Last Updated: 2017-10-12
It seems pretty obvious what the venue is for the Alabama 500. This is the second race in the Round of 12 and the 31st race overall for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The second stop at Talladega Speedway for this season means that there will be just five races left after this one as we look towards the crowning of a champion.
There hasn’t been much doubt about who the two best drivers are during the playoffs. Martin Truex Jr. has two wins and Kyle Busch has two wins. That means that since the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway, Toyota drivers have won 10 of the last 13 races. With Truex’s win at Charlotte, his ticket has already been punched to the Round of 8, but his ticket was pretty much already punched. Truex has 3,106 points to lead the pack. Kyle Larson is second with 3,072. Kevin Harvick is third with 3,069 points. Chase Elliott is fourth with 3,059 points. Denny Hamlin is fifth with 3,056 points.
Kyle Busch is sixth with 3,055 points. Jimmie Johnson is seventh with 3,051 points. Jamie McMurray is eighth with 3,044 points. Matt Kenseth is below the cut line with 3,043 points, following by Brad Keselowski with 3,042 points, Ryan Blaney with 3,039 points, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. with 3,034 points. Points reset to 3,000 for the Round of 12, though the new scoring system allowed for bonus playoff points to be accrued throughout the regular season and the Round of 16.
Anything can happen in a restrictor plate race, so we could see some surprises this week. After all, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won two restrictor plate races this season to get himself into the playoffs, including the first race at Talladega in the GEICO 500. Guys like Clint Bowyer and David Ragan have restrictor plate wins over the last five years, so some strange things can certainly happen at the Superspeedway.
Don’t believe me? Check out the odds for this week’s Alabama 500. Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch are co-favorites at +900 per 5Dimes Sportsbook. Keep in mind that Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch have regularly been priced under +500 lately and sometimes by a wide margin. There are 13 drivers priced at +1500 or lower. This is a very hard race to handicap for that exact reason.
As mentioned, Keselowski and Busch are co-favorites. Keselowski is a three-time winner of the spring race, including a triumph in 2016, and won this fall race in 2014. Keselowski needs to make something happen this week to make himself safe from the cut, which will happen after next week’s race. Keselowski has one win at Daytona and a handful of top-five finishes. He was 38th at Talladega last year, but did lead the most laps. At +900, given his past successes, including a top-five in 2015, Keselowski may be worth an investment.
Busch only has one win at Talladega in his career. That win came in the spring race all the way back in 2008. Certainly you have to respect his body of work this season and the two wins that he had in the Round of 16, but he doesn’t have many strong finishes in any of the restrictor plate races. This season, he was third and led the most laps in the spring race, so maybe his team is turning the corner a bit. That was his second straight top-five in that event, but he hasn’t finished in the top 10 in this race since 2013. Getting Busch at +900 doesn’t happen often, so I’m sure he’ll entice some action, but there are probably better gambles on the board.
It would be pretty cool to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. win this race. He is priced at +1100 this week in search of his seventh career win at Talladega. His father owns the all-time record with 10 wins. Earnhardt’s last Alabama win came in 2015 in the spring race. He hasn’t won this race since 2004. It’s hard to see him working his way to the front of the pack, but his past results in these plate races could certainly justify a play. If you’re making a play, though, you’re hoping for nostalgia and a storyline because he hasn’t been in the top five all year long.
Basically, with a plate race, you’re throwing darts a bit. If you want those darts to hit something, here are a few possible plays. Joey Logano is the reigning two-time winner of this race. It has been an awful season for the #22 team, but he was sixth in the Daytona 500 and has some good recent history at this track. Logano is +1350.
Another dart that could hit the board is one with Denny Hamlin’s name on it at +1150. Hamlin hasn’t won this race, but he did win the spring race at Talladega in 2014. Hamlin also has a win at Daytona in the 2016 500. He was third in this race last year, but was awful in this race the three previous years.
Chase Elliott has turned out to be a pretty good plate racer and he’s knocking on the door of that first win of the year. Elliott is at +1650 this week and is probably my favorite bet on the board. Elliott won his Daytona duel and finished fifth in the spring race last year. He had the pole in the Daytona 500 for the second consecutive year, so he does get some good qualifying runs. You may get a little bit of value on the +1650 if he can qualify at a fast time this week. He’s finished second in three of the last four races.
Coverage of the Alabama 500 will be on NBC beginning at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday.
