Predicting who will do well at a restrictor-plate track is akin to predicting when the next earthquake will hit.
Maybe that’s why it feels and sounds like an earthquake when the pack goes by you trackside at nearly 200 miles per hour, eh?
But there are some trends to Talladega and Daytona. There’s enough data in a career to begin to figure out who has a bit more of a knack for it than others. We decided to break down the analytics of the matter and see which five current drivers have been the best at Talladega, historically. The answer may surprise you.
We at The Daily Downforce (TDD for those of you who love acronyms) used a ranking formula that took into account race wins, top-10 finishes, laps led, and average finish at Talladega to determine who “dominates” Talladega the most.
But does anybody really “dominate” Talladega? Or does ‘Dega dominate drivers?
That’s up to you to decide, but here are the results of which current drivers have performed best (minimum 10 Cup starts):
‘Dega’s Cream of the Crop
No. 5 Chase Elliott
Top categories: No. 1 in average finish (14.2); No. 3 in wins (2).
The breakdown: Elliott may be in for a tough weekend coming off his injury, but in general he performs well here. In 14 starts he has posted seven top-10 finishes. No other active driver has scored in the top 10 at that rate. He will continue to move up these rankings over time.
No. 4 Joey Logano
Top categories: No. 2 in race wins (3); No. 2 in laps led (417, second only to Denny Hamlin with 424).
The breakdown: When you lead nearly 10 percent of the laps you run at Talladega? That’s truly an accomplishment, and Joey Logano isn’t that far off that pace. Even the other top drivers listed here are far from that pace. Logano has run 16 fewer races than Kevin Harvick and has more top-fives (9 to 8) than “Happy” Harvick.
No. 3 Kevin Harvick
Top categories: No. 2 in top 10s (19 of them), No. 3 in laps led (292)
The breakdown: Speaking of Kevin Harvick, the 20-plus-year veteran of Cup racing … he has 44 starts in the top-rung series since he started at this level in 2001. He’s logged nearly 8,000 total laps at Talladega. While he’s only won one race here, he usually finishes strongly at the Alabama venue.
No. 2 Denny Hamlin
Top categories: No. 1 in laps led (424); No. 3 in wins (2); No. 3 in top-10 finishes (15)
The breakdown: Hamlin has more career top-five finishes (10 of them) at Talladega than any other current driver, and he’s run 10 fewer races at ‘Dega than a driver like Kevin Harvick. Hamlin has led more laps than any other current driver, also. He’s a solid No. 2 guy at Talladega, but there is one more driver who has dominated when it matters most. His name … (see below)
No. 1 Brad Keselowski
Top categories: No. 1 in race wins (6); No. 3 in laps led (313); No. 4 in top-10 finishes (13); No. 4 in average finish (15.7).
The breakdown: Talladega has been in use since 1969, but only one other driver has more wins at Talladega than Brad Keselowski — and that’s Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (with 10). Brad, Jeff Gordon, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. are all tied with six career wins here — but Brad’s only been racing here since his crazy win in Spring of 2009 (when he wrecked Carl Edwards just short of the finish line). It’s not even close, he’s clearly the No. 1 guy at ‘Dega right now.
The rest of the pack
Who is just outside the top five?: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Ryan Blaney, and Aric Almirola.
Could Brad K. take sole possession of the No. 2 all-time wins spot, breaking the curse that has happened since coming over to the team he co-owns (Roush-Fenway-Keselowski)? We shall see. But this is a track where just about anybody has a chance to win — and as a result advance to the postseason immediately.