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This is probably the most terrifying weekend of the entire season.
Both the Camping World Truck Series and Sprint Cup Series are racing at Talladega Superspeedway, and there's even more stress involved than usual. This is a Chase cutoff race, and it is going to be full of chaos.
Although drivers may want to curl up in a ball and close their eyes, it's crucial to be aware of their on-track surroundings. This is going to be the most anxious race of their careers, and they just have to accept it.
As teams prepare for inevitable carnage, I’m wondering about fairness, who’s getting cut, and why we haven’t heard more from some drivers. I tackle all of that in this week’s Five Questions
Is it fair to have a restrictor plate track as the cutoff race? This is a question that comes up every year, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t one worth discussing. Talladega Superspeedway will serve as the cutoff race for both series. The quintessential wild card will determine the Chase fate for six unlucky drivers. The track’s unpredictable nature adds another level of tension – and maybe it’s unnecessary in some people’s eyes. The Chase is hard enough, so why make it a million times harder than it needs to be? Talladega’s role in the playoffs is to eliminate those who already put themselves in a hole. As ironic as it seems, for those who fail to win their way in, the Chase is about consistency, which is the exact thing NASCAR wanted to eliminate. I know, it’s confusing. If you fail to advance after Talladega, it could have been prevented by your own efforts.
During the first round of Truck eliminations, who’s up a creek? Two Truck drivers need a paddle this weekend. Daniel Hemric and John Hunter Nemechek are tied for the last spot, and they're in the worst position. What are the stats? Well, there really aren’t any; both only have one start at Dega, and they finished 28th and 11th, respectively. If you want to take that into account, Nemechek has the advantage. Winning here is easier said than done, and both will have to risk it all to contend for the victory. Unfortunately, risk doesn’t always come with reward at Talladega.
Will Peters add to Talladega success? On the other end of the spectrum is Peters, who is only two points out of fourth. The veteran driver has this track figured out, with two victories, three top fives, and five top 10s. Those are the stats drivers dream about at night. Although the stress isn’t ideal, Peters is more than capable of pulling off a win this weekend. He doesn’t have anything to worry about if he races the way he’s always raced. With his consistent season so far – five top fives and 12 top 10s – it’s safe to say Saturday will be a breeze for the Red Horse Racing driver.
Can Brad Keselowski pull off another Chase miracle? The Chase can be a real witch, and Keselowski knows this all too well. He is currently 11th in points, sitting seven points behind the eighth-place driver. This is similar to his Chase position a few years ago when he needed to win to advance – and he did it. We shouldn’t expect anything less from the 2012 Sprint Cup champ. With four wins in 2016, it’s confusing that he’s in this bind at all – but there’s nothing he can do but win or put together a complete race while avoiding the Big One. That should be easy enough, yet there are three other drivers doing the exact same thing. Those three are probably some of the sport’s toughest, so Keselowski might have to watch his rearview mirror near the end of the race.
Is Martin Truex Jr. falling flat? This may sound stupid since the No. 78 crew has four wins this season, but Truex, Jr. hasn’t dazzled us recently. He brought his Toyota home 13th and 11th in the past two races after knocking out three victories. The spotlight is on the drivers below the cut line as well as Kevin Harvick, who locked himself in after a rough outing at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Truex is under the radar – but why? My guess is that he and his team are conserving their equipment for the next round. He wants to knock out a win and guarantee a spot in that final four. They're most likely aiming for a win at Martinsville Speedway, which is the wild card event in the third round. His silence is somewhat puzzling – but the quiet ones tend to be the most powerful.