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Six Burning Talladega Questions

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After a somewhat tepid start, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs are finally starting to heat up.

This week, the Cup teams visit Talladega Superspeedway for the Alabama 500, the fourth and final restrictor-plate race of the 2017 season. Unlike in recent years, this technically isn’t an elimination race; instead, it’s the second of three races in Round 2 of the Cup playoffs.

But you can pretty well bet at least one of the 12 remaining playoff drivers will suffer a crippling blow to his championship hopes at the massive 2.66-mile superspeedway.

Here are six burning questions for the Alabama 500:

  1. Can Ford make it seven plate races in a row?

Ford won the last three restrictor-plate races of 2016, two with Brad Keselowski and one with his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano. Fords have also won all three plate races run so far this year, with Kurt Busch capturing the Daytona 500 and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. winning the first Talladega race and the July Daytona tilt. The last time a non-Ford driver won a plate race was when Denny Hamlin won the 2016 Daytona 500.

And the last Chevrolet driver to win a plate race was Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Talladega in the spring of 2015. More on that in a bit.

  1. Will the Toyota streak be broken?

Speaking of streaks, Toyota drivers have won all four playoff races so far, two each for Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch. The last Chevrolet driver to win was Kyle Larson in the final regular-season race at Richmond, while the last Ford driver to win was Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Daytona on July 4th weekend.

  1. Is there another first-time winner?

From Richard Brickhouse in the first race here in 1969, to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the most recent race at this track, Talladega is a track that produces a lot of first-time winners. Eleven drivers won their first Cup race here and it would not be a huge upset if, say, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez or Ty Dillon won on Sunday.

  1. Can Ricky Stenhouse Jr. win again?

After failing to win a race in his first 157 Cup starts, Stenhouse has driven his Roush Fenway Racing Ford to victory in both of the last two plate races. But winning three plate races in a row is a tall order. On top of that, winning at Talladega is probably Stenhouse’s only realistic chance to make it to Round 3 of the playoffs.

  1. Which playoff drivers get knocked out?

The Big One happens. At Talladega, drafting inches apart at speeds of 200 miles per hour tends to produce wrecks that take out a lot of cars, sometimes as many as 15 to 20 in a single incident. You just know at least one — and probably more — playoff drivers will be knocked out in a crash on Sunday.

The Big One can happen anywhere — the front, middle or back of the pack. No one is safe. And no one knows who will be knocked out.

  1. Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. be victorious in his last Talladega race?

Realistically, the Alabama 500 is probably Earnhardt’s best shot to win a race in this, his final season. The 14-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver will have a huge contingent of JR Nation fans to cheer him on and you know his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will be fast. Earnhardt leads active drivers with six Talladega victories and if he can win again on Sunday it would be a career highlight, for sure.

All Images Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography

Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen is a veteran motorsports journalist. He spent 13 years with FOXSports.com, where he was Digital Content Manager. Previously, he was executive editor of NASCAR Scene and managing editor of National Speed Sport News. Jensen served as the president of the National Motorsports Press Association and is the group’s former Writer of the Year.