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Post-Race Reactions: Fast Five 225
Kevin Harvick, Nelson Piquet Jr., Parker Kligerman and James Buescher comment on their solid runs at Chicagoland Speedway.
Five to Watch: Sleepers for the GEICO 500
Five drivers who could pull a spring upset at Talladega Superspeedway
Rules update: NASCAR reinforces five lug nuts
NASCAR teams hoping to shave time off pit stops by replacing only four lug nuts on wheels will now face penalties from the sanctioning body, according to a memo sent to organizations Monday. The memo states that all tires, wheels and all five lug nuts "must be installed in a safe and secure manner at all times during the event." Failure to comply can result in penalties ranging from a written warning for pre-race violations (wheels not having five lug nuts glued in place) to a minimum $20,000 fine, one-race suspension and probation for the responsible crew chief if a post-race inspection turns up a car that does not have five lug nuts in place on each wheel. If found during pre-race, the infraction is considered an unapproved adjustment, and the violator will be required to correct the issue and drop to the rear of the field before the start of the event. Multiple offenses for infractions will result in escalating penalties. NASCAR stopped policing how many lug nuts teams were installing during pit stops after the 2014 season. In 2015, the sanctioning body debuted its Pit Road Officiating (PRO) system that utilizes cameras to regulate pit road. According to Monday's memo, updated methods for officiating the new rules will be introduced at a later date. "That process will continue to evolve over time and we will provide further updates as that model progresses." By tightening, or in some cases installing, only four lug nuts on each wheel, teams have often gained an advantage during pit stops. But the practice has led to a rise in the number of loose wheels this season, often sending a driver back to pit road to correct the problem. While at least one NASCAR crew chief has noted that there have been occasions when a car would end the race with fewer than five lug nuts in place, NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France said Monday that the inspection process would be no different than it has been for other areas of the vehicles that are examined each week. "When things are altered we have to deal with that," France said during an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. "There's no difference in that. ... Really what you're hearing is just how close and tight competition is across the board. And that's why the crew chiefs, and rightfully so, are worried about every millisecond; they don't want to get one of these ... penalties and understandably so. They're trying to get it right and we're trying to get it right. "And by the way, we will. We have for 60 years and we will always sort it out, especially when it comes to safety. We will get to the right place as fast as we can. That's Job 1 for us." Last week, three-time premier series champion Tony Stewart expressed concerns that the safety of competitors was being overlooked by not mandating all five lug nuts be properly installed on wheels. A day later, when Stewart announced he would return to competition after missing the season's first eight races, NASCAR announced it had fined the co-owner/driver $35,000. "It wasn't (a case of) saying they're not doing their job," Stewart told FOX Sports during Sunday's pre-race show. "I just felt like this is one thing they dropped the ball on. So, they're doing a good job. They're looking at it. They're going to address it and make it right, and down the road we won't have to worry about this again, hopefully." France said Stewart is "very aware of how we approach criticism ... of the sport and the product of the racing itself, and safety is paramount of that. Tony is very aware of how we look at that. We allow them to criticize and give their point of view way more than any other sport. ... We're thick-skinned; we get it. "It's when you go into the area of denigrating the racing product. That's all we have in NASCAR, the highest quality of competition. When you start working against that in any way, we're going to have to deal with that. And everybody understands that."
