|Kenseth has been the best in all three plate races this season (Getty)|
To show just how irrelevant practices are in restrictor-plate races, all you have to do is look at how many drivers participate. In Friday's final practice at Talladega Superspeedway, only 32 drivers took to the track because there really is nothing to be gained. Unlike other tracks, where practices are essential to fine tuning a car's setup for race conditions, at Talladega everyone already knows what they have, and there isn't too much tinkering that can better their performance.
Because there is no edge to be gained from practices, bettors have to rely on what they've seen in the first three plate races this season. Even with three races of useful information, Talladega races are still one of the biggest crapshoots of the season.
Realistically, all 43 drivers to start Sunday's Good Sam 500 have a shot of winning. On a normal weekend, the cutoff mark for possible winners peaks at around 16 drivers.
Someone blindly throwing darts at random numbers could probably pick Sunday's winner better than another who has all the practice data, but it is what it is, and it's part of what makes Talladega racing so special. It is unpredictable. You never know what is going to happen next, and the races there always produce some of the most fantastic, edge-of-your-seat finishes.
Here's a look at who the top drivers look to be with rankings based on past restrictor-plate performances this season, plus a little influence from years past and a minor sprinkling of what happened in Friday's two practice sessions.
No. 1 Matt Kenseth (10/1). He's never won at Talladega, but he was as close as ever in the May race where he led seven times for a race-high 73 laps en route to a third-place finish. He's been on another plateau above everyone else this season in plate races. In addition to his great Talladega run, he also won the Daytona and finished third in the Firecracker. No driver in NASCAR comes close to matching his credentials this season, which kind of deflates the notion that all the cars are equal here. Kenseth and the other Fords definitely have the advantage in these races. This week, he'll be using the same chassis that ran at Daytona in July.
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Earnhardt Jr. Fastest in Final Session
|Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won five Talladega races, none since 2004 (Getty)|
Kurt Busch, with a lap speed of 197.521 mph, was the second fastest on the speed charts, and was followed by Carl Edwards (196.053 mph), Matt Kenseth (195.948) and Marcos Ambrose (195.688).
Rounding out the top-ten fastest during the “Happy Hour” (final) practice session were Travis Kvapil (195.636 mph), Clint Bowyer (195.317), Jeff Gordon (195.313), Martin Truex, Jr. (195.277) and Juan Pablo Montoya (194.959).
The teams will return Saturday afternoon at 12:15 PM (ET) for their qualifying session to determine the starting lineup for the 44th annual Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500, which is set to get underway around 2:20 PM (ET) Sunday afternoon. Television coverage will be provided by ESPN beginning with their 1:00 PM (ET)NASCAR Countdown pre-race show.