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When it comes to predicting a winner at Talladega, the obvious disclaimer applies; anything can and will happen when the Cup cars throw on the restrictor plates. Teams that normally have no hope of finishing in the top 20 have a shot to win, while having the fastest car means virtually nothing. Understanding how to both work the draft and stay out of trouble are far more important than horsepower. Will someone surprise the world as Front Row Motorsports did a few months ago by sweeping the top two spots in the Dega spring race? Or will the Chasers reign supreme once again?
Before going any further, a quick note. We'll be looking at the statistics over the past ten races, all courtesy of racing-reference.com. Going any further back takes us into fourth generation cars and a completely different race environment in terms of competition on the track. We're also in no way advocating gambling in any way shape or form. These odds are purely for informational purposes only.
Watch last year's fall Talladega race in full
Driver: Brad Keselowski
Team: Penske Racing
Odds of Winning: 10-1
After breaking through with a win this past week at Charlotte, why not Brad? He has two wins (including his first as a Sprint Cup driver) and six top tens in his nine races at the superspeedway. He has exactly the right mix of aggression and cold calculation rewarded by restrictor plate driving. His confidence is back and he'll have the opportunity to win again this week in Alabama.
Driver: Clint Bowyer
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
Odds of Winning: 15-1
Like Keselowski, Bowyer has two wins and six top tens over the last ten Talladega races. With only one DNF, he's shown a knack for avoiding trouble and being around at the end; a critical trait when races involve wrecks that take out numerous contenders at a time. Bowyer may not be a factor in the championship Chase but he has a real chance to end his winless streak here- perhaps his best chance at the remaining tracks this season.
Driver: Matt Kenseth
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
Odds of Winning: 20-1
Although his average Talladega finish isn't fantastic, there's no reason to think Kenseth cannot win again this week. He does have one win over the last ten events here and has led over 16% of the laps run during that period. His strategy- to run up front and try to stay ahead of the chaos behind- isn't a bad one and he has the car capable of doing it. A win this week combined with bad fortune for Jimmie Johnson could potentially make this championship Chase a one horse race and that thought is surely on Kenseth's mind as well.
Driver: David Ragan
Team: Front Row Motorsports
Odds of Winning: 25-1
Front Row went one-two earlier this year with David Ragan capturing the checkered flag for a second time in his career. Yet it's not his only good run on a restrictor plate track; his first win came at Daytona and he was one bad break away from another Daytona win that year. He has the fourth highest finisher of any driver starting Sunday (Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is third with his solo run, a 13th place finish earlier this year) with three top fives and five top tens. He also has only one DNF in the last ten runs here. Lightening may very well strike for Ragan once again and another win would be far less a surprise than the last one was.
Driver: Aric Almirola
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
Odds of Winning: 30-1
Quietly sitting two spots behind Ragan on the average finish list is Almirola. While he hasn't yet won on the Sprint Cup level), Talladega is known for providing first wins for unexpected drivers. Survival is the name of the game and Aric has shown an uncanny ability to do so at Talladega; in five career Sprint Cup races he's finished every one running and on the lead lap. If he's to break through this week he'll need to show enough speed early for someone to be willing to go with him at the end. Almirola has only six laps led out of 953 run at the track and will need to up that total on Sunday.
Driver: Jeff Burton
Team: Richard Childress Racing
Odds of Winning: 40-1
With Burton's 2014 plans still yet to be determined, Talladega is perhaps Jeff's last chance to pull in a Sprint Cup win at Richard Childress Racing. The veteran may not have won here over the last ten events but he's finished running and on the lead lap in nine of those events with six top ten finishes. His car has the speed to compete and Burton himself has the ability to anticipate and avoid the big one. He also has the most laps led of anyone in the top ten by average finish over the last ten races. If this is to be Burton's last hurrah, he has the opportunity to make it a good one.
The Sucker's Bets:
Driver: Ryan Newman
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
Odds of Winning: 1000-1
Youtube “Ryan Newman” and “Talladega” and you'll see why he's here. With an average finish of 28th place (including five DNFs), Newman will likely fall to his knees in gratitude to complete this race without seeing his car on the back of a wrecker. Does he have the talent to win here? Sure he does; Newman has 17 Sprint Cup wins. But unless he's stolen Jimmie Johnson's lucky horseshoe, it's not going to happen here.
Driver: Trevor Bayne
Team: Wood Brothers Racing
Odds of Winning: 500-1
Thanks to his out-of-nowhere win at the 2011 Daytona 500, Trevor Bayne is never more relevant than he is at the restrictor plate tracks. Unfortunately, his performance since that breakthrough win makes 2011 look further behind every day. In ten restrictor plate races since the win, Bayne has one top ten finish (an 8th place run at the 2012 Talladega spring race) and four DNFs. A fifth race saw him finish nearly forty laps down at Daytona last year. Somewhere, a group of Jeff Gordon fans are smiling.
Driver: Martin Truex Jr.
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
Odds of Winning: 350-1
The nightmare of a season for Truex rolls on at Talladega and this likely isn't the week he's able to begin making it right. He has four DNFs over the last ten Dega races and has an average finish just a tick better than 20th place. All too often he's found himself deep in the back and in the wrong place far too often when the big one strikes. Avoiding the major wrecks applies to everyone but for Truex it's even more true; when he's finished, he's been in the top ten half the time and on the lead lap every event. But a 60% survival rate won't cut it this weekend.