Staff picks for GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Denny Hamlin : If Joe Gibbs Racing can get organized in the same way it did at Daytona in February, the No. 11 could be the winning ticket at Talladega. -- Zack Albert Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Series' best plate racer has had three runner-up finishes this season. He's due. -- Kenny Bruce Jimmie Johnson : This will mark the 10th Talladega race since Johnson last won here and, quite simply, it's time. While his teammates will grab the lion's share of the attention, "Six-Time" will ultimately hold the winner's trophy -- his third. -- Holly Cain Joey Logano : Entering the weekend, I'd already pegged Joey Logano as the favorite -- then he went out and topped final practice. Seemingly due for a win and with a pair of restrictor-plate victories in his back pocket from last year, what more are you looking for? -- Pat DeCola Ryan Blaney : His best Cup finish came in this race last year and Penske, with whom Wood Brothers is affiliated, has taken two of the last three 'Dega races. -- RJ Kraft Dale Earnhardt Jr .: I'm jumping on the Junior bandwagon. He's always the one to beat at the 2.66-mile track and he'll make it difficult for the rest of the field en route to his seventh Cup win here. -- Maggie MacKenzie Brad Keselowski : The 2012 premier series champion spoils the recent Hendrick-JGR show of power, thanks to his own racing ingenuity and plenty of fast Fords with which to partner. -- Brad Norman Brad Keselowski : The Team Penske driver earned his first Cup win in 2009 at Talladega and has won twice more since. Couple that with he and teammate Joey Logano 's history of working closely together on-track -- a crucial element to plate racing -- and 'Dega Victory Lane could be calling Keselowski's name. -- Jessica Ruffin Matt Kenseth : All the bad luck that the No. 20 team has had this year has masked impressive speed. Talladega is about both luck and speed. With the former in hand as shown by his fourth-place qualifying effort, Kenseth is due for a more auspicious turn of his fortune. -- Kathy Sheldon Denny Hamlin : Hamlin saw Victory Lane two years ago at Talladega and with his 2016 Daytona 500 win under his belt, the JGR driver seems ready to dominate another superspeedway this season. -- Taylor Starer Chase Elliott : His dad won here twice and the man who drove the No. 24 before him won here six times. Talladega has been known to produce dramatic moments, so let's root for another one to happen Sunday. -- George Winkler Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
Watch: Live post-race inspection on Tuesday
RELATED: Watch live stream here " Inside look on official NASCAR inspection From 8-11 a.m. ET on Tuesday, NASCAR.com will live stream the post-race inspection process. The three-hour look takes you behind the scenes as NASCAR officials inspect NASCAR Sprint Cup Series vehicles following Saturday's Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway . The cars being inspected this week are: the No. 22 Ford of Joey Logano (winner of Saturday's race) and the No. 2 Ford of Brad Keselowski (runner-up in Saturday's race). For more information on what the inspection process entails, click here .
