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Staff picks for Talladega Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Denny Hamlin : The Daytona 500 winner has experience in getting to Victory Lane at restrictor-plate tracks. If his tendency for sour luck in the Chase -- see last year's odd roof flap issue in this race -- doesn't bite him, Hamlin has a strong shot at advancing with a Talladega win. -- Zack Albert Brad Keselowski : He was backed against a wall in 2014 and came through with a dramatic win to advance in the Chase, and he'll do it again on the heels of winning at Talladega this spring. -- George Winkler Brad Keselowski : Seems like an obvious pick because of Keselowski's two restrictor-plate wins this season coming into Talladega. But the former Cup champ is so good at this form of racing, particularly at Talladega where he got his first career Cup win and three more including this spring. And most importantly ... he needs a good showing to advance in the Chase. This is his race. -- Holly Cain Jimmie Johnson : The man who doesn't need the win -- thanks to his Charlotte victory -- gets the W to lock some strong competition out of the Round of 8. -- RJ Kraft Joey Logano : The talented Team Penske driver hasn't had exceptional results this season, but he's been lurking. We saw what he can do in this round last year, and I think he turns it on when it counts and takes Talladega for the second year in a row. -- Pat DeCola Matt Kenseth : One year after a Round of 12 he'd rather forget, the Joe Gibbs Racing veteran leaves no doubt and secures his second career win at Talladega. -- Brad Norman Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
H2H: Would 600 win mean more to Junior or Busch?
RELATED: Full 600 coverage A winner's trophy for the marathon, reputation-making Coca-Cola 600 is certainly one of the most prized possessions in all of NASCAR. The longest race (600 miles) on the NASCAR circuit is about so much more than just distance, too. There's the history of having such a contest at the 1.5-mile track just north of the Charlotte, North Carolina, NASCAR hub, not to mention this is the only race with three unique sets of elements: A race that starts under the sun, traverses to dusk and ends at night under the lights makes for three time frames with three unique sets of circumstances. Yes, it is truly a battle of man vs. machine. That's what makes it so difficult to win the Coca-Cola 600 , which both Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr . have never done. In fact, neither has won a points-paying event at Charlotte Motor Speedway . So which driver would benefit most from a win Sunday? Brad Norman and George Winkler set out to answer the question. PHOTOS: All of Busch's victories " See Junior's patriotic scheme NORMAN: So sorry, Junior Nation, but Sunday's race is more important to Kyle Busch . "Rowdy" has been on an incredible hot streak since returning from a broken leg last season -- eight wins in 37 races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Four of those victories were his first at the tracks in Indianapolis, Homestead, Martinsville and Kansas, respectively. There are only two tracks remaining on the circuit where Busch has not won a Cup race -- Charlotte and Pocono. The career-sweep is a mind-boggling feat, making Sunday's event a massive deal for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. WINKLER : Sure, it would be impressive for Kyle Busch to add to his resume with a victory at Charlotte, but it would be an all-out celebration for Junior to win the Coca-Cola 600 . From downtown Kannapolis, North Carolina, (where Junior grew up) to Charlotte Motor Speedway is just a 25-minute drive, so one can only imagine the type of attention a victory like this would get. Plus, Junior has said repeatedly that winning the Coca-Cola 600 is a top priority of his and one of the gaps he'd most like to fill on his resume. NORMAN: Yeah, it's a big 'un for Junior on a personal level. History is at stake for Busch, though. Not just personal history, either -- team history. Check out some of the most historic races on the NASCAR circuit and their results over the past year -- 2015 Coca-Cola 600 ( Carl Edwards wins); 2015 Brickyard 400 ( Kyle Busch wins); 2015 Southern 500 ( Carl Edwards wins); Homestead finale ( Kyle Busch wins, and wins 2015 championship); 2016 Daytona 500 ( Denny Hamlin wins). JGR has a ridiculous streak at stake in these types of races, too. There's simply way more on the line for both "Rowdy" and the organization at large. WINKLER : See, I think the reverse is true. Because JGR has been so dominant this season, I think it's more important for Hendrick Motorsports , and particularly Junior, to re-establish their mojo. Earnhardt Jr. has wrecked in two of his last three points-paying races, has had some races where he qualified poorly but came through the field and others where he overcame in-race issues and the odds to post top fives. Considering how Junior has battled this season, I think he's tested and ready to fight for the whole 600 miles and be in a good position to win.
