Countdown: The top 5 contenders to win at Talladega
As Sprint Cup Series drivers head to Talladega Superspeedway for Sunday's all-important Chase-elimination race, here are the 5 drivers with the best chance of surviving the inevitable carnage and going to Victory Lane.
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
5. Jeff Gordon
The four-time series champion is a six-time winner at Talladega but he hasn't gone to Victory Lane at the 2.66-mile track since 2007, when he pulled off the 'Dega season sweep. Although Gordon -- who is nearing the end of his career -- has made no bones in recent times about his dislike for the high-speed, close-quarters racing at Talladega and Daytona, he's one of the sport's best restrictor-plate racers, having combined for 12 victories between the two plate tracks.
Getty ImagesDaniel Shirey
4. Matt Kenseth
With just one win in 31 starts at Talladega, Kenseth doesn't face the best of odds this weekend. However, unlike past trips to 'Dega, he's in a must-win scenario this time. That is, to advance to the next round of the Chase, he simply must get to Victory Lane. You can also believe he's going to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder after last Sunday's late-race contact with Joey Logano that resulted in Logano winning and Kenseth spinning. Few drivers are cooler under pressure than Kenseth, the 2003 Sprint Cup Series champion, and for that reason alone, he certainly can't be counted out.
Getty ImagesJeff Curry
3. Jamie McMurray
One of the Sprint Cup Series' most unheralded restrictor-plate drivers, McMurray has a total of seven career wins in NASCAR's top series. Four have come at plate tracks, with two of those coming at Talladega. If there's any non-Chase driver who can play the role of spoiler on Sunday afternoon, it's the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates driver.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesSarah Crabill
2. Brad Keselowski
With three wins in just 13 starts at Talladega, Keselowski seems to have a special knack for the high-banked Alabama facility where he picked up his first career Sprint Cup win in dramatic fashion in 2009 while driving for the underdog, independent James Finch-owned team. Keselowski added another 'Dega trophy in 2012, with his most recent coming one year ago -- when he had to win the race to advance to the next round of the Chase.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesSean Gardner
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Hands-down, NASCAR's most popular driver is the clear favorite to win the CampingWorld.com 500. And there are ample reasons why. In addition to being a six-time winner at Talladega, Earnhardt won the Sprint Cup Series' two most recent restrictor-plate races in dominant fashion when he took the checkered flag at Talladega in May and Daytona in July. Like Kenseth, Junior for all intents and purposes has to win at Talladega to move on to the Chase Eliminator Round. Will he do it? Armed with the same car he had in the two most recent plate races, he has a great shot.