Keselowski and Hendrick: What might have been
On April 18, 2009, Mark Martin won the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway . It was the 36th NASCAR premier series win for the 50-year-old driver and his first with team owner Rick Hendrick. A week and a day later, Brad Keselowski won the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway . It was the first career win for the 25-year-old, and the first premier series victory for independent car owner James Finch. Two distinctly different races won by two distinctly different drivers. Martin's NASCAR career was beginning to wind down; Keselowski's, on the other hand, appeared to have only just begun. But there was one string that tied the two together -- Hendrick Motorsports . HMS was home to Martin, Jimmie Johnson , Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr . And it was expected by many to be the future home of the up-and-coming kid from Rochester Hills, Michigan. But a collection of factors that came together throughout the course of that season altered the racing landscape as well as the career path of Keselowski. It would be nearly three years before the next driver change at HMS. By then Keselowski had not only found a new home, but he was also on his way to winning the Sprint Cup championship. 'I WAS NOT GOING TO LOSE' The sun was out and the grandstands were packed when the 2009 Aaron's 499, the season's ninth Sprint Cup race, went green for the final time. As race leader Ryan Newman tried to keep Earnhardt Jr., the crowd favorite, in check, Keselowski darted to the inside behind Carl Edwards on the track's massive backstretch. It was a move that didn’t seem to mean much at the time. But at the start-finish line with two laps remaining, Edwards and Keselowski shot to the outside entering Turn 1. "Here they come; look at the 99 and ..." NASCAR on FOX analyst Darrell Waltrip began. " Brad Keselowski ," lead announcer Mike Joy and co-analyst Larry McReynolds chimed in. When the white flag appeared, Edwards and Keselowski had caught and were beginning to pull away from Newman and Earnhardt Jr. Racing back through the tri-oval, Keselowski turned his No. 09 Chevrolet to the outside, and then quickly dropped to the bottom as Edwards moved up to block. Realizing the bottom lane was now open, Edwards reacted quickly -- but not quickly enough. Contact sent the No. 99 Ford spinning. Edwards' car came off the track briefly and was beginning to settle back onto the track it was struck by Newman's Chevrolet. The impact sent Edwards roof-first into the frontstretch catch fence. Meanwhile, Keselowski kept his foot in the gas, racing across the finish line for the win just ahead of Earnhardt Jr. "I was not going to lose," Keselowski said in his post-race winner's interview. "I was not going to lift and (I was going to) hold my ground and consequences be damned." A full-time competitor at the time for JR Motorsports (which, coincidentally, counts Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick among its ownership group) in what is now the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Keselowski said he didn't know what the future held after his first premier series win. "I know I don't have anything locked in," he said. "That's really all I can say ... I don't have a job secured for next year, and everything to this point has been wait-and-see. I know this certainly can't hurt." But behind the scenes, moves were already underway. Finch's Phoenix Racing, which purchased it engines from HMS, had put Keselowski in the car at the suggestion of Hendrick. And the JRM/Hendrick pipeline, which grooms talent in the lower series to help restock the Sprint Cup program, was taking root. Keselowski had made two starts for Hendrick the previous year, and would make seven all together in '09, in addition to five races with Finch. Perhaps his future wasn't as cloudy as it appeared. "Rick had come out and told me, actually had made it a point to say to the media that he thought I was a future driver at Hendrick," Keselowski told NASCAR.com recently. There was only one problem. SWAN SONG? On July 4, 2008, HMS officials announced that Martin had signed a two-year agreement to drive the organization's No. 5 Chevrolet. According to the news release, Martin, who would run a full schedule in 2009, would "run a partial Sprint Cup schedule ... in 2010, sharing the No. 5 Chevy with a to-be-determined second driver.” By most accounts, that driver was expected to be Keselowski. But in May of '09, less than three weeks after Martin's Phoenix victory, HMS officials announced a revision to the '08 agreement. The veteran driver would return in 2010 to once again run the entire season. With Keselowski waiting in the wings and Martin winning and agreeing to return the following year, "Rick was kind of half pregnant," Keselowski said. "He (was) stuck. "My feeling was, after I had won Talladega, I'm going to get this 5 car ride partially next year, pair it with something else, let's go. I didn't know what it was going to be. We'll figure it out; let's go." A phone call and subsequent meeting with Hendrick, however, changed all that. "I was kind of expecting more of a 'Hey, we're going to expedite the process of clearing out the rest of this,' " Keselowski said of the meeting, "And instead I got a 'Hey, I don't have a ride for you. You need to figure something else out. I'll try to help.' "That was late April, early May of that year. My intent ... was to give him that time to kind of make right on it somehow, find a ride because he had made me the promise that I would have that car. It didn't sit all that well, but I understood the circumstances and so forth." Months passed and Keselowski busied himself with his full-time XFINITY Series effort at JRM while making a handful of Sprint Cup starts for Hendrick and Finch. Hendrick, in the meantime, was exploring the various avenues that might keep Keselowski in the HMS camp. Possible scenarios included Stewart-Haas