NASCAR Playoffs at Talladega picks, odds: Dale Earnhardt Jr. is on the pole

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads back to Talladega Superspeedway for a critical race in the playoffs Round of 12. Anything can happen when 'the big one' strikes on this restrictor-plate track, meaning any driver -- excluding Charlotte winner Martin Truex Jr. -- can see their championship hopes come to a screeching halt within seconds.

A win at Talladega could also propel a driver that wasn't necessarily favored toward a title. With all that being said, here are our picks for the Alabama 500 this Sunday. We will provide you our favorite to win, as well as two playoff drivers that could take the checkered flag. In addition to all that, we have one non-playoff driver that could play spoiler.

Winner: Brad Keselowski

NASCAR: GEICO 500
May 1, 2016; Talladega, AL, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Brad Keselowski celebrates after winning the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. USA TODAY Sports

One can argue that no one has more on the line this weekend than Keselowski. As it stands he is below the cutoff line for the Round of 8 in 10th place and involvement in 'the big one' could potentially devastate Keselowski's hopes of a second NASCAR Cup Series title. However, the fearless Keselowski is no stranger to success at this fast track. In 17 career starts he owns four wins, six top fives, 10 top 10s and a 14.9 average finish. 

The last time Keselowski entered Talladega with the playoffs on the line was 2014. In that win or go home race, the No. 2 driver blocked out all distractions and went on to take the checkered flag to advance. As far as this season goes, Keselowski is relatively due for a win with his last one coming at Martinsville in April. 

A win would also be huge for NASCAR's partnership with Twitter. The company has been broadcasting races live from playoff driver cars since the Round of 16 began. This week it's Keselowski's turn to man the dashboard cam. You can watch here:

Contenders: Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray

NASCAR: GoBowling 400
USA TODAY Sports

Oh yeah we are going there this week with two drivers that are winless this season. Apologies to the regulars, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson, who normally fill this spot but we're going with these restrictor-plate warriors for Talladega. 

As far as Elliott goes, he has all the momentum in the world. His runner-up finish at Charlotte was his second-straight in the playoffs and sixth of his career. No one is more due for a win than this guy. Elliott is no stranger to plate racing either, finishing in the top five last season on this track in addition to securing the Daytona 500 pole both this year and last. NASCAR superstars are made on the biggest stage and Sunday's race on broadcast TV is the perfect place for Elliott to make his mark.

Another interesting choice is Jamie McMurray. Not many people would have expected him to finish in the top five last week after starting the Round of 12 from the bottom spot, but he now sits above the cutline at eighth in the points. Two of McMurray's seven career wins have come at Talladega, including his last one in 2013. 

"I've been fortunate that I've had a lot of people willing to work with me on the track," McMurray explained in an exclusive interview with CBS Sports. "You know you make decisions in split seconds and I've been fortunate that I've made some good decisions. I've also made poor decisions. I don't know, with the plate racing I feel like there's certain people that tend to run well at most of those and I'm fortunate that I'm in that category.

Here is more from our chat with the NASCAR Playoffs driver regarding Talladega, retirement and more:

Spoiler: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR: Geico 500
May 3, 2015; Talladega, AL, USA; Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates his victory in the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. USA TODAY Sports

You must be thinking, how on earth can you say NASCAR's most popular driver is a spoiler. Well that's because he is. With Earnhardt not in the playoffs, his role is essentially to spoil another driver's hopes of clinching the next round. That being said, Junior is starting on the pole and a seventh Talladega triumph in his final full-time season would be legendary. 

The restrictor-plate ace ranks sixth all-time in career superspeedway wins with 10, which in addition to Talladega includes four Daytona wins. NASCAR legends Bobby Allison (10), David Pearson (11), Richard Petty (12), Jeff Gordon (12), Cale Yarborough (12) and his father, the late Dale Earnhardt (13) all have 10 wins or more. 

Never count out Dale Jr., especially at Talladega. To give you a better idea of how much he's loved there, take a look at the gift the track gave him for his final race. It is an exact car from his father's rookie season.

Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway starting lineup

  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  2. Chase Elliott
  3. Joey Logano
  4. Kurt Busch
  5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  6. Brad Keselowski
  7. Clint Bowyer
  8. Jimmie Johnson
  9. Ryan Blaney
  10. Trevor Bayne
  11. Kasey Kahne
  12. Kyle Larson
  13. Danica Patrick
  14. Daniel Suarez
  15. Denny Hamlin
  16. Kyle Busch
  17. Jamie McMurray
  18. Austin Dillon
  19. Matt Kenseth
  20. Paul Menard
  21. Martin Truex Jr.
  22. Kevin Harvick
  23. Erik Jones
  24. AJ Allmendinger
  25. Ty Dillon
  26. Aric Almirola
  27. Ryan Newman
  28. Chris Buescher
  29. Michael McDowell
  30. Landon Cassill
  31. Justin Marks
  32. Matt DiBenedetto
  33. David Ragan
  34. Jeffrey Earnhardt
  35. Brendan Gaughan
  36. Mark Thompson (66-years-old, first start in 25 years)
  37. Joey Gase
  38. Cole Whitt
  39. Gray Gaulding
  40. DJ Kennington

BOLD - indicates NASCAR Playoffs Round of 12 driver

Odds to win the Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

Here are the betting odds for Sunday's race per 5Dimes:

  • Brad Keselowski +900
  • Kyle Busch +900
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. +1100
  • Denny Hamlin +1150
  • Ryan Blaney +1250
  • Clint Bowyer +1250
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr. +1250
  • Joey Logano +1350
  • Kyle Larson +1350
  • Kevin Harvick +1350
  • Martin Truex Jr. +1350
  • Jimmie Johnson +1350
  • Matt Kenseth +1500
  • Kurt Busch +1650
  • Chase Elliott +1650
  • Jamie McMurray +2500
  • Erik Jones +3000
  • Kasey Kahne +3300
  • Ryan Newman +3300
  • Daniel Suarez +3300
  • Austin Dillon +3300
  • Aric Almirola +4400
  • Trevor Bayne +4400
  • Paul Menard +5500
  • Danica Patrick +7150

How to watch the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Alabama 500

Location: Talladega Superspeedway
Date: Sunday, Oct. 15
Time: 2 p.m. ET
Length: 188 laps/500.08 miles
Stage 1: Ends on lap 55
Stage 2: Ends on lap 110
Final stage: Scheduled for lap 188
TV: NBC
Live stream: NBC Sports App

Round of 12 drivers that have won at Talladega:

  • Brad Keselowski (4 wins)
  • Jimmie Johnson (2 wins)
  • Jamie McMurray (2 wins)
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (1 win)
  • Denny Hamlin (1 win)
  • Kevin Harvick (1 win)
  • Kyle Busch (1 win)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Round of 12 standings

POSITION

DRIVER

CAR #

POINTS

BEHIND

WINS

1.

Martin Truex Jr.

78

3106

LEADER

6

2.

Kyle Larson

42

3072

-34

4

3.

Kevin Harvick

4

3069

-37

1

4.

Chase Elliott

24

3059

-47

0

5.

Denny Hamlin

11

3056

-50

2

6.

Kyle Busch

18

3055

-51

4

7.

Jimmie Johnson

48

3051

-55

3

8.

Jamie McMurray

1

3044

-62

0

9.

Matt Kenseth

20

3043

-63

0

10.

Brad Keselowski

2

3042

-64

2

11.

Ryan Blaney

21

3039

-67

1

12.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

17

3034

-72

2

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