Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Amp Energy 500 Talladega Preview: Time for Kurt Busch to Win!
by Micah Roberts
This weeks race takes us to Talladega Superspeedway where anything can and usually does happen. Because of the volatile nature of the track, Jimmie Johnson will have to tread gingerly through the race because this is likely the only track of the four remaining that could spoil his efforts in becoming the only driver to win four straight Cup titles.
Should Johnson finish 30th like he did in the spring and Mark Martin, who is second in points, win the race, Martin would find himself only one point out of first place in the Chase for the Championship. If Martin were to lead the most laps he would be four points ahead with three races remaining.
All the drivers who are in striking distance will let it all hang out in this race. Included in the group who could really makes things interesting down the stretch that are hoping for similar Johnson results this time around are Martin, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart.
Jeff Gordon is a six time winner at Talladega and swept the season in 2007. Despite having poor finishes in his last two attempts at this beast of a track, not many see the draft better.
Stewart won this race last season, the first Talladega win of his career after placing 2nd six different times over his career. In his first run with his new team this year he finished 23rd, but in his last restrictor plate race he won at Daytona.
The likely strategy for Johnson will be to lay back for much of the race keeping all the action in front of him. With about 10 laps to go we’ll see Johnson press forward and make some moves to avoid finishing too poorly. Johnson would gladly take the ninth he had in this race last season during the Chase and move on to Texas, a place where he a little more control in the outcome.
Among the more impressive plate programs the last two seasons has been Fenway-Roush Racing’s Fords. It used to be all about cookie cutters for this team and they did a complete reversal this season with Matt Kenseth winning Roush’s first Daytona 500 ever. In the process, their cookie cutter program has suffered, most notably Carl Edwards who still doesn‘t have a win this season after netting nine in 2008.
Carl Edwards looked to be on his way to getting Roush’s first Talladega win in the spring since Mark Martin won in 1997, but he ended up in the fence with only a few yards to go in one of the more spectacular crashes you’ll ever see.
“We’re going back to Talladega and we really have nothing to lose at this point in the Chase so we’ll just go for it and try to get a win,” said Edwards. “I’ve heard they raised the fences so that is good. You never like to come back and see a new fence because of you. Our team has
worked hard on our restrictor-plate package and it’s pretty good. Maybe we’ll partner up with somebody like we did last time and make it to the finish line this time to finally get a win at one of these places. That would be a blast.”
Edwards is like many of the Chase drivers who have given up any chance of winning after not performing well up to this point and is just looking for a positive to end the season.
Kyle Busch fit’s a profile similar to Edwards coming in where he is just racing for momentum to carry over into 2010. It’s safe to say that over the last 2 seasons of plate racing, no one has been better than Busch, not in just mere results, but actually having the best car. While with Joe Gibbs, Busch has been dominant in the plate races of Daytona and Talladega.
The best statistical driver at Talladega over the last eight seasons is Kurt Busch. He is without a doubt the best plate racer never to win a plate race. At Talladega in 17 starts he has an average finish of 12.1. In the spring, he raced very well with a chance to win and settled for sixth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr battled strong for the win in the spring and settled for second as the Edwards flip happened right in front of him. This looks like a great opportunity for Junior, who has won five times at Talladega, to get his first win of the season. With all the trouble he’s had this season amid all the mounting pressure of not running well considering the team he drives for, there might not be a better story to root for then seeing him win. His odds to win the race are at 10 to 1 or higher which presents some good value for a driver that should be in the lead pack.
After Bred Keselowski won the spring race at 100 to 1 odds, it should serve as notice that anyone can win this race. A nice long shot this week could be Jeff Burton who gets Todd Berrier as his crew this week and knows how to get a car set real good for plate racing as evident by Harvick‘s great runs including winning the Daytona 2007.
"Honestly, I think this will be one of our best chances ever to win a race at Talladega, Burton said. “Over the past year and a half, everyone back at the shop has worked extremely hard on taking things to the next level, including our engine department. We’ve seen a big difference in our horsepower when it comes to our superspeedway engines and I think we’ll be able to put our best stuff forward this weekend. Back in April, our Caterpillar Chevy was extremely fast. We ended up going three laps down because he had to change an alternator but was lucky enough to get those laps back and then fought our way to finish 10th. In the past, I can honestly tell you that I don’t think I’ve ever been to Talladega with a car fast enough to win a race. My strategy was to always try to get reasonable finishes out of it because I didn’t think I was good enough to win. I think that will be different this time."
With the front pack of drivers likely to have about 15 to 20 shuffling around for the final three laps, it might be a good idea to shop around a few long shots that have shown some kind of knack for the plate races. A driver in a Richard Childress car isn’t a bad place to begin.
Top 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #2 Kurt Busch (12/1)
2) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr (10/1)
3) #14 Tony Stewart (10/1)
4) #18 Kyle Busch (7/1)
5) #31 Jeff Burton (30/1)