Fear...trust...anxiety...luck. All these factors at one time or another come out in racing. Fear of the risk of crashing, trusting your team to make the right calls, anxiety of having a rough day, and luck to be in the right place at the right time.
But this weekend, NASCAR is putting all those aspects into one race, and it's going to take the luck of winning a huge lottery jackpot to make sure everyone survives this race.
A track that towers above all the others on the circuit, both in length and banking. It puts trust not only in the team, but the surrounding drivers.
It's an experience that some drivers wish wasn't part of the schedule, but it's one that must be faced at some point.
Simply put, THIS IS TALLADEGA.
At a staggering 2.66-miles in length, and banked 33 degrees in the corners, it stands alone as the biggest and possibly scariest track in NASCAR. Drivers have so much out of their control that often it's luck that creates the winner, as one Brad Keselowski knows first hand. At the same time, the luck factor has seen the calmest of races, as in three going caution-free.
Trying to pick a winner at a restrictor-plate track is almost like trying to pick the numbers in Mega-Millions. But, somehow the 12 writers in the pool have managed to do so.
Here's who their hoping survives and takes the victory in the Aaron's 499:
Misan Akuya: Jamie McMurray
McMurray was 24th in points after Martinsville. Since then he has climbed six spots to 18th. While that is still not where McMurray wants to be, progress is being made with the Earnhardt Ganassi shop,
and he is in chase contention if he can get a win. And Talladega is one of the track coming up he can certainly win at.
Known for his plate racing skills, McMurray has lead nearly 200 laps at Talladega including the most laps on multiple trips, and won the fall race in 2009. McMurray needs something to get his season really in gear and another win would really do it.
James Broomhead: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
For all that my full opinion of his talents would make me wildly unpopular here, can race on plate tracks and has a string of top fives, even when results elsewhere have been somewhat worse, to prove it.
I’m not saying he’ll finally get the win that his massive fanbase, which will doubtless be in full voice this weekend, desire, but, on a weekend where trying to pick a winner is life trying to herd cats blindfolded, Junior might be a sure as things get.
Kelly Crandall: Clint Bowyer
No reason given.
Billy Fellin: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Talladega is such a crap shoot but he's had success there and coming off a 2nd at Richmond, this team is soo close to a win.
Michael Hirshbein: Kyle Busch
No reason given.
Christopher Leone: Clint Bowyer
I'm fully aware I've signed a warrant for him crashing on something like lap 20 by saying that, but whatever. It's worth a shot.
Kara Martin: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
He's already been pretty constant so far this season (for once in a great long while), now it's time for a win!
Ryan O'Hara: Jeff Gordon
Since everyone is going to crash. Screw it.
Dustin Parks: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
At this point last year, and even in 2010, I simply just couldn't pull the trigger on picking this man. But, after how well this team has performed this season, yes I said TEAM, I'm going for it. This young man doesn't have to worry about hanging back all day and teaming with someone to get to the front, at least not at the beginning of the race.
The pack racing is what suits Junior the best when the plates go on the car, and he's peaking at the right time.
Only one part could make this the perfect weekend if he were to win; if this race was last weekend. Last Sunday would have been his father's 61st birthday...would have been the best way to celebrate.
Still, better late than never.
Patti Rodisch: Tony Stewart
He has had a lot of success at Talladega in the past. He is one of the best a drafting and with the pack back; Stewart is a very real threat to win this race. We know anyone can win this race but you have to keep yourself in position at the end.
Smoke is very good at working the draft and keeping his car in one piece so he has a chance at the win. He has one win that came in the fall race but his nine top fives and 13 top 10's make him a solid pick for Sunday.
With the pack back, the rules package different from the last time we were here in the fall; this race could be one of the craziest races of the season, and smoke will rise!
Sal Sigala Jr: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
This race has Earnhardt's name written all over it. He has the momentum and the team seems to be clicking on all eight cylinders.
This will probably be my do or die pick for the season even though its still early.
Rob Tiongson: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
If Jimmy Spencer never forgets, let's hope that Jimmie Johnson never forgets either because he does owe Dale Earnhardt Jr. a win here at Talladega.
Last spring, the 48 car got a huge push from the 88 on the last lap, ultimately ending Jeff Gordon's bid for another win at Dega. Might the situations reverse?
Results following Richmond:
James Broomhead (330) Kyle Busch WON (1)
Billy Fellin (324) Denny Hamlin finished 4th (2)
Rob Tiongson (323) Kyle Busch WON (3)
Sal Sigala Jr. (320) Kyle Busch WON (1)
Misan Akuya (318) Jeff Gordon finished 23rd (1)
Kara Martin (315) Kyle Busch WON (1)
Christopher Leone (312) Clint Bowyer finished 7th (0)
Kelly Crandall (294) Denny Hamlin finished 4th (1)
Dustin Parks (272) Kyle Busch WON (1)
Patti Rodisch (267) Jeff Gordon finished 23rd (0)
Michael Hirshbein (263) Kyle Busch WON (1)
Ryan O'Hara (262) Denny Hamlin finished 4th (0)
Final Thoughts: This is one race that some drivers dread, others enjoy, and fans highly anticipate. The fear of the big wreck is constant at every corner, every lap, and every touch of a tire on metal. Some fans that visit the track earn a respect for the style of racing that occurs, but know the dangers. Others simply refuse to go because they don't want to see the risk of an airborne car causing mass destruction.
As safe as the cars are in today's racing, the fear factor continues to hold true the moment the green flag goes in the air.
The team at FOX will have the call beginning at Noon ET.
Summary of Picks:
Dale Earnhardt Jr-6