NASCAR.com's 2016 Daytona 500 predictions
Going into 2016's season opener, members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make predictions for who will head to Victory Lane for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway . Zack Albert Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Restrictor-plate racing is often finicky, but it's hard to go against a proven Daytona-winning driver with a stout car that goes where he points it. Kenny Bruce Dale Earnhardt Jr .: As much as I'd like to see a surprise winner, inside information tells me it's Dale Jr.'s to lose. Holly Cain Denny Hamlin : He is overdue in this race, at a place he races so expertly. Pat DeCola Kyle Busch : 'Rowdy' will start 2016 the way he closed out 2015 -- on top. His dominant showing in the second Can-Am Duel was no fluke, and he'll pick up his second win of Speedweeks on Sunday. RJ Kraft Denny Hamlin : Hard to pick against Dale Jr., but I will. Hamlin has had the speed during Speedweeks, won the Sprint Unlimited and has four straight top-six finishes at Daytona. Hamlin will snap JGR's 23-year drought in the Daytona 500 and give Toyota its first win in the "Great American Race." Maggie MacKenzie Joey Logano : The talk at the track has Dale Jr. and his "Amelia" car winning, but the 2015 Daytona 500 champ shouldn't be forgotten. Logano's been posting top speeds all week as he continues the strong momentum from his dominant '15 season. Brad Norman Joey Logano : "Sliced Bread" becomes the first back-to-back Daytona 500 winner since Sterling Marlin (1994-95), overpowering those Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas and, yes, even race favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr . Jessica Ruffin Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Having won half of the speedway races last season, Junior's always a top pick heading into a plate event. Tack on his Duel win Thursday and his love for his car, and you've got a recipe for Victory Lane. Taylor Starer Kyle Busch : Coming off the high of being the 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion, Kyle Busch is ready to add another accomplishment to his resume: a Daytona 500 win. The Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have all looked strong during Speedweeks, but Busch will be the one who brings Toyota its first "Great American Race" victory. Kathy Sheldon Joey Logano : Amelia's a great car, but the No. 22 almost had something for Dale Jr.'s speedy ride in the Can-Am Duels. Something crazy always happens at Daytona, and the defending winner looks like he can sneak through the trouble spots again. George Winkler Ryan Blaney : Let's pick the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate to pull off the upset for the Wood Brothers. Fellow Fords in the Team Penske camp can give him the push he needs to make like Trevor Bayne and shock the world.
Fantasy Daytona 500 grand marshal: Who we'd want to give the command
RELATED: Griffey Jr. named grand marshal " John Cena to drive pace car Daytona 500 dignitaries are being named. Ken Griffey Jr. will be the honorary starter. John Cena will drive the pace car. It all got us thinking -- if we could pick anybody in the world, living or dead, to be the grand marshal for the "Great American Race," who would it be? Here are NASCAR.com's staff picks. Pat DeCola Abraham Lincoln -- I'll be honest (you know, like Abe), as cool as Lincoln is, I'm only picking him because I know he knows how to fill time in a pinch. Four score and seven rain delays ago ... RJ Kraft Christopher Walken -- The man has a unique and famous delivery ("More cowbell," anyone?) that is just begging for this spot. He has countless celebrity impersonators from Kevin Spacey to Kevin Pollak to Bradley Cooper but nothing matches the original. Maggie McKenzie Oprah Winfrey -- This one was an obvious choice thanks to her incredible intelligence, powerful presence and, most importantly, that signature voice. And who knows, maybe she’ll be the first commander to hand out gifts to the fans of some of her favorite things? Brad Norman Mel Blanc -- The "Man of a Thousand Voices" most famously known as Bugs Bunny also voiced such classic characters as Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and Barney Rubble -- he'd put on quite a show ... as many characters. Jessica Ruffin Paul "Bear" Bryant -- What better person to give the command of the "Great American Race" than a man who embodies America's beloved game of college football? Bonus points if the Bear's hat matches Kyle Larson 's plaid paint scheme. Kathy Sheldon James Earl Jones -- He has the best voice in the history of recorded sound. I'm certain he could make it roar across Daytona International Speedway 's 180-acre infield and through the stands. And when Jones gives you a command, you follow it. Taylor Starer Beyoncé -- If you get the opportunity to incorporate Beyoncé into NASCAR, you take it. "Queen B" has got the pipes to take on the Daytona 500 command -- that's for sure -- and while she's there, might as well get her to sing the National Anthem. George Winkler Keith Richards -- Because even if we couldn't understand what he was saying it would be combined with a great guitar riff that would more than salvage the moment. Plus, chances are it would be way cooler than if Paul McCartney did i t . @nascarcasm Sean Penn -- Because then whatever international fugitive he brings with him can give the command along with him and then the authorities can capture him and it'll be a huge story.
H2H: Should dirt track racing expand?
