NASCAR Talladega 2013: Will there be another surprise winner Sunday?

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

With the draft acting as the great equalizer, no track in NASCAR levels the playing field like Talladega.

The popular refrain is that the draft is a great equalizer and the list of surprise winners at Talladega Superspeedway certainly proves this adage to be true.

Because NASCAR mandated restrictor-plates to limit the amount of air reaching the engine at Talladega and its sister track, Daytona International Speedway, drivers lack the horsepower to separate themselves from one another. This in turn creates large packs of cars racing inches apart.

"I know I feel very comfortable and confident on these tracks"-Danica Patrick

A side effect of the draft is a dramatic reduction in the gap between the big-money teams and the rest of the garage that is often left to fight for table scraps.

Nowadays, the litany of intermediate tracks that makeup the Sprint Cup schedule rarely produces a surprise winner in NASCAR's premiere division. This, however, does not apply at Talladega or Daytona, both which have a history of producing unexpected victors.

Case in point what happened in the May Talladega race.

Driving for Front Row Motorsports, a small two-car team with limited funding and resources, David Ragan was pushed to Victory Lane by his teammate David Gilliland. It was the organization's first win and continued the underdog trend which includes Brad Keselowski's memorable Talladega win in 2009 and Trevor Bayne's improbable 2011 Daytona 500 victory.

"We feel like we are at more of a level playing field when the draft is in play and everyone is in the same pack," Ragan said Friday at Talladega.

That level playing field also rewards drivers who may be lacking in the experience department. Since 1969 when Talladega first opened its doors, the track has seen 10 drivers collect their maiden victory, and six of those drivers never again visited the winner's circle in NASCAR's top division.

One such driver who might be poised for breakthrough Sunday is Danica Patrick.

Despite an uneven rookie season that has seen her post an average finish of 26.2 with no result better than 20th in her last 13 starts, Patrick has shown an aptitude for plate racing.

"There is a certain level of it that of course is a little bit of a crapshoot, but there are patterns," Patrick said. "I would say that one of my patterns is that they tend to be better races for me and that find a way to the front for a majority of the race. Hopefully this will be another one of those."

At Daytona in February, Patrick started on the pole, ran upfront all afternoon and was running third on the final lap before inexperience got the best of her and she slid back to eighth. And though she crashed out of the spring Talladega, Patrick rebounded with a 14th in a return trip to Daytona.

With a better understanding of how to negotiate the draft, Patrick is enthusiastic about her chances.

"I know I feel very comfortable and confident on these tracks," she said. "What I would like is for having good races to not be a surprise and especially on these speedways to really not be as they have been something that I've been comfortable and had good results at obviously from the beginning."

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