“America! 1776! We are the champs! This validates what we did at Talladega!”
Those were the words of a jubilant Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after he won this summer at Daytona, backing up his win in May at Talladega and giving him two straight victories on restrictor-plate tracks in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
Can Ricky make it three in a row in Sunday’s Alabama 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)? Or will Brad Keselowski come through at ‘Dega in the NASCAR Playoffs like he did before?
Or maybe it will be someone entirely different, like Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is the active leader at Talladega with six wins? NASCAR.com’s George Winkler and Allie Davison debate their top picks at Talladega:
Davison: It’s hard to argue that there is a better driver at restrictor-plate tracks than Ricky Stenhouse Jr. this year. He is 2-for-3 this year in restrictor-plate races (Talladega in May, Daytona in July) and the Talladega win marked his first ever Monster Energy Series victory. He currently sits at No. 12 in the playoff standings and will have his back against the wall on Sunday. However, he knows what it takes to get to Victory Lane at Talladega and you can’t dismiss experience.
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On the other hand, Brad Keselowski rose to the occasion in 2014 when he needed a win-or-be eliminated run at Talladega to advance in the NASCAR Playoffs. It’s been a quiet handful of races for the No. 2 driver, but that can only mean he is due for a win at any moment. What better way to make your presence known than by winning at the sport’s biggest track at 2.66-miles a lap? And he already has four wins at this particular superspeedway. I think it’s safe to take either Stenhouse Jr. or Keselowski on Sunday.
Winkler: Earnhardt Jr. has history on his side. Among active drivers, he’s No. 1 in wins (10), top fives (25) and laps led (1,562) on restrictor-plate tracks. Plus, he’s the sentimental choice in his last full-time appearance at a track where thousands will be cheering his name.
Junior hasn’t had the season fans hoped for, but winning the pole in the summer Daytona race — plus solid performances in the past two races — provide hope that this is his last best chance for a going-away-party win. And that would be sweet home Alabama, indeed.