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CUP: Can Fords Repeat Daytona Magic?

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Since 1999, Talladega Superspeedway has been strictly Chevrolet country, but that could change in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup race.

In the last 26 races at the high-banked 2.66-mile superspeedway, Chevys have won 22 times, including the last four races. The other four races featured two victories each by Fords and Toyotas, with the last Dodge Talladega victory coming in 1976, when Dave Marcis won.

That said, Ford’s restrictor-plate program — or at least Roush Fenway Racing’s plate program — has made huge strides in the last couple of years. At the season-opening Daytona 500, Roush driver Matt Kenseth won the race with teammates Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards finishing third and eighth, respectively. Last year, Fords swept the top three spots in the 500 with a huge upset victory for Trevor Bayne.

On Saturday at Talladega, five of the top 10 qualifiers were Fords, with Richard Petty Motorsports teammates Marcos Ambrose and AJ Allmendinger slotting in third and fourth, respectively, and Biffle sixth, Edwards seventh and Kenseth 10th.

More importantly, the cooling systems in Ford’s FR9 engine are regarded as the best of the four manufacturers who compete in the Cup series. And with NASCAR introducing restrictive restrictor-plate track cooling rules this year in an attempt to break up the two-car drafts, the Ford teams could be positioned for a big day on Sunday.

“I hope our cars are as good as they have been on the speedways,” said Edwards, who is looking to break a 42-race winless streak. “That has been a strong point for us which historically we all know we have struggled at some of these places. To sit on the front row at Daytona and come here with the same attitude and same cars, this could be good.”

Kenseth, who has now won two Daytona 500s, isn’t someone normally thought of as an elite plate-track racer, but even he is excited about Sunday’s race.

“It is probably the most I have ever looked forward to coming to Talladega other than the first time I came here,” said Kenseth, third in points behind Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. “Obviously we liked the rules package in Daytona and made it work pretty good company wide with Greg and Carl on the front row (in Daytona 500 qualifying) and our car seemed real fast in the race. Anything can happen here, so who knows.”

Still, at a restrictor-plate track there are no givens. Anything can happen at any time, as Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick and Bayne found out earlier this year when they got crashed out of the Daytona 500 after completing just a single lap.

“You can get wrecked on Lap 1 and you never know,” said Kenseth. “Knowing that our cars were fast at Daytona it makes you look forward to coming here a little bit more.”

Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.