Longshots worth takings at Talladega

Oct 2, 2007 8:04 AM

This week we have a restrictor plate race on the meanest, baddest track in the world, the Talladega Superspeedway.

The two races a year are traditionally some of the more anticipated races of the season because they are so unique. Daytona has a Superspeedway that requires a restrictor plate as well, but the racing is not as intense as Talladega. Seeing drivers go four wide in the turns and straights throughout the race is not uncommon.

They go side by side in bumper to bumper traffic for 500 miles where the slightest error in driving can send half the field to the body shop for repairs. Wrecks are one of the reasons many like the ’Dega races so much, but for me it’s simply knowing the consequences that makes it so exciting.

These drivers are on the brink of danger like no other car race in the world. It’s sort of like what made Evil Knievel such a draw; the danger that a daredevil is willing to endure for the sake of entertainment. For the daredevil, there likely is no better rush than to succeed at those speeds and defy the probabilities.

The biggest change in restrictor plate racing since the actual restrictor plate was placed on the engines occurs this week at Talladega when the "Car of Tomorrow" makes its debut in plate racing. Thus far into the season, the COT has only taken on the short tracks and the road courses. The biggest track the COT has raced on was the 1.33 mile track of Darlington raceway. They haven’t even begun to tackle the cookie cutter tracks, yet they feel the need to wrestle with the toughest track on the planet.

A few weeks ago in preparation for this COT Talladega race, all the teams brought their primary and backup cars for a two day test session. They did some single car runs and then did a lot of draftingl. The COT ran similar speeds to what the "Old" car did in the April Talladega race. The single car speeds and draft times were slower but not much. This appears to mean the great type of plate racing we all like should not be altered. There also may be some kind of ease that enters a driver’s mind when they race at close to 200 mph knowing they are driving in the safest Stock car ever built.

When attempting to break down the race and figure out who your top candidates to win are, you have to start with the drivers restrictor plate history, mix in Talladega by itself, how evolved a teams COT program is, and then check out those test times from last month.

Each and every one of those categories leads us to Hendrick Racing, in particular Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Since 2004, the Dynamic Duo have combined to win 7 plates races at Daytona and Talladega. They finished 1-2 in the first ”˜Dega race this season so how could look anywhere else? Gordon has five career wins on the track with Johnson one to his credit. If we look at the COT program, these two are the official COT poster boys.

No two drivers have a better combined average COT finish than Gordon and Johnson. As for their testing last month, not so special.

They have everything going for them except those test times. Why wouldn’t they want to go as fast as they can in their new cars? Why wouldn’t they want to see how close the aerodynamics of their new car is to their old ones that dominated for the last three seasons of plate racing? This is an entirely new realm to deal with when dissecting through all the data, and that is simply just the unknown.

We learned real quick that there were two teams, Gibbs and Hendrick, who were far superior in the COT than the other teams when we last discussed the unknown. That was prior to the Bristol race in March. Both Gibbs and Hendrick still have the great plate racing engines, but the actual racing still has me thinking after everything that someone new will rise in the plate racing winner’s fraternity.

                  ROBERTS Top 5

                 AT TALLADAGA

1. #1   Martin Truex Jr  18/1
2. #11   Denny Hamlin 18/1
3. #20   Tony Stewart  6/1
4. #24   Jeff Gordon 5/1
5. #2   Kurt Busch 14/1
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