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Young guns ready to end Junior’s reign at Talladega

Sep 23, 2003 8:18 AM

The "Young Guns" have definitely marked their territory in the 2003 Winston Cup season and likely beyond.

Between Jimmie Johnson (10-1), Ryan Newman (12-1), and Kurt Busch (10-1), they have combined to win 14 of the 28 races this season with another young guy, Matt Kenseth (10-1), leading the points. It seems like ever since the late great Dale Earnhardt passed away, immediately a new era of drivers began and took center stage.

Jamie McMurray (35-1), Greg Biffle (25-1), and Casey Mears (100-1) have that edge that impressed their car owners. Kurt Busch’s little brother, Kyle Busch, had a bidding war on him before he even turned 18. Truck points leader, Brendan Gaughan, has been bottled up by Dodge for hopes of keeping the energetic personable young driver in a Dodge when he becomes a Cup driver.

For me personally, the past trends and figures for each driver at every track lingers and I don’t put as much value into the current status as I should. When has there ever been a season in which five past Winston Cup champions have combined to just five races, one by each driver.

Safe to say... never.

Here would be a great strategy. Every race, except the two-road course and four restrictor plate events, bet Johnson, Newman, and Busch to win all the other races. Let’s just say each of their average odds to win were 8-1, and you wagered $100 on each of them in the 23 described races run. So far, you’d be up $5,700.

It’s hard to leave a Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr, or Jeff Gordon out of any equation to win because we are so accustomed to their great past. Most bettors learned to leave Dale Jarrett out of the equations this year and only bet him when baited by the long odds of 50 or 60-1. It’s likely we will see more of this type of season for the next few years to come.

This week the Winston Cup tour rolls into Talladega Superspeedway, a place that should be called Dale Earnhardt Jr. Superspeedway because of his domination over the last two years. Junior has won the last four races there, elevating himself into territories unseen at the track. Only his father came close to exhibiting the same type of dominance on the biggest, baddest track in the world.

Junior is naturally the favorite at 5-2. Last week at Dover he suffered a concussion, but all should be well again this week for America’s most popular driver. His teammate, Michael Waltrip, comes in as the second choice at 9-2 because of his similar dominance on the other restrictor plate races at Daytona. Between the DEI duo they have won 4 of the last 6 at Daytona to go along with Junior’s amazing run at Talladega.

The one team that may be close or equal to DEI is Richard Childress racing with Kevin Harvick (7-1). Harvick probably should won have the spring race due to Junior passing below the yellow line late in the race. The officials reviewed and determined Junior had to do so to avoid trouble. Nevertheless, Harvick ran a great race and might be the top candidate to break Junior’s streak.

Most of the top candidates to win this week drive for Chevrolet. The one shinning star for Ford is Roush driver Kurt Busch, who three times has finished in the top four at Talladega. In his last two-restrictor plates races, Busch has run into problems. However, this may be the week he turns it around.

Newman and Johnson still have some things to work on with the plates. Of the two, Johnson has had the better performances at Daytona and Talladega.

Gaughan back at LVMS

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck series visits the Las Vegas Motor Speedway this Saturday night in what should be an excellent race led by Las Vegas’ own, Brendan Gaughan. Last week at California, Gaughan stretched his point lead over Travis Kvapil (7-1) to 42 by finishing second to Ted Musgrave (9-2). Musgrave won for the third straight year at California last week and will again be tough to beat this week.

Look for Gaughan to stretch his lead even further this week and get his series leading fifth win. He has several Winston West series wins in the Las Vegas, but a truck series win in front of his home crowd would be his biggest.

For Las Vegas motor sports fans, this Saturday night at the Speedway should be a must-see event. The race starts at 6:30 p.m.