Racing , at the time a two-team effort, and Red Bull Racing. Consideration was even given to fielding a Sprint Cup entry out of the JR Motorsports shop, according to the owner. But the pieces didn't fit and as the summer wore on, Keselowski's future remained uncertain. "I wanted him to wait a year," Hendrick told NASCAR.com. "... I don't remember all the details, but I do remember that Mark had done so well, and I had tried to talk (Mark) into staying. "I've told all our guys, the first time I sat down with Brad he impressed me because he was so intense about the whole car and wanted to be involved in everything. He was just so committed. I told our guys he's got the right attitude about racing and driving. I just needed him to wait." Waiting, though, wasn't part of Keselowski's plan. "My perception is a driver is a lot like a perishable fruit," Keselowski said. "You've got so much time, then he spoils and goes bad. There are a lot of variables, much like anything." PENSKE COMES CALLING The Keselowski family has always been involved in racing. Brad's father Bob was an ARCA Series standout and a former winner in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Ron Keselowski, an uncle, scored two top- five finishes in 68 premier series starts while older brother Brian Keselowski has one or more starts in all three of NASCAR's national series. "We knew the Keselowski name from being here in Detroit," Walt Czarnecki, an executive vice president at Penske Corp., said. "His dad, his uncle, all that. They would run out at MIS ( Michigan International Speedway ) when (Penske) owned the track." But it was a business associate, lawyer/agent John Caponigro, who brought up the young driver's name during a conversation in 2009. "We thought he was committed to Hendrick," Czarnecki said. "He'd been on loan to James Finch to run several races. But some things were changing." Conversations with Keselowski ensued, in Michigan as well as Mooresville, North Carolina, where Team Penske is headquartered. "All this time," Czarnecki said, "Still having this somewhat uncertain situation with Mr. Hendrick." Team Penske had grown from a two-team to a three-team organization in '08, fielding cars for drivers Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman and Sam Hornish Jr . In '09 Newman departed to join owner/driver Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing and 32-year-old David Stremme was brought on board to fill the open seat. But the Keselowski opportunity was intriguing, according to Czarnecki. "We've tried to sign on what we consider to be the best available young drivers with a great deal of potential that we could mold and have them grow in our organization," he said. "And I think that Brad certainly fit that description. "But above and beyond that, he had a bigger vision as to what role he wanted to play in terms of the development of the team. ... Just how he saw different things coming together ... "Some of it may have been a little unrealistic; some of it was certainly the enthusiasm of a young man who had a goal in mind. ... But he had this great enthusiasm and he had this great desire and this great commitment. And that appealed to us." With the Hendrick effort seemingly stalled, Keselowski went back to Penske with a request -- to compete full-time in both the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series. In addition to its Sprint Cup effort, Team Penske was fielding one full-time XFINITY Series team with driver Justin Allgaier . Expanding that program to two teams running all the races was problematic, given the economy at the time. Told such a scenario was unlikely, Keselowski was left to consider his few available options. But Penske officials continued to work until enough of the appropriate pieces were in place. "Sure enough, Roger called me one night and said 'Alright, I've got it put together,' " Keselowski said. "It kind of caught me off guard. I was sold. That's it; he made it happen." "I couldn't sit around and wait. ... Roger had gone above and beyond to put something together that I felt like was the opportunity I needed. ... The economy was on its way down fast ; Roger (through his various businesses) had a lot of immunities to the economy. Rick made it very clear to me that he was not going to invest himself without having a sponsor, and the economy was not in a spot where he could facilitate that." Hendrick had been aware of the Penske interest from the beginning, having had conversations with his fellow team owner about Keselowski's status. "Roger called me and asked me could he talk to him," Hendrick said. "I didn't want to stand in his way. Brad's a hell of a talent. It was a timing issue. "It's worked out for him. At his age it would have been nice if we could have kept him. ... If I got a call from Roger and I was in his spot I would have done exactly what he did." POSTSCRIPT On Sept. 1, 2009, Team Penske officials announced that the organization had signed Keselowski to compete full-time in both the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series beginning the following season. Since then, Keselowski has won 17 Sprint Cup races, 28 XFINITY Series races and championships in both series. "I don't want to sound mercenary but he brought us our first Sprint Cup championship (in 2012)," Czarnecki said. "Because that vision that he outlined, we tried to work with him and bring people along, bring people into the organization, have him work with people like (crew chief) Paul Wolfe, it was really the realization of that vision. That's what it (has) meant. "And his intensity hasn't changed." Former teammates Busch and Hornish have departed, and fellow driver AJ Allmendinger has come and gone. Keselowski, now 32, is the veteran of a Penske group that now includes 25-year-old teammate Joey Logano . "I wasn’t looking to switch," Keselowski said. "If things would have gone the way they were supposed to go before Mark won that race at Phoenix, I would still be there."
