It's the 10th race of the season, and Talladega Superspeedway might be the track that some drivers might have been waiting for.

The race at Talladega doesn't usually have any favorites. Instead, it's an open playing field where anyone can win. In past Talladega races, there have been Cinderella stories, such as David Ragan winning at the track in 2013, giving Front Row Motorsports their first win and a 1-2 result with David Gilliland. 

Along with the Cinderella stories, the track has also produced some of the closest finishes in NASCAR history.  Jimmie Johnson edged out Clint Bowyer for the win with a .002-second margin in 2011.

Then there have been times where a driver needed a win in order to secure their spot in the championship chase, just like Brad Keselowski in 2014. And there's been the scenario where a driver missed the chance to race at Talladega after changes to NASCAR's qualifying format -- just ask Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier. 

In all of the previous races held at Talladega, only 13 races have been won from the pole, with the most recent being Jeff Gordon in 2007. The winner has usually started within the top 10 -- it's happened 64 times. Though starting within the top 10 sounds like the best chance at winning, previous winners have qualified toward the back of the pack. In eight occasions, the winner has started 21st or worse, with the worst starting spot for a winner being 36th -- also done by Gordon in 2000.

There have been times when the eventual winner has only led a lap -- the final lap. Both Gordon and Keselowski were able to lead the race when it counted the most -- Gordon in 2007 and Keselowski in 2009. 

Drivers have been able to find success at Talladega, which has been the case for Keselowski, Gordon, Johnson, Ragan, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart. Though they have been able to find success and some have been able to repeat success, it doesn't always guarantee a win. 

Yet the driver with one of the best average finishes at Talladega hasn't even won a race in the Sprint Cup Series. Stenhouse has an average finish of 8.7, despite missing last fall's race. In his three starts at Talladega, he has gone on to finish on the lead lap.

The race at Talladega could provide a first-time winner, something that has been seen at the track before. Brian Vickers captured his first career win at the track in 2006. So did Keselowski in 2009.

Although many drivers have been able to find success at Talladega, it doesn't always mean things will go their way. Talladega, just like Daytona, has produced and continues to proceed with surprising and unexpected moments.

 

 

Win or go home. Sounds simple, right? Well, maybe not.

Less than a week after being fined $50,000 for a post-race battle at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the No. 2 car is back in Victory Lane.

With some wild moves to block his competitors, Brad Keselowski charged to the front in an intense battle during a green-white-checkered finish at Talladega Superspeedway. Keselowski won his sixth race of the year with the victory in the Geico 500 over a hard-charging Matt Kenseth in what was arguably the most intense race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

 “Obviously this win is huge,” Keselowski said. “We feel like we have been one of the strongest teams all year here, especially the second half of the season. This team has worked hard and I feel like they deserve a shot at a championship. The issues we had at Kansas put us behind and having to fight all the way back, everyone executed and did their job today.”

After receiving damage to his right side door panel from a wreck with Michael McDowell on Lap 59, the 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion faced adversity throughout the day. However, without any major repairs needed, he worked his way through the field and led five different times throughout the race for a total of 12 laps.

With eliminations on the line, Jimmie Johnson led a race-high 84 laps on Sunday afternoon. For the No. 48 team, that was not enough to send him onto the Eliminator Round of the Chase. Johnson used the low line throughout the day, and threw countless blocks to maintain the lead. However, prior to the final round of green-flag pit stops, Danica Patrick swerved around the six-time champion to take the lead. Johnson dropped back a few spots in the midst of the first green-white-checkered stint and had to save gas during the caution period as well. But on the final restart of the day, the pre-season favorite slipped back to finish 24th at Talladega – eliminating him from championship contention.

Besides Johnson, two of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates did not advance to the next round of NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. ran up front throughout the 500-mile event. Yet even with 31 laps led, the No. 88 Chevrolet could not survive the chaos at Talladega. On Lap 187, David Gilliland tapped Earnhardt on the backstretch; causing major damage to his vehicle. Entering Sunday, he had to win in order to advance to the next round of the title. After having his first multi-win year since 2004, he will not contend for the championship.

Kasey Kahne, who made the Chase with a win at Atlanta, was also eliminated from the Chase after Talladega. Although he was inside of the top-eight in points, with Keselowski’s win – he was sent back one position in the Chase Grid. Kahne finished 12th at Talladega, and was just three points behind teammate Jeff Gordon after the sixth race of the Chase.