Eldora puts on another winner of a Trucks Series show Last week's visit to Eldora Speedway was the third consecutive year in which the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series raced on the half-mile dirt track. The 2015 event, which saw Christopher Bell hold off Bobby Pierce for the win, may have been the best race of the three. A good time is had by all each year, if Twitter reaction and turnout of stars is any indication. And we know Tony Stewart , owner of the Ohio facility, is interested in having stock cars grace his track. But is it a good idea? Should the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series or the NASCAR XFINITY Series host a race on dirt? Join NASCAR.com's Kathy Sheldon and Brad Norman in this debate, and leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Sheldon: Brad , you went to Eldora last week and have a first-hand account to share, but as someone watching on TV with most of NASCAR's fan base, I have two words: Heck yeah! Sliding, mud-slinging, back-to-our-roots racing at its finest came through again in the Wednesday night Truck Series race. At a time when tension flares between NASCAR's old guard fans and emerging generations and locations, dirt racing is an opportunity to showcase racing at its core, stripped down from all the rules packages and NASA-level tech that makes speedway racing thrilling to some old fashioned bumping, banging and racing that rewards the bold and brave drivers. Norman : You want a firsthand account of Eldora? I'll return your two words with two of my own: Awe. Some. Seriously, Eldora is a wonderful facility and the event was captivating. Magical, almost. That's why this should stay a once-a-year type of deal, Kathy. Drivers are split on this issue as well, but I agree with those like Austin Dillon (the event's first winner, mind you) that oversaturation is bad for the sport. Why make Eldora and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event less special? Why make it seem common? It's special, and there's nothing wrong with having a special event once a year. Sheldon: It's a good thought to keep things special, Brad , but I think we can have one dirt race a year in each series and still keep it special. We only have two road course races a year in Sprint Cup , and up until the latest Chase format, road course specialists often were brought in for those because they were so unique. Now many people are clamoring for a road race in the Chase. A dirt track sure would mix things up in the schedule, perhaps even giving a driver outside the usual suspects a shot at a Chase berth. Norman : I'm all for mixing things up, and you make some good points Kathy -- but I think the biggest follow-up question to your argument is also the biggest unknown. OK, let's have Sprint Cup and XFINITY on dirt. Where would the race be? Eldora? Hey, it's one of the best dirt track facilities in the region, probably the nation, and there's just no way it could support a Sprint Cup race. The infrastructure is simply not there, not to mention the seats. What about the haulers? The roads? If those are huge issues for Eldora -- one of the best -- then I don't think there's a dirt track in the world that could handle the crush. Sheldon: I have a venue suggestion: Birmingham International Raceway. It's been a horse track, a one-mile dirt oval, a half-mile dirt oval, a quarter-mile dirt oval and a five-eighths mile paved oval. NASCAR's premier series ran there in 1958 and 1961-68. The list of winners there: Fireball Roberts, Ned Jarrett, Jim Paschal, Richard Petty, Bobby Allison. It was home track to the Alabama Gang. Alas, the track was torn down in 2008-09, and a natatorium and track-and-field complex sits on the site now. But if Daytona can get a $400 million makeover, a big ol' track renovation is possible, too. If you build it, they will come! Norman : Sounds great! Now … who gets to tell a track president they are losing their date on the Sprint Cup calendar? I'd like to stay as far away from that one as possible. Because I think that's the final fallout piece. If NASCAR adds a race on dirt for the Sprint Cup Series or XFINITY Series, somewhere else has to go. Unless, of course, the sanctioning body is interested in adding more races to its calendar … in a time in which drivers think the number of races should scale back slightly. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
NASCAR.com's Southern 500 predictions