Matt Tifft earns 21 Means 21 Pole Award at 'Dega
RELATED: Full lineup Matt Tifft topped the leaderboard during Saturday's single-car qualifying session to earn the 21 Means 21 Pole Award at Talladega Superspeedway . Tifft, in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, posted a fastest lap of 181.168 mph. Tifft's teammate Daniel Suarez will join him on the front row for the Sparks Energy 300 after posting the second-fastest lap during the two-round single-car qualifying event (180.846 mph). Rounding out the top three was the No. 2 of Austin Dillon , soaring around the 2.66-mile track at 180.506 mph. The third JGR entry Erik Jones was fourth-quickest, logging a fast lap of 180.366 mph. Next was the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Ty Dillon (180.217 mph), rounding out the top five . Defending race winner Joey Logano will start on the fourth row in eighth (178.817 mph). Josh Reaume , Derrike Cope and Mike Harmon failed to qualify for the 40-car event. The 300-mile event is set for 3 p.m. ET (FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Chase Elliott earns 21 Means 21 Pole Award at Talladega
RELATED: Lineup " See all 40 cars TALLADEGA, Ala. – Numerologists doubtless will have a field day with the front row for Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (on FOX at 1 p.m. ET, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Touring the 2.66-mile race track in 49.704 seconds (192.661 mph) during Saturday's time trials, Chase Elliott put the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the pole, making the 20-year-old rookie driver two-for-two at restrictor-plate superspeedways. In his first qualifying run as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, Elliott won the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500 . The pole was the sixth at Talladega for the No. 24, the first five having been recorded by Jeff Gordon , who retired after the 2015 season and turned the car over to Elliott. And the pole run came roughly 30 years after Elliott's father, Bill Elliott , earned the top starting spot for the spring Talladega race with a lap at 212.229 mph, before restrictor plates were introduced at the superspeedways. Coincidentally, Bill Elliott also won the pole for the Daytona 500 in 1986. "This is definitely a special place," Chase Elliott said after his pole-winning run. "It's cool to get it done today. This is a team effort, and those guys and everybody at the No. 5 and No. 24 shop, in particular, and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and the Hendrick engine department and obviously (sponsor) NAPA Auto parts. "But, man, this is cool. Those guys do such a good job. And as I said in Daytona, this had nothing to do with me. This is the car that we had. This is the same car we had in Daytona. They brought another fast one here." The car Elliott beat for the pole, the No. 3 Chevrolet driven by Austin Dillon (192.424 mph), also has a noteworthy history at Talladega. Driving the No. 3 for owner Richard Childress, Dillon’s grandfather, the late Dale Earnhardt collected nine of his 10 Talladega victories and all three of his Talladega poles. "There's a lot of history here with Dale and RCR," Dillon said. "A lot of good stuff happened with RCR here, so hopefully we can continue that streak of good runs for RCR here. We’ve got a car capable of doing that, obviously, with the qualifying effort, and I'd love for it to be my first Cup win." Dale Earnhardt Jr ., who has never won a pole at NASCAR's biggest oval track but has six race wins on his resume here, qualified third at 192.293 mph. Matt Kenseth (192.181 mph) claimed the fourth position on the grid, followed by Jimmie Johnson (192.116 mph) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr . (192.089 mph). The only other driver to top 192 mph was seventh-place starter Brad Keselowski (192.008 mph), a three-time Talladega winner. Ty Dillon qualified the No. 14 Chevrolet for Tony Stewart and earned the 14th starting spot, but Stewart will start Sunday’s race and will have to drop to the rear for the green flag because of the driver change. The plan is for Stewart, who returned to action last Sunday at Richmond after injuring his back during the offseason, to turn the car over to Dillon during the first caution of the race. Note: Josh Wise failed to make the 40-car field.
