Momentum is a funny thing in racing. It's not something that you can see or hear. It's not easy to put your finger on exactly when it starts. But as they say on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit, momentum is everything. Momentum will be critical for...
Momentum is a funny thing in racing. It's not something that you can see or hear. It's not easy to put your finger on exactly when it starts. But as they say on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit, momentum is everything.
Momentum will be critical for the 43 drivers looking for a win this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. To get to victory lane at the high banked 2.66-mile circuit, drivers need to hang onto the lead draft, avoid "the big one" and carry the momentum of the fastest line in the closing laps.
No driver has more momentum heading into Sunday's EA Sports 500 (1:30 Eastern on NBC) than Jeff Gordon. The DuPont Chevrolet pilot has won each of the past two restrictor plate races and rides into Alabama on the wave of two top-10 finishes that has put him in the lead for the Chase for the Championship with eight races left on the calendar.
"We've won the last couple of restrictor plate races so we feel pretty good about (Talladega)," admitted Gordon, who has three career wins at Talladega and is looking to become the first driver since Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 1990 to win three restrictor plate races in one season.
Gordon, and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson, Terry Labonte and Brian Vickers all finished in the top-10 at Daytona in July. The group benefits from a strong engine program and they work well together in the draft.
"I have some great teammates, and we'll work together as much as we can during the course of the race," said Gordon, who is looking for his fifth Cup Series championship. But they have a job to do as well. With five laps to go, I'll have zero friends on the track."
When the Chase for the Championship plan was announced during the off-season, drivers openly questioned how Talladega would affect the outcome of the championship. One bad finish can eliminate a driver from contention and with the tight packs of cars that are a common sight at Talladega, it's easy to get caught up in a wreck.
"There's always that risk that something like that can happen," said Gordon, who leads Kurt Busch by one point in the championship standings. "I think you've got to approach every race weekend the same and get all you can get. To me, it doesn't matter whether you're (at) Talladega, Martinsville, wherever."
Gordon's plan for the weekend is to qualify well and stay at the front of the pack, hoping to avoid "the big one."
"The best way to avoid the big wreck is to be out front or near the lead," Gordon explained. "I'd like to be in the lead pack running single file with everyone else battling two and three-wide behind me. But that rarely happens here because there are 42 other drivers with the same goal, and that's to win."
Gordon knows that he'll need a good finish this weekend to maintain his slim lead in the standings. Eight of the 10 drivers involved in the Chase finished in the top-10 last weekend at Dover. Several of them have also had success at Talladega, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won four straight races from 2001-2003. Mark Martin also has a win while Johnson, Jeremy Mayfield and Elliott Sadler have won poles at Talladega.
"Everybody's got their stuff together," said Gordon, who has five wins this season, the most since 2001 when he won his fourth championship. "I think what you're seeing happen at this point in the season is everybody is in their groove. You normally see that late in the season anyway. The guys that are top-10 in points are usually the guys that are battling for the wins."