RELATED: Complete Sunday schedule " Kes takes Darlington pole Members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make their predictions for one of the most prestigious races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series calendar: the Bojangles' Southern 500 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM). Zack Albert Kyle Busch : The tradition returns? Kyle Busch leading piles of laps at Darlington has some heritage, too. Kenny Bruce Jeff Gordon : A five-time Southern 500 winner, Gordon secures a spot in the Chase in his final Darlington appearance. Holly Cain Kevin Harvick : Coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes in the previous two races, it's time Harvick re-visits victory lane for a proper Chase send-off and his second straight Darlington win. MORE: Darlington throwback paint schemes Brad Norman Kurt Busch : The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has three career poles, but no wins at Darlington. That changes Sunday as the No. 41 notches a momentum-building win with the Chase looming. George Winkler Kevin Harvick : Fans looking for a surprise winner to shake up the Chase won't get it because Harvick has been just too good all season and is in prime position (third in lineup) for a repeat performance at Darlington. Pat DeCola Martin Truex Jr . : Sure, Truex started the season with 13 top-10s in his first 15 races and only has two in the nine events since, but it's hard to picture the No. 78 team not regaining its strength as we roll into the Chase. With a low-downforce package at Darlington that would seem to favor Truex -- a vocal proponent of as little downforce as possible -- a Southern 500 win for the Furniture Row Racing driver seems like more than just a dark horse pick. RJ Kraft Kevin Harvick : No Cup driver has repeated at Darlington since Greg Biffle did in 2006, and Harvick will as he also sees his string of oh-so-close calls for a third 2015 victory come to an end at the “Lady in Black." Jessica Ruffin Brad Keselowski : Pole-sitter Keselowski's speed during practice and qualifying at "The Lady in Black," coupled with his strength with the low downforce rules package at Kentucky tells me he is going to be a force to be reckoned with on Sunday night. Kathy Sheldon Joey Logano : He loved the low downforce package at Kentucky, finishing second with it. He's on a roll with two wins in the last three races. And he found some speed in practice at Darlington, breaking into the top 10 in early practice.
NASCAR.com's Phoenix race predictions
Members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make their predictions for the final race of the Eliminator Round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Phoenix International Raceway , which was renamed Jeff Gordon Raceway for Sunday's event ( Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 , 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM). Kevin Harvick has won the last four races at the 1-mile track. Can he be stopped from winning his fifth in a row? Zack Albert Kevin Harvick : Failing a blow-up or some other catastrophic outcome, it's hard to go against the chalk and the No. 4 team, which has led more than two-thirds of the laps in the last three Phoenix races. Expect Harvick to defend his 2014 crown with Phoenix as a launching pad. Kenny Bruce Kurt Busch . Starting on the front row, fastest in both Saturday practices and likely needing a win to advance to the Championship Round, the 41 gets it done. Brad Norman Kurt Busch . It's a dream scenario for Stewart-Haas Racing as Busch wins his way into the finale, where Kevin Harvick will join him to defend his title. George Winkler Jimmie Johnson : After crossing the finish line first at Texas, Johnson exclaimed, "We're back!" And who are we to argue with a six-time champion? When Johnson gets on one of his patented rolls, look out. "Six-Time" ties "The Intimidator" with win No. 76 from the pole. Kathy Sheldon Kevin Harvick . A win locks in his spot in the Championship 4 and the chance to defend his 2014 Sprint Cup title at Homestead. Bad luck already bit the No. 4 this round, so it will be smooth sailing for Harvick at Phoenix, where his prowess is unmatched lately. Pat DeCola Joey Logano : My Eliminator Round picks have been spot on thus far, so why not pick the driver who was perfect in the Contender Round to keep the streak alive? Logano is looking to rebound from two rough outings at Martinsville and Texas. He needs to win at Phoenix -- and he will. RJ Kraft Brad Keselowski : The Team Penske driver has been in a win-or-go-home spot before and come through successfully (see Talladega, 2014). A disappointing starting spot combined with his position in the standings will allow crew chief Paul Wolfe to be super aggressive with his calls to lead Keselowski to his desert destiny and win at Phoenix. Jessica Ruffin Kurt Busch : Busch has been consistently strong this weekend, running in the top three in practice and nabbing a front-row starting position. He's also in the same equipment as Phoenix pro Kevin Harvick , with all the motivation he needs in the form of a final four Chase spot -- and a chance at the title. Maggie MacKenzie Kevin Harvick : The undisputed King of Phoenix has an incredible seven wins at the 1-mile track and has emerged the victor in the last four races there. There’s no reason why Harvick won’t be able to make it eight trips to Victory Lane after coming off some strong runs at Martinsville (eighth) and Texas (third). With a career total of 1,202 laps led at Phoenix, expect "Happy" to dominate the leaderboard.
