On Sunday, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway for the second restrictor-plate race of the season. The event will run 188 laps around the 2.66-mile circuit, totaling a 500-lap race. Coming off a second-place finish at Richmond last week, Denny Hamlin will lead the field to green with last week’s winner Alex Bowman rolling off fourth. Here are three drivers to watch in Sunday’s GEICO 500.
Michael McDowell (+5000)
Fresh off a Daytona 500 victory, Michael McDowell is one of the biggest names to watch this weekend. He’s always ran well in restrictor plate races, totaling 4 top-5s between Daytona and Talladega. McDowell finished fifth at Talladega in fall of 2019 and he always seems to run up front in restrictor plate races.
After three consecutive top-10s to open up the season, McDowell’s struggled of late. He hasn’t finished better than 12th since Homestead-Miami in February and has fallen to 9th in the playoff standins and 17th overall. Expect McDowell to get his dream season headed back in the right direction with a strong finish on Sunday.
Ryan Blaney (+800)
Ryan Blaney has proved himself as a strong restrictor plate racer of late. He’s won two of the last three races at Talladega and has two other top-10s to his name at the track. Additionally, Blaney has 4 top-10s at Daytona, including a second place finish in the 2020 Daytona 500.
Blaney’s gotten off to a strong start this season, winning at Atlanta and sitting fifth in points standings. He has just two other top-10s, however, stage points have boosted his points position. Blaney should have a good car on Sunday and should contend for the victory.
Aric Almirola (+1200)
Aric Almirola is one of the best restrictor plate racers in the sport, but he doesn’t have much to his name for it. His two Cup Series victories have both came at superspeedways, and he has a combined 12 top-10s between Talladega and Daytona. Most recently, Almirola won the fall race at Talladega in 2018, beating out teammate Clint Bowyer for the victory.
2021 has been a complete trainwreck for Almirola, and he’d like to turn things around on Sunday. Sitting 27th in points, Almirola finally picked up his first top-10 finish of the season last week at Richmond with a 6th place finish. The whole season will change for Almirola if he can pull out a victory on Sunday, and he should be in contention to do so.