This will be the first race at a superspeedway not to use a restrictor plate since the late 1980s. How significant a change is this and what do you expect from the change?
Jim Utter: In practical terms, it’s not that big of a deal since horsepower will still be curtailed by a tapered spacer, which basically does the same thing. The bigger question mark in my opinion is how will this change combined with the new aero rules affect the racing we see on the track? In the three-car test at Daytona following the 500, speeds were very high, which prompted NASCAR to make some changes in the rules before we even get to the track. Anytime we haven’t tested new rules with a full field of cars in race conditions, leaves me very skeptical about what’s to come.
Nick DeGroot: Not just looking at tapered spacers, but the entire package, I expect more intense pack racing where drivers are more capable of making big moves. This should make for less single-file racing emboldening competitors to pull out of the draft. And this is just my educated guess, but I think the suck-up to other cars will be stronger before and cars will be more planted as well. I also think that a team will be able to breakaway like SHR managed to do last year, controlling most of the race.
Tim Southers: I hope we see the usual type of Talladega race this weekend, but we also have no idea on what to expect with the new rules being used this weekend with the engines (Tapered spacers) and the aerodynamic rules on the bodies of the cars. I guess time will tell, but I think we could see an exciting race in both NASCAR divisions this weekend.
Talladega has produced more surprise winners that almost any other track on the schedule. Who do you predict could score their first NASCAR Cup Series win there this weekend?
Jim: My first thought is Daniel Suarez, who has been running very well of late, even though none of the Stewart-Haas drivers have made it to Victory Lane as yet. He has become a solid superspeedway racer and is overdue for a victory. I also think Talladega could be an excellent chance for a Chevrolet driver to pick up a win and considering how fast Hendrick Motorsports was at Daytona, a first win for either Alex Bowman or William Byron would not be a shocker for me.
Nick: Alex Bowman and William Byron are solid choices, as Hendrick Motorsports seems to be at their strongest during plate races these days. But keep an eye on Matt DiBenedetto — he led the most laps in the Daytona 500 and will be a threat.
Tim: I really hope we see a new winner this weekend in the Cup Series race. In my opinion, one of the ‘young guns’ winning would be good for the sport. I think any of the Hendrick Motorsports cars could pick up the win as Alex Bowman, William Byron and Chase Elliott all showed impressive speed at Daytona in February. Also included should be Daniel Suarez as he has the speed and he’s already won on a superspeedway at Michigan in the Xfinity Series.
What do you think of the recent trend of utilizing the All-Star Race as a way to test new ideas during on-track competition?
Jim: It’s not great, but it’s better than not testing these ideas at all in race conditions before we debut them. The only way you can learn how rules will transform racing is to have them used in a race where there are real consequences on the line. Even in a test with 40 cars, there is nothing on the line and no incentive to go all out. While the All-Star Race has no points on the line, there is a $1 million carrot out there which certainly serves as an enticement.
Nick: I don’t mind it. The All-Star Race should be something different than what we see the rest of the year, whether that be through formats or in this situation, the rules package. And as Jim said, the only true way to test future rules is under race conditions.
Tim: Well, if history is any indication, this could be a good thing. We’ve seen other changes made after experimenting with them in the All-Star race work out well and very popular with the fans so it will be interesting to see how this all shakes out. Although the race doesn’t have a ‘full-field’ of cars, the best race to test changes is in race conditions so I applaud NASCAR for trying this in the race.
Who do you think will win the Xfinity Series race at Talladega on Saturday?
Jim: I see Saturday’s race as pretty wide open but I do expect JR Motorsports to continue to be strong after their great season opener at Daytona. This time, however, I see Justin Allgaier picking up his first win of the season, helping to make up for some of the difficult circumstances which have plagued him so far this season.
Nick: JR Motorsports again, but I’d have to agree that Justin Allgaier is the leading name from that group to get the win. Six straight top tens at Talladega is no east feat and shows he can keep it up front.
Tim: I think a frustrated Justin Allgaier is one to watch. He’s had very fast cars at times this season with nothing really to show for it and I expect his JR Motorsports car to be fast. Also the emotion of this week with Dale Jr. and Kelly’s mother and JR Motorsports matriarch Brenda Jackson passing away, there will be a lot of emotions with everyone on the team.