Odds as of October 12, 2 p.m. ET
Brad Keselowski +900
Kyle Busch +900
Dale Earnhardt Jr +1100
Denny Hamlin +1150
Ryan Blaney +1250
Clint Bowyer +1250
Ricky Stenhouse Jr +1250
Joey Logano +1350
Kyle Larson +1350
Kevin Harvick +1350
Martin Truex Jr +1350
Jimmie Johnson +1350
Matt Kenseth +1500
Kurt Busch +1650
Chase Elliott +1650
Jamie McMurray +2500
Erik Jones +3000
Kasey Kahne +3300
Ryan Newman +3300
Daniel Suarez +3300
Austin Dillon +3300
Aric Almirola +4400
Trevor Bayne +4400
Paul Menard +5500
Danica Patrick +7150
Chris Buescher +7150
AJ Allmendinger +8800
David Ragan +8800
Ty Dillon +11500
Michael McDowell +11500
Joey Gase +11500
Brendan Gaughan +13500
Matt DiBenedetto +17500
-END OF 2017 PREVIEW-
In other sports, there are often debates about schedules. Invariably, somebody in the conversation says, “You can only play who’s on your schedule.” That’s true. Well, for the NASCAR drivers this week, it just so happens that the elimination race in the Round of 12 takes place at Talladega Superspeedway. It seems unnecessary, bordering on unfair, for the fates of four drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup to be decided by the ultimate crapshoot of a restrictor plate race, but the drivers can only go to the tracks on their schedule. This week, it’s the Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega.
This is the last race in the Round of 12, so four drivers will be eliminated from championship contention. The first two races were at Charlotte and Kansas and things got really dicey for the guys near or below the cut line with Kevin Harvick’s win at Kansas last weekend. Harvick was 38th at Charlotte, so he effectively needed a win to advance and that’s exactly what he got. With that, Harvick moved into seventh in points, but guaranteed himself a spot in the next round.
Heading into Sunday’s race at Talladega, the points standings look like this: Jimmie Johnson won at Charlotte, and added a fourth-place finish at Kansas for good measure, so he leads with 3,082 points. Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and Kevin Harvick are all safely on to the next round. Joey Logano and Austin Dillon both have 3,045 points and could be on the chopping block. Denny Hamlin is 10th with 3,039 points. Brad Keselowski is 11th with 3,038 points. Chase Elliott needs a win or else his Chase dreams will be dashed. He has 3,020 points.
This is the second stop at Talladega for the NASCAR season and the fourth restrictor plate race. The other two are at Daytona. There are some drivers and teams that really excel at the restrictor plate events and others just don’t have any luck in them. The nature of a restrictor plate race means that the field gets bunched up and it becomes more about evasive driving to avoid wrecks than it does about the strength of the equipment. It’s certainly an equalizer and it makes just about every restrictor plate race a tough handicap.
The oddsmakers at 5Dimes Sportsbook have installed Brad Keselowski as the +450 favorite this week. This is one of the lower numbers that you’ll see in a race at Talladega or Daytona, but Keselowski has two restrictor plate wins already this season. He was 20th at the Daytona 500, but he won the GEICO 500 for the third time in his career back in May. He also won the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in July. There were 26 lead changes, but Keselowski led the most laps with 115 and also won the race. Keselowski won this Chase race at Talladega two years ago in a green-white-checker finish. Since 2005, this race has required a green-white-check finish six times.
Kyle Busch is actually the second favorite at +750, which seems a little bit surprising. Kyle hasn’t won a restrictor plate race since 2008, when he won at Talladega in May and Daytona in July. He’s never won this race or the Daytona 500. However, going by wins isn’t the best approach. Busch was third at the Daytona 500, second at the GEICO 500, and second at the Coke Zero 400. He’s been a factor in all three restrictor plate races to date. Busch is comfortably in the Round of 8, so he can afford to be a little bit more aggressive.
Denny Hamlin seems like a decent value play at +850. Hamlin has run well in these types of events before. He won the Daytona 500 in a photo finish to kick off what has been a fantastic NASCAR season. His lone win at Talladega came in the 2014 Aaron’s 499, which is now the GEICO 500. This year, Hamlin was 31st at Talladega, as he ran into trouble and couldn’t avoid it and he was 17th at Daytona the second time around. Hamlin needs a good showing here, as he’s currently below the cut line.
Matt Kenseth is +1000 this week to round out the trio of Joe Gibbs Racing cars near the top of the odds board. Kenseth has three restrictor plate wins on his resume, including this race. He won the Daytona 500 back in 2009 and in 2012. He scored his lone win at Talladega in 2012. Kenseth won all three of those with a Ford and Ford cars have won three of the last four in this fall race in Alabama.
Joey Logano would seem to be a good value play at +1200. Logano won last year’s Daytona 500 and also won this race last year. Shifting plays a big role in these restrictor plate races and Logano and Keselowski have an advantage in Ford vehicles, since Ford has won three of the last four in this race. Ford also has two of the last four wins in the spring race. Ford has won three of the last six Daytona 500s and two of the last four summer races at Daytona. As a result, Logano has to be considered a factor, especially because he needs a strong finish to show well in the standings.
Any long shot is a reasonable gamble this week with the nature of a restrictor plate race. They are notoriously unpredictable, so anybody could move up to the front of the pack as a result of wrecks or something else. Playing chalk in a race like this is very hard to do and wouldn’t be recommended.
Coverage of the Hellmann’s 500 can be seen on NBC Sports Netowkr on Sunday afternoon.
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