Talladega II: Series round 33 preview

* Talladega: The Definitive 'Wild Card' In The Chase * 'Boys, Have At It' May Carry Over To High Banks * Harvick Looks For Talladega Sweep Talladega: The Definitive 'Wild Card' In The Chase You need only look back a year for proof that this ...

* Talladega: The Definitive 'Wild Card' In The Chase
* 'Boys, Have At It' May Carry Over To High Banks
* Harvick Looks For Talladega Sweep

Talladega: The Definitive 'Wild Card' In The Chase

You need only look back a year for proof that this Sunday's AMP Energy Juice 500 at Talladega Superspeedway truly is the wild card in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

The race doomed Mark Martin's (No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet) chances to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup title -- literally in the last half mile. The final lap accident didn't guarantee Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) a fourth championship but it went a long way toward providing a significant points cushion over his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, who had entered the race trailing by 118 points.

"I'm running sixth on the track, he's (Martin) running seventh coming to the checkered flag," recalled Johnson. "His car gets hit, he gets hit, he is upside down. I'm just one spot ahead of him. I finish the race (and) get a bunch of points."

Had Martin finished on Johnson's rear bumper, he'd actually have gained points on his rival through the lap leader bonus. Instead, he lost a title-crushing 66 points.

Only Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet), among the 12 Chase qualifiers, has finished every Talladega race he's started -- 19. Johnson has failed to finish seven of 17 starts, while Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota), who'll be making his 10th trip to NASCAR's fastest track, has two DNFs.

There are no guarantees at Talladega excepting that fans likely will be standing throughout the entire 188-lap distance -- or longer, if last year's green-white-checker finish is repeated.

April's Aaron's 499 set NASCAR Sprint Cup records for most leaders (29) and lead changes (88). Expect more of the same on Sunday.

'Boys, Have At It' May Carry Over To High Banks

As if things could get any spicier as the series heads for NASCAR's fastest track.

The season of "boys, have at it" boiled over at Martinsville Speedway with a variety of bruised feelings evident -- even among teammates.

As the fuse gets shorter -- there are just four races left in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup -- tempers have reached a boiling point.

Richard Childress Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) banged fenders and traded words during and after the TUMS Fast Relief 500. The pair raced for what appeared to be a victory late in the race until Denny Hamlin passed both.

"I think he's wound up and racing for a championship," said Burton of Harvick, who answered: "Just racing."

They fared better than Kurt Busch (No. 2 Operation Home Front/Miller Lite Dodge) and Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Dupont/National Guard Chevrolet), who traded paint in the track's third and fourth turns. Gordon, whose bump-to-pass move triggered the incident, hit the SAFER Barrier severely rearranging his Chevrolet's sheet metal. He finished 20th; Busch in 16th, and neither on the lead lap after both appeared to be earlier contenders.

"I gave him a reason to be upset," Gordon said. "So I wish I hadn't done that. Our championship hopes have taken a big hit in the last couple of weeks."

Gordon remains fifth in the standings but 203 points behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson. Busch is ninth.

Back to Talladega, where Gordon unloaded on Johnson this spring following an incident at Texas Motor Speedway. "It takes a lot to make me mad and I am (mad) right now," Gordon said.

Stay tuned.

Closest Chase Ever After Martinsville

Denny Hamlin said it best Sunday following his third consecutive victory at Martinsville Speedway.

"Who said it was over?" he said to members of the media. "Told you it wasn't over."

A few posted that once Jimmie Johnson extended his points lead to 41 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a fifth championship was a done deal.

Wrong.

Hamlin cut Johnson's lead to six points. Kevin Harvick is 62 points back in third.

The first- to second-place margin is the closest in Chase history after six races, bettering Johnson's 15-point edge over Ryan Newman (No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet) in 2005.

There was speculation earlier in the season that a driver without a victory could win the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. No longer.

With four races remaining, Johnson, Hamlin and Harvick -- the realistic contenders -- have won a combined 16 times.

That works out to exactly 50 percent of the races run.

"Obviously we'd like to have a huge lead right now," said Hamlin, who opened the Chase as the No. 1 seed with a 10-point advantage over Johnson. "I like being behind and chasing a guy. I do not like playing defense at all."

Johnson has prevailed two ways: taking the lead early and holding it (2008) and overcoming a large deficit (2006).

"Happy to still be leading," he said. "Wish the margin had gone the other way. We'll buckle down, go to work on the next four (races)."

Harvick nearly won in Martinsville despite starting deep in the field.

"We came pretty close," he said. "I mean, coming here and getting our first top five, beating the 48, being in contention to win was pretty close to a home run."

The top three title contenders have significant breathing room. Harvick's closest pursuer, Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&Ms Toyota), trails by 110 points.Hamlin Has Solid Record At TalladegaHe's only raced in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Talladega Superspeedway nine times and has yet to win a points-paying restrictor plate race, but don't overlook Denny Hamlin as a favorite in Sunday's AMP Energy 500.

