Talladega, AL (SportsNetwork.com) - When the Sprint Cup Series competes at Talladega Superspeedway in the spring and then again in the fall, just about everyone in the starting field has a chance to win the race.
There have been seven different winners in the first nine Sprint Cup races this season, and Sunday's 500-mile event at Talladega could feature an eighth different winner in 2015, or perhaps a first-time winner in the series.
Kevin Harvick (Las Vegas and Phoenix), Jimmie Johnson (Atlanta and Texas), Joey Logano (Daytona), Brad Keselowski (Fontana, California), Denny Hamlin (Martinsville), Matt Kenseth (Bristol) and Kurt Busch (Richmond) have all won a race this season and therefore virtually guaranteed themselves a spot in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
One year ago, Hamlin punched his ticket into the Chase with a victory at Talladega. He grabbed the lead from Harvick following the last restart with just two laps to go and then held off Greg Biffle before the race ended under caution when Justin Allgaier crashed on the final lap. It was the first time Hamlin had won a points-paying race at a restrictor-plate track (Daytona and Talladega).
"Our (restrictor) plate program has really been our strong suit over the last few years," Hamlin said. "I have learned some things over the last few plate races that have helped, and we have had really good cars in the draft. Last year at Talladega, we finally got our first plate win, and it was big for our team. It obviously gave us a Chase berth and a lot of momentum. This year hopefully, we can get another win there to get more bonus points. It's all about winning for us."
It was Hamlin's only victory during the 2014 season. He snapped a 31-race winless streak on March 29 at Martinsville.
Two weeks ago, Kenseth ended his 51-race winless drought at Bristol, and Kurt Busch's losing streak of 38 races stopped last weekend at Richmond.
The following Sprint Cup regulars have won at least one race during their careers in the series but have not scored a victory in more than a year: Trevor Bayne (winless in his last 65 starts), Greg Biffle (66), Clint Bowyer (86), Jamie McMurray (49), Casey Mears (269), Paul Menard (133), Ryan Newman (61), David Ragan (71), Tony Stewart (50) and Martin Truex Jr. (65).
Bowyer and McMurray have each won at Talladega twice.
Bowyer's victories here occurred in the fall 2010 and '11 events. Four years ago, he crossed the finish line only 0.002 seconds behind winner Johnson. The margin of victory for that race is tied with the March 2003 event at Darlington, won by Ricky Craven, as the closest finishes since the start of electronic timing and scoring in NASCAR.
"There's so much that goes into a good run at Talladega," Bowyer said. "You have to have a fast car, first and foremost, but you have to put it in the right situation. Even if you don't have the fastest car, if you have the fastest car behind you, you can still win the race. There's a lot of chess going on. There's a lot of situational awareness - knowing where you're at, putting yourself in that situation."
McMurray's wins at this track happened in the fall 2009 and '13 races.
The following Sprint Cup regulars have yet to win a race: Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett, Alex Bowman, Jeb Burton (rookie season), Landon Cassill, Austin Dillon, David Gilliland, Sam Hornish Jr., Kyle Larson, Brett Moffitt (rookie season), Danica Patrick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Cole Whitt and Josh Wise.
Last year, Patrick led a total of six laps in the spring race at Talladega and seven laps in the fall event there. She finished 22nd (spring) and 19th (fall). Patrick started on the pole and finished eighth in the 2013 Daytona 500, leading five laps in that race.
"The cool thing about superspeedways is that anybody can win," Patrick said. "It's a toss-up, what's going to happen. So that's why it's fun for me because somebody like me has a chance."
Jeff Gordon, in his final season in NASCAR's premier series, leads all active drivers with six race wins at Talladega. Gordon has also scored 15 top-five finishes, 19 top-10s and three poles in 44 starts there.
"Restrictor-plate racing is a white-knuckle experience where we race in big packs while trying to avoid the 'big one' - the big wreck that collects a lot of race cars," Gordon said. "It's hectic. It's physical. It's mental."
Forty-five teams are on the entry list for the GEICO 500.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, May 3. Race: GEICO 500. Site: Talladega Superspeedway. Track: 2.66-mile oval. Start time: 1 p.m. ET. Laps: 188. Miles: 500. 2014 Winner: Denny Hamlin. Television: FOX. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.