Streaks are hard to come by on restrictor-plate superspeedways.
Since the 2010 season, 29 of the drivers entered this week have scored 127 top 10s. In those eight seasons, 13 drivers have managed to string together three or more consecutive top 10s. Of those, only four have a streak longer than four straight.
Clint Bowyer has a five-race streak from 2010 through 2012 plus another streak of three consecutive races and a pair of top 10s. And yet his three-year average at Talladega is not enough to include him in the list below.
Brad Keselowski has a three-race streak and a couple of back-to-back top-10 finishes. Keselowski is only 12th best in terms of his three-year average finish.
David Ragan enters the weekend with three top 10s in the past three races and another streak of four in 2012/2013. He also fails to make the list.
That makes this one of the most unpredictable tracks on which NASCAR competes. Setting this week’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster is going to come down to intuition and luck.
1. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 9.00) Playoff
From fall 2010 through spring 2014, Busch’s best result at Talladega was 18th. He was seventh in the fall 2014 race and has finished worse than 12th only one time in his last eight attempts. Whether he’s been lucky or has found a way to stay out of trouble, he is a solid anchor to this week’s roster.
2. Aric Almirola (three-year average: 10.20) Playoff
One never wants to go to Talladega with their playoff hopes on the line but Almirola could certainly pick a worse place based on his recent performance. With four consecutive top 10s, he has the best active streak. In 2017, he swept the top five. He is 10 points behind the cutoff and needs only a good finish this week to give him a solid chance to advance on his Kansas performance.
3. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (three-year average: 10.60) Non-Playoff
Stenhouse took a lot of criticism for his performance at Daytona in July. He saw that race as his best opportunity to win and secure a spot in the playoffs and might have been a little too enthusiastic. That should not detract from his fantasy appeal on plate tracks, however; Stenhouse has one win and three top fives in his last four Talladega starts.
4. Joey Logano (three-year average: 12.60) Playoff
Logano won this spring’s Geico 500 at Talladega on the heels of a fourth-place finish there last fall. Before one gets overly excited about that, however, it should be noted that most of Logano’s results on this track have been feast or famine. Since the beginning of 2012, he has three wins, a fourth, and an 11th. Seven of his remaining eight races in that span ended 25th or worse.
5. Ty Dillon (three-year average: 13.00 in three starts) Non-Playoff
Talladega is filled with dark horse contenders. Dillon has made only three Cup starts on this 2.66-mile track and has swept the top 15. His best effort was one that does not impact his official record. Dillon finished sixth in relief of an injured Tony Stewart in 2016.
5. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 13.00) Non-Playoff
Hamlin has shown consistency during his last four attempts at Talladega. Since fall 2016, he’s swept the top 15 with a best of third and an average of 8.5. He would be much higher on this list if not for a pair of accidents in spring 2016 that cost him 18 laps and relegated him to 31st.
7. Chase Elliott (three-year average: 13.20) Playoff
Elliott enters the weekend as the only driver who knows he will advance to Round 3 of the playoffs. That is good news because plate tracks have not been uniformly kind in the past. He crashed out of the 2017 spring Talladega race and has been running at the end of only two of the five plate races since.
8. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 13.80) Playoff
If these stats belonged to anyone but Harvick, he would be considered a solid value: Since fall 2013, he has earned five top 10s, three more top 15s and had a worst finish of 23rd in 10 races. He has only one top-five finish in that span, however. One expects a lot more from a driver who has dominated much of the season.
9. Daniel Suarez (three-year average: 14.67 in three attempts) Non-Playoff
Young Cup drivers are not supposed to be strong on plate tracks. Conventional wisdom used to be that the veterans didn’t want to draft with them and would find a way to dump them. As young guns became more prevalent in the series, that changed. Suarez has gotten progressively better at Talladega. He finished 19th in the 2017 spring race, was 15th in the fall and 10th this spring.
10. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 15.00) Playoff
Like fellow Big 3 contender Harvick, Busch is less likely to challenge for a top five at Talladega than most tracks. He missed the spring 2015 to injury and since then has scored only two top 10s in six starts. For some reason, the fall races have been particularly unkind. Three of his last four attempts in this race ended outside of the top 25.
Pole Winner: Poles can be almost as difficult to predict as race finishes on plate tracks. One driver who has been uniformly strong is Elliott, however. In 11 previous attempts at Talladega and Daytona, he has earned four poles (three at Daytona and one at Talladega) and qualified worse than eighth just one time.
Segment Winners: If picking a race winner is difficult, it’s even more difficult to predict who will be the segment winners. A little guesswork can be taken out of the equation by looking at the average running position, though. The three drivers with the best Talladega average running position as reported by NASCAR Statistical Services are three aggressive young guns. Elliott has an average place of 10.705, William Byron has a 12.460 and Bubba Wallace is third at 13.798.