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ANDERS: Talladega presents playoff wild card

NASCAR Talladega Auto Racing-12
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Drivers come to the green flag for the start of the Camping World 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, May 7, 2017, in Talladega, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

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By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, October 15, 2017

If you’re going to settle in and catch any playoff race this year, today is probably the day to do it.

NASCAR’s playoffs hit the halfway mark today at Talladega Superspeedway. The only restrictor plate race in the 10-race sprint to crown a champion is no longer the elimination race for the second round (which is probably for the best), but that doesn’t mean today isn’t likely to be ridiculously suspenseful.

Sure, drivers who are swept up in Talladega’s insanity today will still have a chance to pull out of that next week in Kansas, but the pressure is still going to be on teams today to make sure they don’t have to try and do that.

Some people aren’t a fan of having a restrictor plate race in the playoffs. I think it’s the perfect way to spice up a 10-race slate of which 50 percent is contested on 1.5-mile tracks.

Plus, it has the potential to yield the type of winner it did back in May, when Ricky Stenhouse Jr., went to Victory Lane. If Stenhouse pulls that again today, he will advance to the Round of 8, something I’m sure no one would have put money on earlier this year.

A surprise win by someone like Matt Kenseth or Ryan Blaney, both of whom are outside the top-8 in points, would turn the playoff grid on its head going into an elimination race. That’s fun.

Also, I love the potential for chaos and carnage as much as the next person. Talladega presents that, as well as usually some pretty death-defying racing.

So today’s race should be a fun one. Sit back and enjoy. While you do, here’s some other tidbits to kick around.

Kenseth’s future: Speaking of Kenseth, he is still the most notable name without an announced ride for next season.

The 2003 Cup Series champ is one of the underrated personalities in the garage. When someone asked him Friday what his plans are for next year if he isn’t racing, he flatly replied that he would be a school bus driver.

One ride that he won’t have an opportunity at is Furniture Row Racing’s No. 77, which is currently piloted by the driver replacing Kenseth in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20, Erik Jones. Furniture Row announced this week the No. 77 team will shut down after this season, another blow to an ever-thinning field.

Xfinity shifts: Hidden behind all the craziness of the Cup Series silly season, there has also been quite a bit of shifting going on in the Xfinity garage, which had another couple of moves announced this week.

Joe Gibbs driver Matt Tifft is departing that team for Richard Childress Racing. The 21-year-old driver, who missed part of last season after surgery to remove a brain tumor, will drive the No. 2 for RCR, which was driven by a multitude of drivers this season.

Ostensibly replacing Tifft at JGR is Truck Series rookie Christopher Bell, who will move up to run Xfinity for the Gibbs team. Bell, 22, has won five truck races this year and is leading in points with four races remaining.

Sponsor snafu: Daniel Suarez’s No. 19 Cup car will run the Camping World colors today at Talladega thanks to an odd circumstance.

Suarez’s sponsor today was supposed to be Subway, but that company terminated its agreement with Joe Gibbs Racing after Suarez participated in a television segment this summer passing out Dunkin’ Donuts to fans at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Subway deemed that to be in violation of their sponsorship because it views Dunkin as a rival brand.

After that news broke. Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis tweeted that his company would “take it,” and sure enough, Camping World — which already sponsors the Camping World Truck Series — is on Suarez’s car.

With major sponsors becoming harder to come by, it’s nice to see one the size and stature of Camping World picking up the slack.

PREDICTION

I am 100 percent honest that this is how this pick happened: Opened first practice results. Said I’d pick whoever was seventh-fastest. Wasn’t feeling that guy. Opened May race results. Said I’d pick whoever finished fourth. Same guy.

PICK: Aric Almirola.

Contact Jordan Anders at janders@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 or follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.

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