NASCAR.com's Texas race predictions
Members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make their predictions for the second race of the Eliminator Round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Texas Motor Speedway ( AAA Texas 500 , 2 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM). Zack Albert Kyle Busch : With four top fives in his most recent five Texas starts, Busch has Lone Star momentum that could carry him to Homestead's championship round. Expect the best Chase of his career to get that much better with six-shooters a-blazin' in Victory Lane. Kenny Bruce Kevin Harvick : The defending champ flexes his muscle and earns a shot at his second crown. Brad Norman Kevin Harvick : Forget all the talk about Harvick winning next week at Phoenix -- although he may do that, too -- to advance in the Chase. The defending series champ will earn his way back to Homestead with a dominant outing on Sunday. George Winkler Joey Logano : He had arguably the best car again last week before Matt Kenseth wrecked him, so provided Joey can stay focused within a media circus, he'll have a great chance at a track where he has won as recently as spring 2014. Kathy Sheldon Kyle Larson : Pressure's peaking among the Eliminator 8, creating a huge distraction. And Larson has top-10 finishes at two of his four career Sprint Cup races at Texas. Larson likes big, fast tracks, and that's Texas Motor Speedway . RJ Kraft Kyle Busch : The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has a solid history at Texas (he won there in 2013) and it's his best track left on the schedule. Look for "Rowdy" to join Jeff Gordon by locking up a Championship 4 spot. Pat DeCola Jimmie Johnson : In or out of title contention, a winless Jimmie Johnson in the Chase just isn't a thing that happens. The three-time defending victor of this race will add a fourth straight trip to Victory Lane and ride out of Fort Worth wearing yet another black hat. Taylor Starer Joey Logano : Logano is coming off a rough week at Martinsville, where his 37th-place finish dropped him to last in the Chase standings. This year's Daytona 500 winner is looking for redemption, along with a ticket to the Championship 4 Round. Maggie MacKenzie Brad Keselowski : The Team Penske driver has been racing under the radar throughout the Chase, but the AAA Texas 500 could change everything. Keselowski, who sits sixth on the Chase Grid, statistically has done well at Texas and earned a top-five result in the spring race.
NASCAR.com's 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion predictions
Going into the final race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make predictions for who will win the 2015 Sprint Cup Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway ( Ford EcoBoost 400 3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM). Zack Albert Jeff Gordon : One last dose of No. 24 magic? With Hendrick Motorsports devoting all possible resources to sending the legendary driver off in championship style, Gordon is not only a sentimental pick, but a well-reasoned one for a fifth title in his career finale. Holly Cain Jeff Gordon : While Gordon would be the overwhelming sentimental pick, this is one of the toughest championship battles to decide. All four drivers have hugely emotional backstories. These four make this one of toughest title picks ever so I'll take the sentimental option and go Gordon. Kenny Bruce Jeff Gordon : Sure it would be a great story, but Gordon's shown the speed here this weekend to make contending for the championship more than just a fantasy. Pat DeCola Kevin Harvick : Miami is Harvick' s race (and title) to lose. With seven straight top-10 finishes at the track we know he's going to be at the front of the pack -- and, more importantly, in front of Kyle Busch , Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr . RJ Kraft Martin Truex Jr .: The clock will not strike midnight on this Cinderella story. The 78 team has been strong at intermediate tracks all year and Homestead is statistically Truex's best track. The single-car Furniture Row Racing team and Truex will have a crowning moment on Sunday. George Winkler Jeff Gordon : This is one of those times when you don't look at the stats and you pick with your gut. After all, who wants to be the guy who goes against Gordon and watches sadly as the legend walks off into the sunset with his fifth career Sprint Cup Series championship? Don't be that guy. Taylor Starer Kevin Harvick : My heart is telling me to choose Jeff Gordon as the 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion, but my head is telling me Harvick. The