Truex Jr. travels fast in final Texas practice
RELATED: Final practice results " See the starting lineup Martin Truex Jr . zipped to the top of the leaderboard in the final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice Friday evening at Texas Motor Speedway . Truex piloted the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota to a fast lap of 192.390 mph around the 1.5-mile Fort Worth track. He'll start third in Saturday night's main event, the Duck Commander 500 (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM). Carl Edwards , who claimed the Coors Light Pole Award in a qualifying session held earlier Friday, backed up his speed with a second-fastest lap at 190.248 mph in the 80-minute final practice. Edwards is scheduled to start first in Saturday's 500-miler, the seventh race of the Sprint Cup season. Related: Edwards earns Texas pole Defending Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch -- and last weekend's winner at Martinsville Speedway -- turned the third-fastest lap in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota (189.507 mph). AJ Allmendinger , the runner-up to Busch last Sunday, was fourth-best in the JTG-Daugherty Racing No. 47 Chevrolet (189.500 mph). Joey Logano , who will share the front row with Edwards on Saturday night's starting grid, completed the top five in final practice (189.480 mph). Jimmie Johnson , a six-time Texas winner carrying a three-race win streak at the intermediate-sized track, was seventh-fastest in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet (189.255 mph). Austin Dillon led the way in the category of 10-lap averages, posting a 10-lap run of 184.633 mph. Kasey Kahne , Brad Keselowski , Kevin Harvick and Truex completed the top five among the 32 drivers who ran at least 10 consecutive laps in final practice.
Elliott earns first Cup top-five showing at Texas
RELATED: Texas race results " See where Chase sits in standings post-Texas FORT WORTH, Texas -- Chase Elliott 's fifth-place finish in Saturday night's Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway gives the popular rookie his best career Sprint Cup Series finish at a track he is already fond of. It's the place he won his first XFINITY Series race en route to the 2014 XFINITY series championship. He was running second place in the late laps of Saturday's rain-delayed 500-miler before his crew chief called him in to pit for fresher tires on the final caution period. He returned to the track in eighth place and raced through the competition in the final 34 laps to reclaim a top- five showing and cap a career night. But even as he stood alongside his No. 24 NAPA Chevrolet later on pit road, the fan favorite 20-year-old was as reflective on what he could have done better as he was celebratory of what he did so right. "Biggest thing is just having fast race cars and when your car is fast , it goes a long way,'' Elliott said. "It was a step in the right direction. We're definitely not satisfied running fifth. I feel like we have a group of guys that are capable of doing that. We'll keep digging at it. We have a long way to go with a lot of racing to go in the season. "We'll keep working to get where we can roll with those guys." Elliott's finish was more dramatic considering he started in the back of the field after his Hendrick Motorsports team changed the transmission in his Chevy following a fourth-place qualifying effort. "That's unfortunate to have to go to the back after having a good qualifying effort but I think having a good pit selection was a big help throughout the night,'' Elliott said. "But the biggest thing was just having a good car. I was really happy with it, especially on the long run, and we made some gains throughout the night to try to help our short-run speed. I thought we did that." Elliott smiled and said he also supported his crew chief Alan Gustafson's call for the four tires late and did not question the veteran's decision despite the risky move. "Being on offense is good,'' Elliott said. "With Alan's decisions, I'm going to be all for it whether they go good or bad. Whatever he says, I'm in for and we'll make the most of it. "Those crew chiefs are put in a position they've got to make a call in a hurry, and they definitely have my respect because I respect them for what they do because that's a tough, tough spot to be in. But as I've said, we're a team. I'm going to support his decision, right, wrong or indifferent, so I was happy we did it, and we tried to make the most of it." Undoubtedly Elliott's car was fast , though. He was in 10th place by lap 120 of the 334-lap race and fifth place by lap 220 before stepping in and mixing it up with the race's front-runners. Kyle Busch won the race, but all three of Elliott's Hendrick teammates finished among the top eight, including race runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Jimmie Johnson -- who nipped Elliott for fourth place on the final lap -- and eighth-place Kasey Kahne . "It was great to see Chase up there,'' said Earnhardt, who fielded Elliott's XFINITY Series championship ride. "I got to race with him a little bit and his car was doing some great things and he was driving a really good line.'' While Elliott is his own worst critic, his progress this year is substantial and noteworthy. He's had three top-10 finishes in the last four races and he has four top-10s on the season -- only six drivers in the series have more. And Elliott is the top rookie in the points standings in 14th place. "I'm far from getting the hang of it all,'' Elliott said. "I've got a long ways to go and we had a good run tonight but that doesn't mean next week is going to go good. "You have to work hard and get ready for the next one." MORE: See what drivers were doing during delay " Recap race day in photos
Elliott sheds rookie label, battles for Bristol top five
RELATED: Full results from Bristol BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Coming off a career-best Sprint Cup Series finish of fifth at Texas last weekend, Chase Elliott has outdone himself, earning a fourth-place finish in Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway . The 20-year-old qualified 19th for the short track event, Elliott's second-lowest qualifying spot since the start of his rookie season. But that was only motivation for the young rookie to battle his way up through the field. "We started off real slow," Elliott said post-race. "We didn't qualify as well as we'd like to on Friday but I thought we hit on a couple things yesterday in final practice that, fortunately, we carried over to today and were able to kind of run our way up through there." Elliott ran as high as second during Sunday's race, but he didn't get there without a few bumps at "The Last Great Colosseum." The Hendrick Motorsports driver experienced a loose wheel early in the 500-lap event, causing him to come down pit road while the green flag was out. But thanks to his No. 24 pit crew, Elliott didn't fall too far behind. "Hate to have a loose wheel," Elliott said. "But the guys did a good job overcoming that with a fast pit stop under green, only losing two laps, so that was big to keep us in contention there and try to get back on the lead lap. So, definitely a long afternoon, but that was the biggest thing that kept us alive." Despite Elliott's strong finish at Bristol, as well as four other top-10 finishes this season, he's got fellow Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Ryan Blaney to battle with week after week. The No. 21 driver also has been running in the top 10 consistently, with an average finish of 19.2 through eight races (Elliott's average finish is 15.8). Even though Blaney also had a strong showing at Bristol, running in the top five and top 10 and ultimately finishing 11th, the Wood Brothers Racing driver felt his Ford deserved better. "It was good until the end," Blaney said. "We should have run fifth, easy. ... We had a good race car and got stuck on the bottom for three straight restarts and went backward. That's pretty disappointing when you know you have a top- five race car." For Blaney, the Food City 500 was not the 22-year-old's first go-around at Bristol in the Sprint Cup Series. Blaney made a start in the No. 21 Ford in 2015 for Bristol's fall night race, finishing 22nd. This was Elliott's first Cup Series start at Bristol, a track his NASCAR Hall of Famer father Bill Elliott earned his first short-track victory at in 1988. The younger Elliott's only other short track experience in the Cup Series was his run at Richmond in 2015, where he finished 16th.
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 !