Staff picks for Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte
Kasey Kahne : The Coca-Cola 600 is such a different animal that rewards mental acuity, pure tenacity and physical fitness. Kasey Kahne has those qualities and won NASCAR's endurance event three times, and with two top-five finishes already this season, this is where he breaks out of his 59-race winless rut. -- Kathy Sheldon Joey Logano : It'll be a clean Charlotte sweep for Sliced Bread, who got his mojo back during the Sprint All-Star Race. Last week's $1 million win probably felt spectacular -- the feeling may be equal Sunday night when Logano celebrates his biggest NASCAR victory to date. -- Brad Norman Carl Edwards : He's the defending race winner and has posted five straight top 10s at Charlotte. Kevin Harvick is the only other driver who can say that, but the No. 19 pit crew gives him the edge -- by a footlong Subway sandwich at the finish. -- George Winkler Kevin Harvick : This one's an easy pick for me. There's a reason why Harvick sits atop the standings and that's exactly where he'll stay after cruising to another Coca-Cola 600 win. -- Maggie MacKenzie Joey Logano : The most recent Charlotte winner, Logano's No. 22 Ford seems ready for 600 miles of action, as he topped two of the three rounds of qualifying, scoring a second-place starting position. With a fast car and plenty of momentum after his All-Star win, look for the Team Penske driver to punch his ticket to the Chase Sunday with his first '16 victory. -- Jessica Ruffin Martin Truex Jr . : Forget about what has gone wrong late in races for the No. 78 team, Truex has consistently been one of the best on the intermediate tracks this season. The Furniture Row Racing driver will cash in on his pole run and strong pit spot for his first win of 2016. -- RJ Kraft Joey Logano : Becomes first driver to sweep All-Star race and Coca-Cola 600 since Kurt Busch in 2010. Logano drives the No. 22 Ford for team owner Roger Penske, Busch's team owner in '10. -- Kenny Bruce
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 !
Staff picks for Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Jimmie Johnson : "The focus is rightly on Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart this weekend. Away from the spotlight, though, Johnson and his No. 48 team finally get back on track with a dominant showing -- and "Six-Time" ties Gordon with his fifth career win at the Brickyard." -- Brad Norman Tony Stewart : 'Smoke' has been on a roll and no place means as much to him as the Brickyard. -- Kenny Bruce Kyle Larson : " Fueled by a landmark victory at Eldora Speedway and increased team performance, expect Kyle Larson to ride a wave of momentum into the Brickyard, backing up his two Indy top-10s by landing in Victory Lane for the first time in his Sprint Cup Series career." -- Pat DeCola Martin Truex Jr. : Furniture Row Racing puts all the pieces together, shedding any bad luck for another crown jewel win to pair with its Coca-Cola 600 triumph. -- Zack Albert Jimmie Johnson : " He's won here four times before and it's time for his frustrating summer to end." -- Holly Cain Tony Stewart : "Equipped with a third-place starting position for his final Brickyard 400 run, look for Indiana native Tony Stewart to continue his hot streak up front -- and eventually in Victory Lane." -- Jessica Ruffin Ryan Newman : "The Rocket Man has been close the past two weeks (seventh at Loudon, third at Kentucky) and qualified sixth at the Brickyard, so let's go with Indiana's forgotten son to pull off the upset on Sunday. After all, his last Sprint Cup Series win came at Indy (2013)." -- George Winkler Kyle Busch: " The Sprint Cup Series champ is starting on the pole and I think he's going to stay there to bring home his second consecutive Brickyard win. Also, with Saturday's XFINITY Series win under his belt, Busch is eyeing a sweep again, a feat that's only been done by him." -- Taylor Nunnally Carl Edwards : " The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has the speed this weekend and his quiet summer is about to come to an end with his first Brickyard win." -- RJ Kraft Jimmie Johnson : Four-time Indy winner is due for a Brickyard win and this weekend could be the year "Six-Time" ties Jeff Gordon for the most wins at the 2.5-mile track. -- Maggie MacKenzie Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
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 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.
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.
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.