reigning champ is comfortable heading into the final race of the season and has proven to be as cool as a cucumber under Chase pressure. Brad Norman Martin Truex Jr .: The spotlight (rightfully) is on Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick , but Truex loves Miami and he’s been sneaky fast on intermediates all year. I predict he gets a break -- broken part for a competitor? slow late pit stop? -- and stealthily assumes the lead, then powers his way to a victory … and a championship. Jessica Ruffin Jeff Gordon : While his cars may not have possessed the speed of Kevin Harvick 's or reached Victory Lane as many times as Kyle Busch this season, Gordon has one major component on his side; momentum. The four-time champion will close out his career with a bang on Sunday with a fifth and final championship. Kathy Sheldon Kyle Busch : Pressure and equipment will be the two biggest factors on Sunday, but sheer will is right up there. Kyle Busch has seen his career flash before his eyes this year; race pressure pales in comparison. He fought hard to get back in the car, in Victory Lane and now in the Chase Championship 4. And Joe Gibbs Racing cars still have plenty of power. Maggie MacKenzie Kevin Harvick : Harvick is thirsty to defend his championship title and with an impressive 12 top 10s in 14 starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway , the wheelman for the No. 4 races hard here. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver is also coming off a run with back-to-back top-three results at Texas and Phoenix so despite having the worst qualifying seed out of the Championship 4, "Happy" will find a way to get out front -- and stay there.
NASCAR.com's Martinsville race predictions
Members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make their predictions for the first race of the Eliminator Round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Martinsville Speedway ( Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 , 1:15 p.m. ET, NBCSN/Live Extra, MRN, SiriusXM). Zack Albert Denny Hamlin : Expect the No. 11 to prevail in his home state for Hamlin's sixth grandfather clock, denying the remaining Chasers an automatic berth in the Homestead championship finale. Kenny Bruce Jimmie Johnson : Johnson shares win record (eight) for active drivers at Martinsville with teammate Jeff Gordon . Bad fast in practice. No Chase pressure. In other words, everything to gain and nothing to lose. Brad Norman Joey Logano : Because why not? He's starting from the pole and has won three consecutive races. Make it four. George Winkler Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Hendrick teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon have more history on their side, but Junior will use the disappointment from last weekend as motivation to get his second grandfather clock (first for crew chief Greg Ives). Kathy Sheldon Jeff Gordon : The intensity is there, and so is the confidence at Martinsville, where he has eight career wins and a runner-up finish in this race last year. The four-time champion is serious about chasing down title number five. Jessica Ruffin Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Having just missed the next round of the Chase with a runner-up result at Talladega Sunday, Junior heads to Martinsville with something to prove -- and a fast race car, to boot. He’s also the reigning race winner and calls the paperclip oval one of his favorite tracks on the circuit. Taylor Starer Jeff Gordon : Martinsville's fall race is what Gordon has been waiting for. The four-time Sprint Cup champ doesn't plan on ending his lengthy career with a winless season or without scoring one more win at a track where he's had eight victories. Maggie MacKenzie Carl Edwards : With the recent Joe Gibbs Racing difficulties, Edwards is the team's biggest hope to snag the 2015 championship. He may not have a win at Martinsville, but the driver of the No. 19 Toyota has finished outside the top 10 only once thus far in the Chase. RJ Kraft Denny Hamlin : Yes, Hamlin is out of the Chase, but that doesn't mean he can't go out and get another win. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has one of the best cars this weekend as he eyes a sweep of the Martinsville races for the second time in his career. Pat DeCola Jeff Gordon : A winless final season just doesn't seem to fit the four-time champion's style. With more career victories at "The Paperclip" (eight) than any other track on his resume, you can book Gordon's trip to Victory Lane this weekend -- along with his spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead.