Talladega Preview and Post-Easter Team Grades

Oct 14, 2018; Talladega, AL, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Kurt Busch (41) leads the field during the 1000Bulbs.com at Talladega Superspeedway. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of year again. The Easter break is over, and like spring, NASCAR is back.

Like the pollen coating everything in the state of Alabama, the spring Talladega race is here in a big way. A fairly uneventful winter with races at Auto Club and Las Vegas, will give way to the inevitable chaos Talladega will give us

This track, known for its competitive finishes, extraordinary wrecks, and 3 wide racing, is a top destination for the sport. The infield parties are also world renowned, if you’re into that kid of thing. This year, NASCAR has a new handling and Aero package that could see a return of the widely criticized “tandem drafting”.

The tandem drafting was a product of the Gen-6 car, where one driver could physically push another driver along, creating two car breakaways. This could not last, as cars overheated, requiring drivers to swap roles or partners. Basically, it was NASCAR’s version of Tinder. While it led to more lead changes, like most experiences with Tinder, it only helped a couple of attractive partners at the end of the day. Hopefully, we won’t see too much tandem drafting, and more classic Talladega.

Talladega has produced more classic moments than most tracks on the schedule combined. Seen by many as the great equalizer, anyone can win if they are in the right place at the right time. Drivers like Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and David Ragan have all secured improbable wins at Talladega. Of course, the cream rises to the top, with top stables Penske and Gibbs being the favorites, but with 3 and 4 wide racing and “the big one” lurking, anyone can win this one.

Look for Penske drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski to be the favorites coming into this week, with Gibbs Toyotas being right behind them. Daytona gave us an unlikely alliance between the Chevrolets and Toyotas, aimed at defeating the mighty Ford Mustangs, and we could see unique partnerships again, as Hendrick and Ganassi look to turn the season around. Whoever you pull for, this is one not to miss.

Post Easter Grades:

The most prominent teams, and how they stack up 8 weeks into the season.

Team Penske: A-

Team Penske has been dominant in some races, but inconsistent in others. 2/3 Drivers are currently locked into the playoffs and have scored a total of 3 wins in 8 races. Young gun Ryan Blaney is the only question mark, but he has a high ceiling and Penske should be the favorite to end up in victory lane this weekend.

Joe Gibbs Racing: A+

Joe Gibbs Racing’s biggest problem is the embarrassment of riches it has in its drivers. Kyle Busch leads the points and has the most wins (3) of any driver this season. Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin isn’t far behind sitting in 5th in points, and last week’s winner Martin Truex Jr. sits in 6th.

The youngest and most inexperienced of the Gibbs drivers is Erik Jones, who currently sits in 17th overall. Look for him to turn it around quickly, given the talent around him. Mr. Gibbs currently has a rich man’s headache.

Stewart/Haas Racing: B-

While the Haas cars have the ability to win, they haven’t taken the checkered flag once this year. They’ve lead laps, and have 3 drivers in the top 12 spots, but they haven’t been able to finish. If they want to keep up with other Fords, they’ll have to win some races.

Hendrick Motorsports: C-

Believe it or not, this grade is higher than it was a few weeks ago. This once storied organization is dealing with have 3 drivers under the age of 24 and is sharing the burden felt by all Chevrolet teams this year. If there is a place they can turn it around, its Talladega as Hendrick Chevrolets can outrun most anyone at plate tracks.

Chase Elliot and Jimmie Johnson both look to snap winless streaks this week. Alex Bowman and William Byron have high ceilings, but are still getting their legs under them in the 88 and 24.

Chip Ganassi Racing: C

Average. That’s about the only way to describe this team in 2019. Kurt Busch holds the highest point standing of any driver in a Chevy, but phenom Kyle Larson is sitting in 19th place, yet to score even a top 5. Look for Busch to compete, and Larson to flounder at another plate track.

Richard Childress Racing: D-

This would be an F, but I will never give that low of a grade to a black 3 car. Gone are the days of The Intimidator, here are the days of Childress’ grandsons causing wrecks at plate tracks. That Daytona 500 won by Austin Dillon looks more like a fluke than the start of his career. Change my mind.