Who Will Avoid The Big One at Talladega in the Aaron’s 499

This will only be the second race this year on a superspeedway. The new Gen 6 car developed a game of follow the leader at this year’s Daytona 500, but the race teams have had ten weeks to work on their new vehicles. Pack racing should return to Talladega, and as is always the case, there is not a question of if a huge wreck will occur, but rather when and where “The Big One” will claim more Talladega victims. If a race car driver Sunday in the Aaron’s 499 is merely at the right place at the right time, avoiding a huge pileup can vault him (or her) into victory lane.

Speeds are going to reach 200 miles an hour, and we have already seen some driver rivalries and heated conversations. Add the unpredictable nature of restrictor plate racing at Talladega, and you have a must-see event. Drivers qualify at Noon Saturday May 4, and the race kicks off at 1 PM ET Sunday, May 5 on FOX. Denny Hamlin has been cleared for a return to NASCAR, but in a limited capacity, and team owner Joe Gibbs says he has not yet figured out how Hamlin will be used.

Clint Bowyer has an awesome race record at Talladega with two wins, and he has finished in the top 10 at that track in half of the races he has run there. The last four races that driver has a series-best average finishing position oh 8th and a third-best driver rating of 100.9. And while Matt Kenseth is usually pictured dominating 1.5 mile race tracks, he also owns the series best running position of 14.8 and a series high 1,918 the laps led at superspeedways. He is also run very good this year, and has got to be a Vegas odds on favorite to win the Aaron’s 499 this weekend.

“5 Time” Jimmie Johnson is off to a blistering start in 2013, and he won the Daytona 500 this year at a track where he usually performs poorly. You can never count out the 48 car, but Jeff Burton quietly enters the race with a series-best average green flag speed of 192.727 mph and a series-best driver rating of 91.4. Richard Childress Racing owns more race titles at Talladega than any other team, and Burton can extend that lead Sunday. Regan Smith always runs good at Talladega, nearly beating Tony Stewart in 2008. He ended up fifth at the last Talladega race, and could take the number 51 all the way to victory lane this Sunday, delivering on some long odds.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. loves superspeedways, but so does Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick. If there is anything we have come to know at Talladega, it is that nothing is certain. With only 188 laps, no one driver is expected to lead the majority of them which is the case at intermediate and shorter tracks. Bobby LaBonte will make his 700th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start this weekend, making him just the 14th driver ever with that achievement. Jeff Gordon has the most active wins at Talladega with six, and he or Labonte is just as good a pick as anyone to take the checkered flag at this unpredictable and exciting racetrack.

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