Hamlin, who closed within six points of Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup leader Jimmie Johnson with his seventh victory of the season Oct. 24 at Martinsville Speedway, has a trio of top-five finishes at the 2.66-mile superspeedway including a run of fourth in April's event.

He also boasts the series-best Driver Rating (95.9) as well as the top Average Running Position (13.8), both of which suggest Hamlin as a legitimate contender in the Chase's seventh round.

Hamlin is cautiously optimistic entering Sunday's race.

"Right now, I feel like we're in a great position going to Talladega where, who knows, we could both finish 41, 42 or opposite spectrums," he said. "I know we've been extremely strong at Talladega for the last two to three years. So I'm pretty confident."

Hamlin's sole restrictor-plate victory came in his first race at Daytona International Speedway. He won the 2006 Budweiser Shootout at Daytona as a rookie.

Harvick Looks for Talladega Sweep

Six drivers have swept a season's NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Talladega Superspeedway. Kevin Harvick would like to become No. 7 -- as well as a three-time restrictor plate winner in 2010.

Harvick scored his first Talladega victory in April with a final-lap slingshot pass of Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Tribute Chevrolet). He previously finished second at the Alabama track in 2003 and 2004.

He followed that up at Daytona International Speedway by winning July's Coke Zero 400. Harvick also is the 2007 Daytona 500 champion.

April's Talladega victory ended a run of five races in which Harvick finished 20th or worse. The victory was significant for owner Richard Childress, whose last Talladega win came in 2000. Childress' 10th Talladega victory matched the track record held by Rick Hendrick.

Season sweeps are rare at Talladega. Jeff Gordon was the last to accomplish the double in 2007. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 The Legend of HallowDega AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet) is the only other active driver with a season sweep (2002), part of a four consecutive Talladega victories from 2001-2003.

Dale Earnhardt posted Talladega sweeps twice, in 1990 and 1999. Darrell Waltrip, Buddy Baker and Pete Hamilton also won a pair of Talladega races in the same seasons.

Harvick isn't the only member of Richard Childress Racing expected to be among contenders. Jeff Burton led the most laps of April's race (28) before accident damage relegated the Virginia veteran to a finish of 32nd.

In The Loop: Kevin Harvick Can't Do Much More

Two of NASCAR's future stars (heck, they're stars now), excel at Talladega Superspeedway -- despite its treacherous characteristics.

Somehow, Brad Keselowski (No. 12 Penske Dodge) and Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) have quickly adapted to the tight packs and bumper-to-bumper driving -- all at speeds reaching 200 mph -- that Talladega mandates.

Their stats, save for this past April's race, are tremendous. Here's a breakdown of the two young guns, both of whom have some momentum going into this weekend's race:

Brad Keselowski

In one of the more memorable finishes of the past decade, Keselowski won at Talladega in April of last season, for his first -- and thus far, only -- series victory.

A late-race accident in this year's April race put a dent in Keselowski's career statistics at there. Still, the three-race sampling is solid: an average finish of 14.3, a Driver Rating of 81.8, an Average Running Position of 17.7 and a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of plus-44.

But toss out that April race, and his number skyrockets: an average finish of 4.5, a Driver Rating of 94.2, an Average Running Position of 14.3 and a Pass Differential of plus-47.

Keselowski has two more promising angles.

One, his best Driver Rating this year -- 92.7 -- took place at Daytona, another restrictor plate track. Two, his best finish of the year came just a few days ago, at Martinsville Speedway.

At Martinsville, Keselowski finished 10th with a Driver Rating of 74.3 and an Average Running Position of 19.2.

Though his success in the NASCAR Nationwide Series this season hasn't translate much in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Keselowski also won earlier this year in the NASCAR Nationwide race at Talladega.

Joey Logano

Logano's stats almost mirror Keselowski's exactly.

His first two starts there were strong. In this race last season, he finished third. In his first start here, in April of 2009, he finished ninth.

But, he too got caught up in that late-race April wreck, and finished 36th.

In his three-race career at Talladega, Logano has an average finish of 16.0, a Driver Rating of 85.3, an Average Running Position of 13.9 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 61.3%.

Logano also is working on two consecutive top-10 finishes -- a seventh at Charlotte and a sixth at Martinsville. In those two events, he posted a Driver Rating of 103.5 and an Average Running Position of 9.4.

Spoiler Alert: Junior and Jamie

Don't be surprised if a non-Chase qualifier winds up in Victory Lane following Sunday's AMP Energy Juice 500.

Both have been there before. One, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is showing signs of a late-season turnaround. The other, Jamie McMurray, has accomplished virtually everything in 2010 except to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and win a championship.

Earnhardt looks for career win No. 6 at Talladega, which would match Jeff Gordon's total-- second only to the Dale Earnhardt's 10 victories.

The third-generation driver hasn't won at Talladega since the 2004 fall race, but he finished second and fourth, respectively, earlier this year at Daytona International Speedway. Earnhardt led a season-high 90 laps -- his most in more than two years -- in finishing seventh Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.

"I feel like when I go to Talladega I always have a shot to win," Earnhardt said. "Even if that was the only race we showed up for each year, I think we would feel good going into it."

