|This could be a major danger zone for Johnson this week (Getty)|
No fall Talladega winner has gone on to become the NASCAR Sprint Cup champion during the Chase era. And ‘Dega has ruined the hopes of many. A top-10 finish – no easy task – is the goal for members of the Chase field this weekend.
Two streaks are on the line. Spring Talladega winner and points leader Brad Keselowski bids for a season sweep, the first at the track since 2007. And Clint Bowyer tries to win the track’s fall race for the third straight year. He won in 2010 as a Chase driver; a year ago as a "spoiler."
Jimmie Johnson’s run at a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup title could hinge on this week’s race. Johnson, who trails Keselowski by five points, has yet to record a restrictor-plate finish in three tries this season and was 26th at ‘Dega in last year’s fall race.
Hard to believe but 16 consecutive weekends of racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series effectively settled nothing. When the three-plus month odyssey began in mid-June Elliott Sadler led reigning champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. by 12 points with Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Austin Dillon trailing by 14 in third. And now? After multiple twists, turns and lead changes it’s Sadler by 9 over Stenhouse with Dillon 25 points out. Five races remain on the schedule beginning with a "hometown" event on Oct. 13 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Kyle Busch Motorsports has entered a two-truck tandem for the first time this season with Kurt Busch in the team’s No. 18 Toyota and NASCAR Mexico champion German Quiroga.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 Truly A Wild Card Chase Race
This is "wild card" weekend to say the least. Chase qualifier or not, anyone in the 43-car field is a contender for Talladega Superspeedway’s checkered flag. Since the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ began in 2004, four of the eight fall Talladega winners – Dale Jarrett, Brian Vickers, Jamie McMurray and Clint Bowyer – came from outside the Chase field. The eventual NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has never won the fall Talladega race in the Chase era.
Seven of this year’s 12 Chase qualifiers (Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon) have a ‘Dega victory. Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex Jr., Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth are still looking for one. A member of this year’s Chase field has won 10 of the past 13 races at Talladega Superspeedway.
Points Leader Keselowski Bids For ’Dega Season Sweep
Some drivers regard Talladega Superspeedway with trepidation. Not NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader Brad Keselowski, winner of the track’s spring race earlier this year and in 2009, when he scored his first of nine series victories. Keselowski, who scored Chase win No. 2 on Sunday at Dover International Speedway, leads Jimmie Johnson by five points entering the fourth round of the post season. Denny Hamlin is 16 points behind Keselowski in third place. A victory would make Keselowski the first to sweep both Talladega races since Jeff Gordon in 2007.
Talladega Could Be Springboard To Bowyer’s First NSCS Title
This is Clint Bowyer’s first Chase as a member of Michael Waltrip Racing and he’s hanging tough – fourth in the standings, 25 points out of the lead. History suggests this may be the week that Bowyer goes all the way to the top as the Kansan bids for a third consecutive victory in Talladega’s fall race. Bowyer won as a Chase qualifier in 2010. He missed the post season a year ago but repeated as the winner of the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500. Bowyer’s five most recent starts have produced five of his seven top-10 Talladega finishes.
Johnson’s ’Dega Stats Aren’t Great But He’s Solid When It’s Counted Most
Talladega stands statistically as Jimmie Johnson’s worst-performing track based on his Driver Rating of 81.5. Johnson, however, has won twice at ‘Dega, most recently in the spring of 2011. Johnson has performed at the 2.66-mile superspeedway when it counted most with top-10 Chase finishes in four of his five championship seasons. The exception was 2006 when Johnson was swept up in a final-lap accident, finished 24th but still came back to claim his first NSCS title. He was 26th a year ago when the championship streak ended. Johnson has been snake-bitten to say the least in 2012 restrictor-plate races with finishes of 42nd, 35th and 36th.
Critical Race For Biffle, Kenseth Where Fords Lacked In Recent Years
Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth held the NASCAR Sprint Cup points lead 21 times during this year’s regular season. Now they’re 11th and 12th respectively in Chase standings and on the brink of elimination after just three races. Talladega offers at least hope. Kenseth, the Daytona 500 winner, finished third in the track’s spring race with Biffle close behind in fifth place. Both drivers need a victory in the worst way and so does Ford, a winner just twice in the track’s most recent 27 races.
McMurray, Burton Take This Week’s ‘Chase Spoiler’ Roles
This hasn’t been Jamie McMurray’s season to say the least – just three top-10 finishes and none since early June. Yet McMurray goes to the post at Talladega as one of the favorites based upon his knack for finishing well at both Daytona and Talladega. McMurray was the last Ford driver to win at Talladega (fall 2009) and is both a Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola champion in Daytona. Another not-so-dark horse is Jeff Burton, who finished 10th in Talladega’s spring event and second to Bowyer in last fall’s Chase race. Bowyer claims Talladega’s best Driver Rating of 90.7 and has made more Green Flag Passes (4,048) than any other competitor.