Kyle Busch entered Talladega as the highest-ranked driver without a win in Round 2. For the majority of the day, he worked with Kenseth at the rear of the field – approximately four to five seconds behind the lead pack. The strategy was working, but then chaos erupted with “the big one.” On Lap 102, with cars wrecking in front of him, Busch checked up and was hit by rookie Austin Dillon. Busch’s car slammed into the wall and received major cosmetic damage and injured the toe of his race car. Although he was able to get back on track – 49 laps down – Busch was able to gain just three positions. He was four points behind Kahne and trailed Gordon by seven markers.

Team Penske drivers Keselowski and Joey Logano will advance to the next round of the Chase. Gordon will be the lone HMS driver in Round 3. Ryan Newman was just four points behind Logano after Talladega, and represents Richard Childress Racing as their only driver in the Chase. Kevin Harvick will advance to the next round along with Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kenseth and Denny Hamlin. Carl Edwards will also advance for Roush Fenway Racing.

Here are some notables from the Geico 500:

-Terry Labonte finished 33rd in his final Sprint Cup Series start (890th total) for Go FAS Racing.

-Landon Cassill finished fourth on Sunday for Hillman Racing. Prior to this race, his best career-finish was 11th at Talladega earlier in the year.

-Travis Kvapil ended the day in the sixth position for Circle Sport Racing in the No. 33 car. The finish marks the first top-10 for Kvapil since an eighth-place finish at Talladega in 2012.

-Casey Mears earned his third top-10 of the year for Germain Racing with a 10th-place finish.

-Cole Whitt finished 15th for BK Racing. His previous best career-finish was 18th-place at Auto Club Speedway earlier in the year.

-Martin Truex, Jr. led his first lap of the year for Furniture Row Racing, but finished in 27th.

Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR

Redemption works in crazy ways. Denny Hamlin has had some bad luck over the past year or so. However, Hamlin is victorious for the first time in 2014, and in doing so - won in his 300th career start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Hamlin won his 24th career race on Sunday afternoon as he held off a hard charging Greg Biffle before a caution came out on the backstretch to end the race. Winning the Aaron's 499 at Talladega marks the first points paying race which Hamlin has won at a restrictor plate track. Biffle led a race-high 54 laps, which is more than he has led throughout the season after eight races. The win marks the third victory for Joe Gibbs Racing at Talladega in Sprint Cup Series competition. Elliott Sadler, a Joe Gibbs Racing driver, won Saturday's Nationwide Series event - giving the organization a weekend sweep.

After starting the Aaron's 499 in 2013, Hamlin was forced to remove himself from the car due to his back injury. Now, Hamlin is in victory lane, and was quite emotional after having to miss the race at Auto Club Speedway several weeks ago. 

"We really just want to win race, regardless of the implications that this means for the Chase," Hamlin said in victory lane.

The caution came out as the field was in the middle of the backstretch on the final wreck. Cole Whitt, who was involved in several incidents on the day, got into Justin Allgaier. Allgaier's No. 51 Chevrolet slammed into the wall right by the finish line. However, NASCAR kept the green flag out. Biffle was debating whether or not to make a move to pass Hamlin, but wanted to wait until the field was back on the frontstretch. However, the spin occurred in the tri-oval, several yards before the leaders took the white flag. 

"I didn't have any teammates out there. I was going to try to pass him going into the tri-oval," said Biffle after the race. "I was backing up to get a run on him on the backstretch, but then the caution came out." 

After the race, fans were outraged on social media about the caution which concluded the race. However, a large piece of fiberglass-like material from Allgaier's car was sitting right in the middle of the track by the finish line. If NASCAR would have enabled the cars to keep going, most of the field would have ran that piece of debris over, possibly causing it to fly into the grandstands. Some people believe that the cars could have just gone around it, but if the leaders were to go three-wide, it would have been extremely difficult to miss a piece of debris that could have put people in danger. Moreover, this will make NASCAR look at their policy on green-white-checkered finishes as the ARCA Series has adapted the same mentality as NASCAR, but enables the possibilities of having yellow flags after the white flag. 

