NASCAR’s Chase comes to Talladega this week

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As if last week’s race at Charlotte didn’t shuffle things up enough in NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship, we get the ultimate wild card race at Talladega this week.

Every driver has a chance to win and each has also the same chance at finishing 30th or worse. Only five races are left and after Sunday’s race, things should be a lot clearer.

The big story last week was Jimmie Johnson crashing late in the Charlotte race giving him a 34th-place finish and dropping him five positions to eighth in points, 35 points behind Carl Edwards. We can never count JJ out, but he’s in a position unlike any we’ve seen him in over the last five years of winning championships.

Johnson comes to Talladega this week hoping to match his victory from the first race there in April.

For Edwards, he can probably taste the victory champagne already as he continues to have excellent finishes week after week. He has Las Vegas as his only victory on the season, but his consistency is what has gotten him to the top. He currently leads all drivers in top-five (16) and Top-10 finishes (22).

Roush drivers have proven to be better in the restrictor-plate races over the last two seasons, but Edwards looks to have a slim chance at finishing well. In 14 career races at Talladega he has only one to-five finish there, fifth in 2005. If he can duplicate his sixth-place finish from April, he will consider it a victory and be in prime position to capture the championship with four races to go.

The driver currently five points back in second-place that no one seems to be talking about is Kevin Harvick. He’s tied with Kyle Busch for the most wins on the season with 4, but hasn’t garnered the attention deserved for such an outstanding season.

This week at Talladega, he’ll be one of the favorites because he’s shown to be one of the more consistent drivers over his last three races there. He won and finished runner-up in 2010 and then finished fifth in this year’s race.

The driver sneaking up on everyone is 2003 NASCAR Champion Matt Kenseth who won last week’s race, his third of the season. He’s only seven points behind and has put together four straight races coming in that has seen him finish sixth or better.

Kenseth is in the same boat as his teammate Edwards in that he hasn’t had a lot of success at Talladega. If he could muster a top-10 finish it would go along way for the stretch run. His last top-10 at Talladega came in 2006.

Dale Earnhardt Jr, becomes a player this week because it’s a plate race. He’s a five-time winner at Talladega, but that was a long, long time ago, almost as long as his last win, period. Despite not winning since 2004, he has shown some consistency.

This type of racing is in his blood. He finished fourth in the April race and was runner-up in 2009. This could be the ideal situation for him to end several winless streaks all at once.

One of the greatest things I like about this year’s restrictor-plate racing, beyond cars going close to 200 mph, is the tandem racing. I like seeing teammates working together or drivers who don’t really like each other learning to trust one another as they create an impromptu alliance because they have to in the moment.

It’s a nice change of pace and adds some spice to the 36 race season.

What we have seen for the most part is teammates finding each other regardless if it means losing a few positions while waiting for their partner to catch up.

The Hendrick drivers all figure to pair-up, as will Roush and RCR. Where it gets fun is when a driver’s partner has fallen out of the race and now they have to see who finds them attractive and is willing to give up on their current alliance.

It’s all about who is fastest paired up. Some drivers are better as pushers than pullers in the draft and after three races in this type of format, most teams have their plan B and C options knowing who will be the best option for them when plan A goes crashing, and it usually does.

 

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