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New Plate Racing Masters Emerge at Talladega

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Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway marked the end of one era and the birth of another.

Six-time Talladega winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. turned his final laps on a restrictor plate track, finishing seventh to close out an illustrious plate racing career.

After narrowly missing many accidents late in the event and receiving minor damage, the Hendrick Motorsports driver was down but not out in the final laps. However, this hurt his chances at victory and stiff competition from some of today’s best plate racers ultimately prevailed. 

Brad Keselowski captured his fifth Talladega win and his sixth restrictor plate victory which is second-most in the field behind Earnhardt Jr.

Once Earnhardt Jr. retires at season’s end, Keselowski will take over the honor and become a candidate to fill the role as plate racing master.

While Keselowski won on Sunday, his teammate Joey Logano may have been more impressive. Logano led a race-high 59 laps and overcame a spin with less than ten laps remaining to finish fourth.

Logano has paced the field for at least 20 circuits in each of his three combined victories at Daytona and Talladega. Meanwhile, Keselowski often finds himself up front at the finish but has only led more than 12 laps in two of his six victories.

Leading laps is vital to follow in the 14-time most popular driver’s footsteps as he has led at least 34 laps in each of his ten victories.

Another element to plate racing mastery is fanfare. No driver receives a similar roar of the crowd like Earnhardt Jr. does when he takes the lead, and it will be hard to replicate moving forward.

However, Chase Elliott has challenged his teammate in this category in recent years. Not only is he popular among the fans but he has become one of the most impressive plate racers.

While his results haven’t matched his performances, he has consistently competed up front for a majority of the events in his career and led laps in all but two plate races.

Elliott had one of the strongest plate performances in his career on Sunday before crashing late while battling for the top spot. 

Continuing to perform at the pace he’s set and using his popularity as an advantage will put him in contention to follow Earnhardt Jr.’s path.

With one of the best all-time at Daytona and Talladega calling it a career, it opens the door for the next wave of talent to attempt to match his success.

Sunday proved that there are many prominent candidates and the fight for supremacy among Keselowski, Logano, and Elliott could usher in one of the most competitive eras of plate racing. 

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Jason Schultz

Jason Schultz aspires to enter the public relations field of NASCAR. Schultz, 19, attends UNC Charlotte and is a communication studies major with a focus in public relations. In addition to contributing to POPULAR SPEED, Schultz produces podcasts for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Dirty Mo Radio. He also completed a semester as a social media intern at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Each year, he volunteers as the social media correspondent for Autism Delaware's Drive for Autism golf tournament featuring NASCAR personalities and the AAA 400 Drive for Autism Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover.