 18 races due to a concussion. This season, things have been tough on him with only one top-10 finish in his nine starts. That's not good at all and he's got to take a lot of the blame himself.
That leads to not having any fun, either, and it's important for drivers. Confidence is a huge aspect of drivers even though its usually the equipment that sets them apart. But I think Junior knows he's one of the best at seeing air in the draft. He understands it well and I believe he knows he's really only got three legitimate whacks at wins: the two races at Talladega and the Firecracker 400 at Daytona -- the three plate races left.
With a win he can coast into the playoffs with an automatic berth. But as of now he's sitting 24th in points and it would be a shame for him to miss the playoffs in his final season. I want Junior to do well. I want him to win a few races and I'd love to see him roll out on top as a champion like Peyton Manning and John Elway did.
When he eventually takes the lead its going to be a emotional roar that drowns out the car noise. And when he wins its going to be one heck of a Talladega party. I'm a believer in fantastic stories and moments in Junior's career because I've seen goofy, unworldly stuff, happen with this guy. I still can't explain all the wild happenings of the 2001 season after his father passed.
So I'll just tell you I'll be betting Junior to win in all of the plate races.
Something to think about in regards the Daytona 500 results which are the perfect example of plate randomness with Kurt Busch winning at 40/1 odds followed by Ryan Blaney, A.J. Allmendinger in third, Aric Almirola fourth and Paul Menard fifth. That might be one of the most upside-down looking top-five finishes we'll see this season, or until maybe Sunday at Talladega.
Bottom line is there really is no bad bet at Talladega until it loses. If I argued Aric Almirola or a Roush Fenway car could win, I wouldn't be wrong.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10/1)
2) #22 Joey Logano (7/1)
3) #4 Kevin Harvick (15/1)
4) #2 Brad Keselowski (7/1)
5) #11 Denny Hamlin (7/1)