Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Aaron's 499

by Eric McClung on May 2, 2012 @ 16:02:54 PDT

 


After numerous tweaks to the race cars, NASCAR finally squashed the two-car tandem that had taken over the traditional pack racing seen in the last several restrictor plate events prior to the 2012 Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. However, several accidents occurred during Speedweeks when contact was made to the left rear bumper. If that issue carries over to Talladega Superspeedway, a typically wild race could reach new heights.

Practice sessions: Friday, May 4 at 2:00 pm ET, 3:30 pm ET
Qualifying: Saturday, May 5 at 12:00 pm ET
Race: Sunday, May 6 at 12:00 pm ET
Location: Talladega, Ala.
Shape: Tri-oval
Length: 2.66 miles
Laps: 188
Turns 1-2: 33 degrees
Turn 3: 32.4 degrees
Turn 4: 32.5 degrees
Frontstretch: 16.5 degrees
Backstretch: 2 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Since winning five times at Talladega and adding a pair of runner-up performances in his first 10 starts at the site, Earnhardt has only added two more top-five finishes in the 14 races held since. However, Earnhardt has continued to run well owning the second best average running position at Dega since NASCAR introduced loop data in 2005. More importantly, Earnhardt has yet to finish outside of the top 15 in nine starts this season with four top-fives, highlighted by runner-up finishes in the Daytona 500 and last week at Richmond International Raceway. Even if he doesn't win his first Cup race since 2008, Earnhardt will almost assuredly put up another strong performance.

Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Even though Hamlin is rarely associated with restrictor plate racing, he's been quite good on those types of tracks in recent years. In the season opener, Hamlin led a race high 57 laps in the Daytona 500 and finished fourth despite starting back in 31st. At Talladega he's collected three top-10s in the last two years. Those performances have allowed Hamlin to elevate his career average running of 15.8 at the site, fifth among all drivers. Hamlin has already won twice this season while finishing outside of the top 12 on two occasions in nine starts.

Martin Truex Jr. | No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

After four straight DNFs due to crash at Talladega, Truex has come alive with four consecutive results inside the top 15 with a pair of top-10s. While he only finished 12th at Daytona he held an average running position of ninth, tied for the fourth best performance of the day. Truex is coming off a disappointing 25th-place finish at Richmond but ran better than that for much of the night. Some may see this as a sign that Truex is headed back down to his typical middle of the pack spot in the standings but Dega offers him a solid opportunity to stay inside the top half of the Chase window.

Kevin Harvick | No. 29 Rheem Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

In 2010, Harvick won the spring race at Talladega and was the runner-up in the fall. He began 2011 with another top-five but an accident past the halfway point of the Chase event left him to finish in 32nd and several laps down after yet another strong performance. Harvick has been equally impressive in the aforementioned span of time at Daytona with one win and three seventh-place finishes. Regardless of the changes in equipment and style of racing, Harvick has remained a constant fixture in plate races.

Joey Logano

Clint Bowyer | No. 15 Aaron's/Alabama National Champions Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

Over the last two years, no one has been better at Talladega than Bowyer. He owns four straight top-10s, winning the last two fall races and was the runner-up in last year's spring event. Yes, those came in RCR equipment but the move to MWR hasn't been much of a step back. Bowyer finished 11th at Daytona, his best result at the site since the 2010 Daytona 500, but his sterling resume at Talladega is the reason he's an automatic start in every format.

Brad Keselowski | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

After winning in his first ever start at Talladega back in 2009 on the last lap, Keselowski has added three more top-10s in the five starts since, including a fourth-place result last fall. In addition, Keselowski has never failed to lead at least one lap at Dega. It's been a different story at Daytona where Keselowski has suffered three DNFs due to crash in the last four starts, including the 2012 season opener. Keselowski was running seventh at the midway point of the race and should fare well in his return to Talladega.

Joey Logano | No. 20 Dollar General Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Prior to last year's 24th-place finish at Talladega in the fall, Logano had held an average running position of 15th or better in his first five starts at the site. In that span, Logano tallied a total of four top-10s with a pair of top-fives. While he hasn't been a world beater this season Logano finished ninth in the Daytona 500 and has accumulated six top-20s in nine races, none outside of the top 25. If Logano performs well in the practice sessions consider him as a worthy sleeper selection.

Michael Waltrip | No. 55 Aaron's "Color Your Way to Talladega" Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

In nine races this season the No. 55 car has registered five top-10 finishes and eight top-20s with the duo of Mark Martin and Brian Vickers behind the wheel. This week the owner will strap himself in for his 52nd career Cup start at Talladega where he made a late charge to finish ninth in last year's fall event. Among bottom-tier drivers Waltrip offers a great value piloting a machine that continues to perform well week in and week out.

Temper your expectations

Greg Biffle | No. 16 O'Reilly Auto Parts Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

While Biffle finished third in the Daytona 500 it might be better to keep him reserved in allocation formats. In 18 career starts at Talladega, The Biff has only managed three top-10s and just one in the last four starts. Among all drivers his career average running position of 22.5 has him way back in 32nd.

Ryan Newman | No. 39 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

"It's not racing." That's how Newman described Talladega following a multi-car crash he was involved in during the 2010 spring race. Over the five starts at the site, Newman crashed twice and has not finished better than 23rd. The results aren't much better at DIS. Since winning the 2008 Daytona 500, Newman has two more crashes and only one top-20.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's 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. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.

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