You just never know what’s going to happen in a race at Talladega

The cars driven by Greg Biffle (No. 16), Kasey Kahne (No. 5), Kyle Busch (No. 18) and Casey Mears got caught up in this 2013 wreck at Talladega, offering more evidence of the unpredictable nature of the 2.66-mile superspeedway.

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Here’s the thing about racing at Talladega Superspeedway: You just don’t ever know.

NASCAR’s longest oval is a place where an unknown or an underdog like Ron Bouchard or Lenny Pond or Dick Brooks or Bobby Hillin Jr. could win for the first and only time in their careers.

It’s also a place where a champion like Tony Stewart or Jimmie Johnson could win a race one time out and the next get his car turned around in a 200-mile-per-hour pileup and reduced to 3,300 pounds of scrap metal.

It’s a place where Dale Earnhardt fractured his left collarbone and sternum and in a rollover crash in 1996, yet in 2000, came all way from 18th place with five laps to go to win the final race of his legendary career.

It’s a place where a young Brad Keselowski won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2009 and the only victory for then-car owner James Finch in 251 races.

It’s a place where Keselowski’s ’09 victory ended with he and Carl Edwards making contact coming to the checkered flag, sending Edwards’ car first onto Ryan Newman’s hood and then airborne into the catch fence in a terrifying accident.

And it’s a place where two years ago teammates David Ragan and David Gilliland finished 1-2, the only victory for the Front Row Motorsports team in about 600 NASCAR starts.

This time around at Talladega, four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon will start from the pole in Sunday’s GEICO 500 and is one of the clear-cut favorites to win.

Gordon has six Talladega victories, most of any active driver. And he has 12 finishes of 31st or worse here.

That’s the thing about racing at Talladega Superspeedway: You just don’t ever know.

And now, there’s one more element adding to the uncertainty: NASCAR’s win-and-you’re-in championship format, coupled with the close racing, means Talladega is a golden opportunity for drivers and teams who have little to no chance of winning on a short track or a mile-and-a-half circuit, could steal a victory here and vault themselves into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Last year, Denny Hamlin won this race — his only victory of the season — and with it a slot in the Chase.

Likewise, last July Aric Almirola won at Daytona International Speedway, the other restrictor-plate track on the NASCAR schedule, and earned a Chase spot. Almirola had just two top-five finishes all season long, but winning at a plate track put him in the Chase.

So what does that mean for Sunday’s race?

Sure, the four Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets are blindingly fast. Team Penske’s Keselowski is a three-time Talladega winner and teammate Joey Logano won the season-opening Daytona 500, so they’ll be in the mix, as will Kevin Harvick and the rest of the Stewart-Haas Racing gang. Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray are superb restrictor-plate racers as well.

But do not be even a little surprised if the checkered flag falls — probably after two or three green-white-checkered finishes — and a guy like Paul Menard or Kyle Larson or Austin Dillon or Ricky Stenhouse Jr. seemingly comes out of nowhere to score a stunning upset victory.

That’s the thing about racing at Talladega Superspeedway: You just don’t ever know.

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