Don’t get crashed.
It’s easier said than done for Cup Series drivers at Talladega. But avoiding a crash is the best way to ensure a good finish and a decent points day for drivers in the playoffs.
We all know that a big crash or two or three will happen at some point during Sunday’s race. It’s inevitable. Each of the last nine races at Talladega have included at least six cautions. The race preceding those nine, the 2015 fall race at the track, had just three cautions. And that third caution was for an 11-car crash on the final lap of the race.
Heck, there were two crashes on the final lap of this year’s spring race. After NASCAR didn’t call a caution for the first crash, another crash happened right at the finish. Drivers aren’t safe from crashing at Talladega until after their cars are parked on pit road.
The propensity for large crashes at Talladega is why it’s so hard to make picks at the track. Sure, we have an idea of who will and could be good throughout the race. But one driver’s mistake can easily wipe out 15 cars around him.
Here’s how the playoff standings look entering the second race of the second round. Below are our picks. They’re better than wild guesses. But they’re not confident picks either.
1. Kurt Busch (win at Las Vegas)
2. Kevin Harvick, 3,104
3. Denny Hamlin, 3,101
4. Brad Keselowski, 3,059
5. Martin Truex Jr., 3,058
6. Joey Logano, 3,054
7. Chase Elliott, 3,053
8. Alex Bowman, 3,052
9. Kyle Busch, 3,043
10. Clint Bowyer, 3,032
11. Aric Almirola, 3,025
12. Austin Dillon, 3,029
Sunday, Oct. 3, 2 p.m. ET (NBC)
The favorite: Ryan Blaney (+1000)
Best bets among the favorites
Denny Hamlin (+1100)
Hamlin is among the group of second favorites at +1100 with Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Joey Logano. You can’t go wrong with any of those drivers. We’re going with Hamlin because he’s established himself as the most savvy racer at Daytona and Talladega in recent years and because he has the luxury of not having to worry as much about a bad finish because of his points position. While Hamlin hasn’t won at Talladega since the 2014 spring race, he’s finished in the top four in three of his last four Talladega starts.
Aric Almirola (+1400)
Almirola is the best value on the board if you’re looking at past results. Since finishing 27th at Talladega in the 2016 spring race he’s finished eighth, fourth, fifth, seventh, first, ninth, fourth and third at the track. It’s a remarkable streak that is bound to get broken by being in the wrong place at the wrong time at some point. Maybe that some point happens on Sunday. Who knows. But we like Almirola’s chances at getting a second Talladega win. Or at least crossing the finish line with his car pointed the right way.
Best bets among the longshots
Clint Bowyer (+2500)
Yes, we’re considering Bowyer a longshot at just +2500 because there are 12 other drivers who have odds of +2000 or better. He’s 13th on the board because he’s very boom or bust at Talladega. He’s finished outside the top 20 in his past three starts at the track since he was second to Almirola in 2018. But he’s also won twice at Talladega and has finished in the top five in nearly a quarter of his starts. That’s a pretty good rate.
Matt DiBenedetto (+4000)
DiBenedetto’s No. 21 Wood Brothers car is a satellite car for Team Penske. And the three other Team Penske drivers are among the top five favorites for this race. DiBenedetto is going to have a good car. It’s simply about finally getting a good finish at Talladega. He’s never finished in the top 10 at the track and his best finish is an 18th that came back in 2015 for BK Racing. A good finish is inevitable, right?
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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