McMurray, meanwhile, is Sunday's defending winner and runner-up finisher to Kevin Harvick in April. The Missourian has won three times on restrictor-plate tracks. He won this year's Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His Charlotte Motor Speedway victory two weeks ago marked just the second time in the past two seasons a non-Chase qualifier has tasted victory.

McMurray is racing for bragging rights and 13th place in NASCAR Sprint Cup standings as his Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing team prepares for the 2011 season. He's accomplished the first goal and is well on the way to the second, holding a 114-point lead over 14th place Mark Martin.

Richard Towler Crowned First NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Champion

Earlier this month, NASCAR crowned its first NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Champion. Richard Towler of Hull, England claimed the inaugural championship with a strong run and third-place finish on a "virtual" version of Charlotte Motor Speedway's challenging 1.5-mile tri-oval.

Series runner-up Brad Davies of Wauchula, Fla. made it interesting by winning the final race of the season, but came up 18 points short of Towler in the final standings.

For his performance, Towler receives $10,000 cash, a championship trophy, an official championship ring made by Jostens -- the same company that creates the NASCAR national series champion rings -- and a champion's leather jacket. In addition, Towler will be on hand for the final race weekend of the NASCAR season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The first NASCAR-sanctioned online racing series season consisted of 18 races, on virtual renditions of some of the most renowned NASCAR tracks. The series, which includes the 50 top online simulation racers in the world, has competitors from across the globe. It also had 10 different winners this season.

The NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship was launched this year to engage fans and sim racers alike in the most realistic racing environment created.

With the inaugural season complete, the 50 drivers that will qualify for the 2011 season of the NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship will include the top 30 finishers in this season's standings as well as 20 additional drivers to be determined prior to the start of the season.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc. ...

'HallowDega' Notes

Fans can enjoy three concerts during the coming weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

Colt Ford will perform at 9 p.m. Friday. The Grand Magnolias take the stage at 7:45 p.m. Saturday followed at 9:30 by Josh Gracin. All three concerts will be held on the Captains Quarters stage in the track's infield.

Fans can register between 9 and 11 a.m. at the Sprint Experience in the display area to take part in a Halloween costume contest. Judging begins at 1 p.m.

SPEED will host a "scream contest" on Saturday.

Qualifying at the SPEED stage will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with the finals airing on Trackside Live at 5:30 p.m.

Twelve former Talladega winners have entered the AMP Energy Juice 500. Two, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., have won a combined 11 times -- one victory shy of the 12 recorded by the other 10 winners. Bill Elliott (No. 26 Air Guard Ford) is the least recent winner.

His last of two wins came in 1985. Elliott is the track's all-time pole winner with eight, including six in a row between 1985 and 1987.

Four Alabama drivers have won 10 times at Talladega Superspeedway but none since Davey Allison captured the 1992 Winston 500. No drivers claiming an Alabama hometown are entered in the AMP Energy Juice 500.

Milestones

* Jimmie Johnson is going for his 200th top 10.

* Kasey Kahne is going for his 50th top five.

* Brad Keselowski is going for his 50th start.

* Bobby Labonte (No. 9 iKOMATSU/TEC Chevrolet) is going for his 200th top 10.

* Mark Martin is going for his 50th pole.

* If Kyle Busch wins, he'll have 83 NASCAR national series victories, which will tie Cale Yarborough for 8th all-time on the national series wins list.

Up Next: Texas

The final month of the season continues next week, as the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup hits 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway for the second time this season.

Nobody knows how the standings will look after Talladega, but the current frontrunners like the big track in Ft. Worth.

Denny Hamlin, who averages a finish inside the top 10 at Texas, won the April race there this season.

Jimmie Johnson, on the other hand, hasn't won at Texas in a quite a bit -- for him at least.

Johnson has one win at Texas, in October of 2007.

Kevin Harvick has never won at Texas, but has finished in the top 10 in three of the last four races.

One angle to watch for: Fuel strategy. Texas often gives crew chiefs fits. A prime example was this race last season, when Kurt Busch won with a margin of victory of 25.686 seconds, the largest since the inception of timing and scoring in 1993.

Fast Facts

The Race: AMP Energy Juice 500
The Place: Talladega Superspeedway; Talladega, Ala. (2.66-mile tri-oval)

The Date: Sunday, Oct. 31
The Time: 1 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 500 miles / 188 laps

TV: ESPN2, 12 p.m. ET; ESPN, 1 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/Sirius NASCAR Radio, Channel 128.

2009 Polesitter: None
(Via rule book; qualifying cancelled.)
2009 Winner: Jimmie Johnson

Schedule Prior To Race Day: (Times local/CT)

Friday--Practice, 1 p.m.-1:45 p.m. and 2:30-3:30 p.m.

Saturday--Qualifying, 11:15 a.m.

-source: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Kasey Kahne , Brad Keselowski , Denny Hamlin , Buddy Baker , Joey Logano , Cale Yarborough , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin , Davey Allison
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing , Hendrick Motorsports