There were several major wrecks during the Aaron's 499 which featured 23 different leaders with 48 lead changes. Brad Keselowski was battling Danica Patrick for the lead early in the event when he went down to clear Patrick's No. 10 Chevrolet at the end of the front stretch, but was not clear of Patrick. Patrick went up the race track a drop, and Keselowski continued to go down. Keselowski spun out, then went below the apron, and he went back up the race track. Keselowski had overheating problems, putting him eight laps down at one point.

However, that was not the last incident the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion was involved in. 

Keselowski was racing in the midst of the pack where he got loose, collecting multiple cars including Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon. It is arguable that Keselowski should not have been racing in the pack since he was multiple laps down. However, he was racing for the lucky dog, and had to stay ahead of Jamie McMurray, who sustained damage during Keselowski's spin, to do so. Throughout the race, McMurray had six lucky dog awards - putting him just one lap down at the finish. 

Jimmie Johnson had an up and down day in his No. 48 Chevrolet. However, the six-time Sprint Cup Series champion did not have the day he wanted. Johnson had an incident similar to that of Keselowski's. He was in the midst of the pack when his car just got slightly loose, collecting Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Michael McDowell and last year's winner of the Aaron's 499, David Ragan. Even with the spin, Johnson had the least amount of damage of those which were involved in the accident. 

A.J. Allmendinger collected his second straight top-five finish for JTG Daugherty Racing. Allmendinger was running inside the top-10 for the majority of the race. Kyle Larson was the highest finishing Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate. Larson unofficially finished ninth in the No. 42 car as he stayed in the back of the pack for most of the race until late in the going. Landon Cassill had an impressive run in the No. 40 car for Hillman Racing. Cassill finished a career-best 11th after running well throughout the race.

27 cars were able to finish the race on the lead lap. 

Josh Wise, in a car sponsored by Reddit.com users, was running towards the front of the field late in the race, but ended up finishing the day in 20th for Phil Parsons Racing. Patrick was able to lead six laps early, but experienced some power issues during the race - causing her to finish 22nd. Pole sitter, Brian Scott, finished the day in the 42nd position after getting caught up in the Keselowski wreck. 

Here are some other notables

-Dale Earnhardt Jr. led 26 laps. However, Earnhardt Jr. finished 26th after struggling late in the race.

-Cole Whitt finished 21st after being involved in several wrecks in his second race for BK Racin

- Terry Labonte finished 24th in the No. 32 car for GO Fas Racing. Labonte will be returning to competition for only two more races (Daytona in July and Talladega in October).

-Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had his fourth top-10 finish of the season.

-Michael Waltrip finished 25th in the No. 66 Toyota. Waltrip was hanging towards the back of the pack for the majority of the race, but could not gain many positions late in the event.

 -Jeff Gordon has a three point lead over Matt Kenseth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.

-There are now eight drivers which are seemingly locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup as long as they attempt to qualify/race each event and are inside the top-30 in points.

