Drivers head to Talladega Superspeedway in hopes of staying out of trouble

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway for the Geico 500, the second restrictor plate race of the season.

When NASCAR heads to Talladega Superspeedway, there’s a chance the race will provide unpredictably and calamity. This weekend should be no different.

With fewer races before the playoffs to start and fewer different winners this season, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have combined to win six of the first nine races, many drivers view Talladega Superspeedway as an opportunity to visit victory lane steal a win.

That wouldn’t be out of the ordinary. Brad Keselowski and David Ragan both surprised with wins at Talladega Superspeedway and there are plenty of drivers who want to cross their names off of the current winless streak list.

So how can a driver both survive and win at Talladega Superspeedway? It’s best to start with a driver who has had success at restrictor plate tracks in the past.

Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch knows just how difficult it can be to not only survive a restrictor plate race but to win.

“It’s so difficult to predict Talladega. You can ride around in the back or charge up front all day and, either way, your day can end with your car on the hook,” said Busch in his pre-race report.

Kurt Busch during practice for the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. (© Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

“You just hope to have Lady Luck guide you to a good finish. Restrictor-plate races have turned into this pattern that it is hard to have any type of advantage over any other team. It just comes down to being in the right place at the right time.”

Right place at the right time has happened for drivers like Aric Almirola, who scored his only career victory at Daytona. Now behind the wheel of a Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, Almirola is looking forward to the opportunity.

“That’s been the most fun and exciting part of Stewart-Haas Racing,” said Almirola in his pre-race report. “Each and every racetrack that we go to I get on the airplane on Thursday and fly to whatever track and I feel like I have a shot to win that weekend.”

Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, drives out for practice at Talladega Superspeedway. (© Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

On the other side of the coin, defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. has not finished a race at Talladega since the spring of 2016. To make matters worse, Truex has slipped to seventh in the standings after two finishes below 30th in the last three races.

“Talladega is not the most desirable track if you would like to break a jinx or a hard-luck streak,” Truex said in his pre-race report. “But we’ve been doing this long enough and understand what this is all about.

“The outcome at Talladega is not in your hands. You just try to do the best job you can. You try to stay near the front and hope to have a little luck on your side to get to the finish. We just haven’t seen the end of a Talladega race for some time.”

Martin Truex Jr. in the garage during practice for the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. (© Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

Busch knows a little bit of luck can only go so far until it’s in the driver’s hands to use the draft to their advantage.

“You’ve got to be able to know the draft, understand the draft, use the draft, block other guys, find holes, make holes,” said Busch. “It’s definitely a chess game because you’re always thinking three or four steps ahead. It’s tough to get caught up when you make a mistake.

“You’ve got to quickly get rid of that and put together a new plan. At the end of the race, everybody is saving their best for the end. Cars are just going everywhere. The plan you thought you had, you’ve got to make a new one. You’ve got to go on the fly.”

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattlovisa.

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