Five things to watch for in today’s Sprint Cup race at Talladega

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TALLADEGA, Ala. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth face scenarios where they likely need to win today’s race at Talladega Superspeedway to advance to the next round of the Chase.

In the last three elimination races, a driver needing to win to advance did. Brad Keselowski won at Talladega last fall to make it to the third round. Kevin Harvick won at Phoenix to make it to the championship round at Homestead (where he won that race to win the title). And Harvick won at Dover this year to advance to the second round.

If winning a Sprint Cup race is so difficult, then how have some drivers managed to win when they had to do so?

“The only real reference that I have from personal experience is last fall and I certainly made riskier and bolder moves than I would have made otherwise because at this point the penalty for a bad day is really nothing and the reward for a great day,’’ Keselowski said. “So I think the risk vs. reward changes dramatically. The teams take more chances.

“In the situation I was in last fall racing with Ryan Newman, he didn’t have to win the race. I put him in several positions where he was either going to let me win the race or we were both going to wreck. My thought process on that, and it’s not fair for me to answer for Ryan, but my thought process was he knew his situation and knew he didn’t have to win and knew I was going to wreck all of us if I had to.”

Who will feel the need to do so today? How far will they go?

That’s among the storylines for today’s race.

ONE CHANCE: NASCAR instituted a new rule for this weekend, reducing the number of green-white-checkered finishes from three to one.

Saturday’s Camping World Truck race went to a green-white-checkered but a crash on the first lap of the restart caused the race to end under caution.

Will a green-white-checkered finish be needed today? If so, how desperate will people being those final two laps?

MAKING A MOVE: Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the spring Talladega race by leading the final 27 laps.

That’s a rarity. The race winner at Talladega took the lead with two laps or less in nine of the last 11 races.

SAY IT AIN’T SO JOE: Since Denny Hamlin’s March 29 victory at Martinsville Speedway, Joe Gibbs Racing has not gone more than three races without a victory.

JGR enters today’s Talladega race winless in the last three races. Its last victory was by Matt Kenseth last month at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Since then, Kevin Harvick won at Dover (JGR’s Kyle Busch was second), Joey Logano won at Charlotte (JGR’s Hamlin was fourth) and Logano won at Kansas (JGR’s Hamlin was second).

Will a Gibbs car win today to end this winless drought?

ANYBODY’S RACE: Only 55 percent of the Talladega Chase races have been won by Chase competitors, the lowest percentage of any Chase track.

The most recent Talladega Chase race won by a non-Chase driver was by Jamie McMurray in 2013.