 Results

1)11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Express Toyota 188 laps
2)16 Greg Biffle 3M Window Film Ford 188 laps
3) 15 Clint Bowyer PEAK Antifreeze/Motor Oil Toyota 188 laps
4) 55 Brian Vickers Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota 188 laps
5) 47 AJ Allmendinger Bush's Beans Chevrolet 188 laps
6) 27 Paul Menard Richmond/Menards Chevrolet 188 laps
7) 4 Kevin Harvick Jimmy John's Chevrolet 188 laps
8) 5 Kasey Kahne FrmrsInsrnce/Thankamillionteachers.com Chevrolet 188 laps
9)42 Kyle Larson # Target Chevrolet 188 laps
10) 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr Zest Ford 188 laps
11) 40 Landon Cassill(i) Hillman Racing Chevrolet 188 laps
12)18 Kyle Busch M&M's Pretzel Toyota 188 laps
13) 43 Aric Almirola Logan's Roadhouse/Gwaltney Ford 188 laps
14) 13 Casey Mears GEICO Chevrolet 188 laps
15) 3 Austin Dillon # Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet 188 laps
16) 7 Michael Annett # Pilot/Flying J Chevrolet 188 laps
17) 78 Martin Truex Jr Furniture Row Chevrolet 188 laps
18) 31 Ryan Newman Caterpillar Chevrolet 188 laps
19) 9 Marcos Ambrose DeWalt Ford 188 laps
20) 98 Josh Wise Dogecoin/Reddit.com Ford 188 laps
21) 26 Cole Whitt # Scorpyd Crossbows Toyota 188 laps
22) 10 Danica Patrick GoDaddy Chevrolet 188 laps
23)48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe's/Valspar Reserve Chevrolet 188 laps
24) 32 Terry Labonte C&J Energy Services Ford 188 laps
25) 66 Michael Waltrip Blue/DEF Toyota 188 laps
26) 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr National Guard Chevrolet 188 laps
27) 51 Justin Allgaier # Brandt Professional Agriculture Chevrolet 188 laps
28) 23 Alex Bowman # Dr.Pepper Toyota 187 laps Accident
29) 1 Jamie McMurray McDonald's Chevrolet 187 laps
30) 99 Carl Edwards Fastenal Ford 182 laps Accident
31) 83 Ryan Truex # VooDoo BBQ & Grill Toyota 182 laps  Accident
32) 22 Joey Logano Shell Pennzoil Ford 174 laps Accident 
33) 41 Kurt Busch Haas Automation Chevrolet 174 laps Accident
34) 36 Reed Sorenson Golden Corral Chevrolet 174 laps Accident 
35) 34 David Ragan KFC Go Cup Ford 174  laps Accident
36) 95 Michael McDowell Jordan Truck Sales Ford 174 laps Accident 
37) 20 Matt Kenseth Dollar General Toyota 171 laps Running 
38) 2 Brad Keselowski Miller Lite Ford 160 laps  Running
39) 24 Jeff Gordon Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet 156 laps Running 
40) 38 David Gilliland Love's Travel Stop Ford 150 laps Engine 
41) 21 Trevor Bayne(i) Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford 136 laps  Accident 
42) 33 Brian Scott(i) Shore Lodge Chevrolet 136 laps  Accident
43) 14 Tony Stewart Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet 136 laps  Accident

After an incredible start to the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Talladega Superspeedway is set to hold a race that might determine a stunning member to the Chase for the Sprint Cup class. With NASCAR's new playoff format, David Ragan would have been in the Chase last season. 

Now, there are approximately 30-35 teams that can win the Aaron's 499 on Sunday afternoon. However, it is going to take the perfect combination of strategy and staying out of tomorrow, as seen in Saturday's Nationwide Series race, to win the second restrictor plate race of the year. 

Here is what you need to watch for during this year's running of the Aaron's 499:

  • Terry Labonte is making his 60th start at Talladega. Labonte announced this is his final year in NASCAR's top-tier division, and he will likely hang out at the rear of the field until the end of the race, making a charge late in the going.
  • Michael Waltrip is returning in the No. 66 Toyota. Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 champion, nearly won at Talladega in this race last year, and should be a contender on Sunday.
  • Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are still looking for their first wins of the year. The two Hendrick Motorsports teammates usually have contradicting strategies during the plate races. Gordon likes to run up front, but sometimes hangs at the back, but Johnson usually runs towards the back.
  • Brian Scott won his first career pole on Saturday afternoon. Scott is making just his fifth career start in the Sprint Cup Series. He led multiple laps in Saturday's Nationwide Series spectacle, but was wrecked by Trevor Bayne - ending his day.
  • There were nine Chevrolet's inside the top-10 in qualifying. They have been extremely strong all weekend, but can they keep it up during the race?
  • Besides Scott winning the pole, there are several underdogs that are starting inside of the top-20 including - A.J. Allmendinger and Casey Mears in row two, Michael McDowell in 14th and Michael Annett in 17th. 
  • David Ragan won this race last year for Front Row Motorsports. He will be starting 39th for the Aaron's 499 with his teammate, David Gilliland with him in 40th. Though the two are back in the pack, they are both proven restrictor plate racers, and they will be a factor during the first Talladega race of the season.
  • Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex Jr. were penalized after qualifying and will have to start at the back of the pack. 
  • Will the higher grove be stronger than it was during the Nationwide Series race? The lower line was the strongest throughout the Aaron's 312.
  • How will tire strategy come into play? Tires will not wear too much, so most times will opt to take two tires instead of four on most pit stops.
  • Will we see a veteran go to victory lane or a young driver?
  • Denny Hamlin was extremely strong throughout Speedweeks in Daytona. Could Hamlin win on Sunday? 
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