Give some love to Rusty at Talladega

Sep 27, 2005 5:30 AM

If you thought things got shuffled around last week at Dover, wait until you see how things turn upside down this week on the meanest, baddest track in the world, Talladega Superspeedway.

Over 2½ miles of asphalt banked at an evil 33 degrees with just about as many cracks in the surface as the moon. When looking at the track for the first time as a driver, the butterflies fly at a frenzied pace in their stomach. When looking at the track for the first time as a fan, the first thing you think of is how crazy these dare devil drivers are to be jumping into an automobile and running 188 laps around this monstrosity at speeds up to 200 mph.

Some drivers never get the hang of it and it’s quite understandable why. There are two tracks of the NASCAR tour that have to have the engines limited, or restricted, and they’re at Talladega and Daytona.

Daytona is a large track that has it’s own dark past, but still doesn’t present as much initial fear into a driver like Talladega. The Alabama track is much wider with the banking much steeper. The racing sometimes gets five wide and all it takes is for one fidgety driver with a poor spotter to carelessly move one way or another. Not only is your day done, but you can take up to a dozen drivers with you. Things happen fast at Talladega. Drivers go fast, decisions are made fast, and of course, days end fast.

It’s surprising to see some of the names that have never won at Talladega. Part of it is because of the intimidating factor that the track has over some. Rusty Wallace is the final year of his Hall of Fame career (he’s in when the NASCAR HOF is built) and is currently second in points after two races into the chase. However, when it comes to Talladega, Rusty is no more equipped to win than a driver like Tony Raines who barely makes each race.

The great equalizer in this race is nerve. If you’ve ever seen a few of Rusty’s greatest spills over his career, you can see why he prefers the short tracks. His best career finish is fifth in a span of over 43 races.

Right now Rusty is playing the "Chase" game brilliantly. He’s doing what he has to do to stay on the track and finish well, while hoping that some of the other drivers falter. Last week several of the top contenders faltered and opened the door for Wallace. Now the pressure is on for these other drivers to make the daring winning pass in order to get maximum points in a race.

Drivers like Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch are going to have to do some things not normally done to propel them back into the chase. They also become good candidates to win races. Maybe not this week, but later on because of the must win situation.

Jimmie Johnson did the must win thing last season and almost got the job done after being in a severe mess because he went on a massive winning streak down the stretch. He came up short, but it he did get the wins and the bonuses.

While Dale Earnhardt Jr and the organization his father built were going through some internal turmoil, the No. 8 Bud team struggled while Jeff Gordon and a few other Chevy’s took center stage. This will be the last time the greatest Superspeedway team of Junior and Michael Waltrip will be racing as teammates.

From the very day Dale Earnhardt Sr. passed, Waltrip and Junior have dominated Talladega and Daytona like no other before. Dale Jr won this race last season but hasn’t won a restrictor plate race since allowing Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart to take over with the plates on.

The bickering between Waltrip and Junior started when Waltrip started to believe that he was the star of the team and left Dale alone in the draft in a few plate races which enabled Jeff Gordon to win at Talladega and Daytona. Waltrip has had his victories at Daytona and Talladega, but none prior to joining DEI in 2001. The very fact that Waltrip would leave his teammate hung out to dry after all they have done for his career didn’t sit well with Junior or others in the organization. It’s part of what I believe led to the team doing a drastic makeover that went for the worst.

I believe they have some of the pieces put back together that can give them a solid run this week. Both probably will set their differences aside and work as a team in somewhat of a "swan song" for them as teammates. They haven’t said it or mentioned the fact this is their last hurrah together, but I think the two believe they can recreate some magic out there.

Others to watch this week are Kevin Harvick (10-1), Jimmie Johnson (10-1), Scott Riggs (60-1), and Mike Bliss (80-1). They all drive Chevys along with Stewart, Gordon, Waltrip, and Junior.

The top Ford plate performer over the last few recent years has been Kurt Busch (12-1). Going back a few years it would be Dale Jarrett (20-1). Dodge hasn’t had much success with plate races, but the top performing team comes from the Ganassi program led by Casey Mears (40-1) and Jamie McMurray (25-1).

If you noticed, there weren’t too many Chase contenders listed as drivers that have a chance to do well, which leads me back to Wallace (30-1). I think it would great to see Rusty have his best run ever at Talladega, meaning cracking the top 5. His new racing style has kept him out of trouble, which is exactly what it takes at Talladega. Just mash the pedal, drive your line, and stay out of trouble. Good Luck Rusty!