The new two-car draft style of racing seen recently at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway is already under siege from NASCAR. This week's race will see a larger opening in the restrictor plate to give the cars a bit more horsepower in hopes of allowing more passing opportunities. In addition, an adjustment to the pressure release valve system looks to shorten the amount of time one car can push another before water pressure becomes an issue.
Owners facing prequalifying deadlines will get the benefit of two Friday practices session prior to qualifying on Saturday. Checking these results is a huge benefit in order to see what drivers have unloaded with an early edge and are most likely to score a prime starting position.
Location: Talladega, Ala.
Length: 2.66 miles
Turns 1-2: 33 degrees
Turn 3: 32.4 degrees
Turn 4: 32.5 degrees
Front stretch: 16.5 degrees
Back stretch: 2 degrees
Drivers to keep an eye on
Kevin Harvick | No. 29 Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
When it comes to plate racing, Harvick is easily the most bankable driver. Since 2010, he's won an event at Daytona and Talladega with only one finish outside of seventh in seven combined starts. At Dega, Harvick owns three consecutive top-five finishes coming from a wide range of starting positions. With the two-car draft RCR cars have proven to be formidable machines, largely to Harvick's benefit. The rule changes may alter his outlook a bit but Harvick is clearly the top driver on plate venues until proven otherwise.
Kurt Busch | No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge | Penske Championship Racing
In the last two races at Talladega, the elder Busch brother has been very much in the mix yet unable to score a result to match. Last October, he qualified third and held an average running position of 10th but finished 30th. In April, Busch ran ninth, on the average, and appeared to be locked into a top-five result until he lost his drafting partner with three laps to go and faded to finish 18th. Among the elite drivers, Busch could offer some value given these overlooked performances.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew "Paint the 88"/National Guard Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Over the last 10 races of the season, Earnhardt has only one top-10 finish. However, he finished fourth at Talladega in April, while pushing teammate Jimmie Johnson to the win. In 23 career starts at Dega, Earnhardt has won five times, although none since 2004. But with Johnson in serious need of help to gain in the standings, Earnhardt will likely be pushing the No. 48 once again. While the lack of recent of success is a deterrent, Earnhardt is the ultimate wild card this week.
Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Back in April, Gordon qualified on the pole and finished third at Talladega. A year ago, he registered an eighth-place result after qualifying way back in 31st. Over his career Gordon has won a dozen restrictor plate races and owns a top-five in addition to another top-10 over the last three events at Daytona. Regardless of where he qualifies, Gordon is a solid option this week despite his dashed championship hopes.
Clint Bowyer | No. 33 Chevy 100 Years Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
The success of Harvick in restrictor plate races can often be attributed to his teammate, Bowyer. He's finished 12th or better in four straight at Talladega, including a win last year and a runner-up performance earlier this season. Bowyer should once again serve as Harvick's pusher and draft partner. This successful duo should pay dividends on the track and in your lineup. Consider each RCR driver a must start.
Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Energizer Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing
Over the last nine races of the season, Montoya has only one top-10 with five top-15s. Given his lack of success, Montoya's prowess on restrictor plate tracks is likely to go unnoticed. In 2010, JPM finished third in both Talladega races. At Daytona, he's registered four top-10s in the last five. In April, Montoya was running up front until taking damage with 17 laps to go. All told, Montoya could be this week's ultimate sleeper.
Paul Menard | No. 27 Serta/Menards Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
The last four restrictor plate races have seen Menard record a pair of top-10s at Daytona with finishes of 13th and 12th, respectively, at Talladega. Perhaps even more impressive was an average running position that has not dropped below 10th in any of the plate events held this season. RCR cars have proven to be excellent pushers and have the best feel for two-car draft, the No. 27 is no exception.
Joey Logano | No. 20 The Home Depot Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
In five career starts at Talladega, Logano owns a pair of top-fives and two more top-10s with an average running position that has not dropped below 15th. The past Independence Day weekend race at Daytona saw him finish a career-best third after running 12th, on the average. Logano is another driver that has been a non-factor in recent weeks but could benefit greatly from the change in racing style.
Temper your expectations
Tony Stewart | No. 14 El Monterey/Office Depot Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing
Since winning the 2008 fall race at Talladega, Stewart has not finished in the top 15 through five starts. In that time, his average running position has been no better than 18th. This season in plate races, Smoke finished 13th and 11th at Daytona, while coming in 17th at Talladega. The scary stat here is that Stewart has only led one lap despite a combined 219 lead changes in the three plate races thus far.
Jamie McMurray | No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing
At one time Jamie Mac was the bee's knees in plate races. From November 2009 through April 2010, McMurray won the 2009 fall race at Talladega, the 2010 Daytona 500 and then scored the runner-up spot upon returning to Dega. In the five plate races since, he's finished inside the top 20 only once. McMurray's conservative approach of dropping back and biding time worked well in pack racing but has yet to pan out with the two-car draft.
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts.