NASCAR returns to the high banks at Talladega Super Speedway for the Aarons 499. This is the second restrictor plate race with the new configuration and promises some great action and a lot of surprises.
Fan reactions to the two by two racing that occurred at Daytona for the first race of the year were mixed, but overall the response was favorable according to NASCAR. The biggest complaint was that the two by two draft was not really racing. In contrast, that style produced more passing and more side by side racing than we have seen in a while.
According to the driver's rating released by NASCAR this week, there are some drivers to watch that have had a rough start to the 2011 season and others who seem to be making a comeback of sorts. On top of the list is Denny Hamlin. Hamlin, who made a run for the championship in 2010 has the highest rating for the previous six races at Talladega, but has only one top ten finsih for 2011. His Sprint Cup career boast 3 top fives and four top 10's at the Alabama track.
Gibb's teammate Joey Logano is also a favorite according to the numbers but has had a dissappointing start to his 2011 run as well. He sits 28th in points, but has the highest average finish in only four starts at Talladega.
The driver on everyone's mind this week is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt has had a consistent start to 2011 and returned to old form for the first race at Daytona, capturing the pole and contending for the win. NASCAR insiders believe this may be Jr's chance to take another restrictor plate win and continue the momentum that has allowed him to climb into sixth place in the 2011 standings.
Restrictor plate racing is about speed, but luck seems to be the biggest factor. At any point, contenders can be taken out and a bad choice on pairing up in the last laps can change a top ten finish to a top twenty finish.