Earnhardt Jr. the pick at Talladega

BY Larry McReynolds • April 14, 2011

I always tell you when we go to Talladega Superspeedway that it is one of those wild-card races, and it really is.

When the green flag falls Sunday, every single one of those 43 drivers has to be considered as your possible race winner.

Think about the last restrictor-plate race we went to. Who would have ever picked Trevor Bayne in February to be the winner of the Daytona 500? Go back to Talladega two years ago. Did we even mention Brad Keselowski in the No. 09 as the guy that might walk away with the win that day?

So, sure, you can’t discount Bayne from being a factor this Sunday. Kurt Busch was extremely strong during Speedweeks in Daytona. He won the Budweiser Shootout plus the one of the Gatorade Duel races. He led laps in the Daytona 500 and had a top-five finish. Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman led a number of laps during that race, also.

With all that said, how do you not pick Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the favorite this weekend? He is so eager and hungry to get back to Victory Lane.

Matt Kenseth broke a long winless streak at Texas last Saturday night. Dale Jr. wants to do the same and end his 100-race drought. We all know how much he loves racing at Talladega. But the overall positive is how well he and the No. 88 team are running right now.

He has bounce in his step again. He and the team are being the most consistent they have been in years. They are putting top fives and top 10s up on the board. He has not finished outside the top 12 all season, except for the wreck in Daytona. So I think everything is lining up at the right time for him.

In all fairness, you can’t overlook the Penske Dodges of Busch and Keselowski. The Dodges were strong at Daytona, so there is no reason to believe that they won’t be just as strong, if not stronger at Talladega.

I think we might see even a different Talladega than we saw from both races in 2010. I think what these drivers learned at Daytona this year and these two-car tandems will be something to watch Sunday on FOX. It’s going to be very interesting and exciting.

It wouldn’t surprise me Sunday to see another record number of lead changes, just like we did in the Daytona 500. I still believe, while it’s a 500-mile race, what happens coming through the tri-oval on the last lap — be it something good or bad — will determine who we crown as our winner Sunday. It also wouldn’t be a surprise to me if we end up having our seventh different winner in eight races so far this season.

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