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Earnhardt Jr still masters Talladega’s wild speeds

Oct 1, 2002 8:46 AM

The last few weeks of NASCAR Winston Cup racing have been a highlighted feature because of the sensational race and chase for the championship.

Despite the weekly races on tracks that don’t produce the most exciting action on the circuit, the added value of a title at stake has made each special for the drivers and fans. Not since 1992 has there been a chase this close late in the season.

At this juncture last year, Jeff Gordon had a lead of over 300 points, which left little drama. This season 10 drivers are within 300 points of new points leader Jimmie Johnson and eight are less than 200 behind. No lead is safe. Three drivers have led the points battle over the last four races.

This week’s event at Talladega will surely have an influence on the standings because at least once, there will be a pile-up involving several cars that could turn the standings upside down. The maximum amount of points awarded is 185 for each race. The lowest is 34. That means that seventh place Ryan Newman, with a win, could conceivably be in the lead next week.

Based on what we’ve seen with leaders Sterling Marlin and Mark Martin over the last four weeks, it is a distinct possibility.

Johnson (10-1) sat on the pole and finished an impressive seventh in the spring. Talladega race. The fastest track in NASCAR has usually given the younger drivers some trouble. Ryan Newman (14-1) finished last in the spring race, his poorest performance of the season. The required drafting and calculated maneuvering by drivers at Talladega is thought by most to be a learned skill, but some have caught on quicker than others.

The favorite, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (7-2), learned his skills and secrets from the master of the draft, his father. While others have taken their time to learn how to drive restrictor plate races, Junior has stepped it up a level. The late Dale Earnhardt won 10 times at Talladega over his great career.

Junior won the spring race, his second straight Talladega victory. Ever since the passing of his father last year at Daytona, Junior has been on a mission on the super-speedways. Over the last two seasons, no one is better on the restrictor plate races than Junior. His bloodlines are a contributing factor to natural instincts, but Michael Waltrip (8-1) proves equipment also matters. In four of the last seven restrictor plate races, the duo has finished first and second.

Waltrip has only two wins over his 17-year career, both coming with restrictor plates in the past two seasons. Chevy has won the last seven Talladega races with five of the winners named Earnhardt.

Based on Station Casinos odds, only Waltrip and Junior are below 10-1. That gives tremendous value to all the other drivers in race. But, in reality, the DEI duo will be hard to beat.

Last week’s winner in Kansas, Jeff Gordon (10-1), along with Tony Stewart (10-1) and Dale Jarrett (11-1) are underdogs that will be within striking distance to win the race.

For matchup players, the super-speedways always produce the most uncertain selections. In a normal pre-race betting pattern, it’s plain to see the moves on drivers are always those who qualify higher.

Lines move sometimes more than 80 cents based on a massive onslaught of wagers on the usual drivers. On a Superspeedway, most of that logic goes out the window. The books get some of their best wins of the season on these tracks. It only takes one lap for the pole sitter to get swallowed up in the middle lane while others in a train of cars pass and leave an unsuspecting driver 20 to 30 positions behind.

The best thinking for Superspeedway matchups may be to rely on past performance.

Gaughan favored at LVMS

Station books released the odds to win the Las Vegas 350 Craftsman Truck series race with local driver Brendan Gaughan listed as the 9-2 favorite. Next on the list are Ted Musgrave (5-1), Mike Bliss (6-1), and David Starr (7-1).

Gaughan was placed as the favorite because of his consistent success on the 1.5 mile ovals such as Texas and practicing fast on a regular basis at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The Las Vegas race is scheduled for a 2 p.m. start Sunday, Oct. 13, and will be televised live on ESPN.

Matchups and props will be available next week.