If you think Michael McDowell’s unexpected win in this year’s Daytona 500 was like catching lightning in a bottle and that something like it won’t happen again this season, you could be right. Or you could be wrong.
Although the odds are against McDowell or a driver on his level going to Victory Lane this weekend, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility. Talladega is a place where just about anyone can win if all the stars align in their favor. This is largely because, like Daytona, it’s a track where a car’s handling plays almost no role in the outcome. With virtually the entire field being bunched together in a tight pack instead of getting strung out, drivers like McDowell — who compete for smaller teams — are often able to run near the front and mix it up with the big guns of the sport who tend to run near the front almost every weekend. With attrition always playing a key role at Talladega (see #2 above), this also helps drivers who wouldn’t normally contend for a win have an opportunity to do so if they can stay out of trouble.
More than anything, though, winning at Talladega comes down to getting the right push from the right driver at the right time. It wouldn’t be a shock to see someone like Bubba Wallace, Chase Briscoe, Ross Chastain, Matt DiBenedetto or Tyler Reddick become a first-time winner like McDowell did at this year’s Daytona 500. Nor would it be a shock to see McDowell catch lightning in a bottle for the second time.