TALLADEGA, Ala. — They say that anyone can win a restrictor-plate race, but is that the case?
As the sport goes through a transition to younger drivers, it seems only a matter of time before Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, Austin Dillon and others win.
The question is if they can win on a restrictor-plate race. While Trevor Bayne shocked the sport with his 2011 Daytona 500 victory in just his second career Cup start, experienced drivers have prevailed at Daytona and Talladega.
Five drivers have combined to win the last 10 restrictor-plate races: Brad Keselowski (three wins), Joey Logano (three), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (two), Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin.
Their stranglehold at the front of restrictor-plate races could be ending. Youth was nearly served in the Daytona 500 and could be in Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega.
While Busch won at Daytona, Kyle Larson and Elliott were in contention until they ran out of fuel at the end, and Blaney finished second.
That race was significant for Larson because he ran at the front so much.
“I think what I learned at Daytona was how to kind of start a run and continue that momentum to get to the lead,’’ said Larson, whose two career Cup wins are at Michigan and Auto Club Speedway. “I have never really, before the 500, I never really was in position to pass somebody for the lead. I could work my way up to sixth, seventh, eighth, around there, but then I would kind of stall out.
“I made some mistakes and lost the lead, but was able to get back to the lead and had I not run out of fuel at the 500, I thought I had learned enough throughout the race that nobody would have passed me on that final lap.’’
Chase Elliott also was in contention for the Daytona 500. He enters Sunday’s race confident.
“I thought the 500 this year was our best performance on a plate track,’’ Elliott said. “Hope we can bring some of that here. I can’t say that I’m going to do my job any differently because the guys with a lot of starts have won the past number of races. I think Brad and Joey seem to have won a lot of them over the past few years and they’ve done a good job of mastering plate racing. I think there’s always something you can learn from and look at from guys like that who have won a lot of these things here recently.”
One driver who can see up close what Keselowski and Logano have done is Blaney, whose Wood Brothers team is aligned with Team Penske.
“Being a teammate with Brad and watching what he does has really been helpful to me,’’ Blaney said. “I feel like we’ve had pretty decent runs, but I never really feel like we’ve been at that point that he’s at, that we’ve had that dominance that whole race. I feel like he can get out there and control the whole race.’’
Could it be Sunday?