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Sarah Crabill/Getty Images

Martin Truex Jr. leads the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series into the Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday after locking up his bid in the eight-driver semifinals. 

Truex won yet again last week in Charlotte, North Carolina, to kick off the round, relieving himself of the pressure every other driver encounters with Talladega now at the middle of this three-race stretch as opposed to last. 

With last week featuring a few notable wrecks and performances by serious contenders, the drama takes another step up the ladder Sunday as drivers get aggressive while trying to put themselves in a good position before the final race ahead of the cutdown. 

Here’s a look at everything to know about the critical middle stretch. 

          

Viewing Details

Where: Talladega Superspeedway

When: Sunday, 2 p.m. ET

Watch: NBC

Live Stream: NBC Sports

Tickets: StubHub

        

Alabama 500

Martin Truex Jr.
Kyle Larson
Kevin Harvick
Chase Elliott
Denny Hamlin
Kyle Busch
Jimmie Johnson
Jamie McMurray
Matt Kenseth
Brad Keselowski
Ryan Blaney
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Austin Dillon
Kasey Kahne
Ryan Newman
Kurt Busch
Clint Bowyer
Joey Logano
Erik Jones
Daniel Suarez
Trevor Bayne
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Paul Menard
Ty Dillon
Aric Almirola
Chris Buescher
A.J. Allmendinger
Michael McDowell
Danica Patrick
David Ragan
Matt DiBenedetto
Landon Cassill
Cole Whitt
Mark Thompson
Joey Gase
Jeffrey Earnhardt

          

2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Standings

1. Martin Truex Jr. 3106
2. Kyle Larson 3072
3. Kevin Harvick 3069
4. Chase Elliott 3059
5. Denny Hamlin 3056
6. Kyle Busch 3055
7. Jimmie Johnson 3051
8. Jamie McMurray 3044
9. Matt Kenseth 3043
10. Brad Keselowski 3042
11. Ryan Blaney 3039
12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 3034
13. Austin Dillon 2086
14. Kasey Kahne 2074
15. Ryan Newman 2068
16. Kurt Busch 2068
ESPN.com.

             

Drivers to Watch

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 13:  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 SunnyD Ford, drives during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 13, 2017 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Get

Sarah Crabill/Getty Images

It’s now or never for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Stenhouse dominated this track and tracks just like it this year. At the start of May, he won at Talladega Superspeedway after leading all of 14 laps. Later, he shocked again with a win at Daytona to start the month of July off with a bang. 

Now? Stenhouse hasn’t finished better than 13th since the start of August, and he’s flirting with elimination. 

“I feel good about our car going in,” Stenhouse said, according to ESPN.com’s Bob Pockrass. “We built a new one and we feel like it is really good. I feel confident in the car. But you have to have everything play out just right.”

Which isn’t to say Stenhouse has been bad—but the competition has kicked it up a notch for the playoffs, and his team fell a bit behind during the second half of the season. 

With a new car on a track he’s clearly comfortable with, Stenhouse is an underdog with some bite to keep a close eye on throughout Sunday afternoon. 

       

Kyle Busch 

TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 13:  Kyle Busch drives the #18 M&M's Caramel Toyota through the garage area during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 13, 2017 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Chris

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kyle Busch gave everyone a scare last week, not because of his performance on the track itself, but because of his health outright. 

Busch felt sick for about 200 laps last week and wound up wrecking a car that might have been able to steal the checkered flag.

He overheated before the wreck and received medical attention after, as captured by NBC: 


“I’m all right,” Busch said, according to Pockrass. “I’m better now. … It just got so hot, that literally, you felt like you were going to puke and just trying to make it to the end of the race and luckily we did.”

Busch isn’t hurting overall in the standings thanks to the two consecutive wins before the gaffe in Charlotte, but fans should expect an aggressive No. 18 Toyota to try and rediscover that winning form. 

After all, Busch knows as well as anyone left in the running how important consistency is this time of year. 

          

Martin Truex Jr.

TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 13:  Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Toyota, stands in the garage area during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 13, 2017 in Talladeg

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Who can stop Truex?  

The obvious answer seems to be Busch, but given Truex’s season-long form and red-hot dash into the playoffs, the more likely answer is simple—nobody. 

Truex took another checkered flag in Charlotte despite starting 17th, then he dove into the deeper meaning behind his motivation: 


Of course, Truex’s focus now turns to Talladega, the track that ruined his title bid a year ago thanks to an engine failure. Sitting in a cozy position doesn’t have him thinking about letting off the pressure, though. 

“To go there and not have to worry about all those things is definitely a good feeling but, you know, we’ll go there and try to do everything just the way we did this weekend. We want to be the best we can be and we want to get those bonus points,” Truex said, according to FoxSports.com. 

Would it be a surprise if Truex took down another race just because he can and with the thought of last year’s fizzling out on his mind? Probably not. 

It’s up to the rest of the field to stop him.  

             

Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.  



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