Clint Bowyer said it best about Talladega recently:
“[It] can shake things up in a big way. It can propel you to the lead or bury you.”
Sunday’s race at Talladega, NASCAR’s most volatile track, is only the fourth in the 10-race Chase to the Championship. But many of those trying to catch NASCAR’s points leaders, Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson, respectively, aren’t about to take solace in the fact that six races remain after Sunday. As dominant as the Chase’s top two have been, the true game changer can come during the Good Sam Road Assistance 500. At a track defined by the “big one,” one wreck could either take the followers out of reach or bring them right back into the championship hunt.
In NASCAR’s revamped points system, the drivers currently tied for fifth, Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne, are close to a full race behind in the standings at 32 points behind.
“I don’t root for anyone to wreck or any of that stuff, but it’s definitely a track that has the most possibilities of getting in the wrong spot at the wrong time and having no control of the situation,” Kahne said Tuesday during the NASCAR teleconference call. ” So yeah, it could take out all 12 of us in the Chase or maybe just two of them or however it works. But Talladega is that one wild card that nobody really knows, and we won’t have a clue until after it’s all over.”
Seven points behind Stewart and Kahne is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior has five career wins at Talladega, but his last one came in 2004.
“We’ve rode around and played it pretty conservative before,” Junior said on his website this week, talking about past Hendrick Motorsports attempts to hang at the back and then draft to the front at the end. “That hasn’t really worked out. Last couple times we’ve been racing just as hard as we can race, and I think that’s just about what we’ll do this time.”
In the middle of the leaders and the guys hoping for a game changer are third-place driver Denny Hamlin (-16) and fourth-place Bowyer (-25), who could either be the beneficiaries or the victims of some drivers trying to hold serve and others who think they’ll be non-factors for the rest of the season if they don’t score Sunday.
“Talladega is an absolute crap shoot, but it’s going to be for everyone,” Hamlin said. “We have to know who we’re racing. We have to make smart decisions and keep all the fenders on it. Typically, most superspeedways I’m right in it until the very end and get caught up in a wreck. My job is to make sure to concentrate on that weekend, not look forward and focus on getting the most points possible.”
The crew chief for current points leader Keselowski, Paul Wolfe, would love to get the most points possible, too. But he has to deal with rules changes that has made race strategy at a superspeedway more of a crap shoot. Two-car drafting has been made harder because of NASCAR regulations on the front end of cars that make them heat up much more quickly.
“Pack racing, tandem racing…we’ve seen a little of everything at Talladega over the last few seasons,” Wolfe said. “But no matter what brand of racing prevails there, the strategy is always the same. It’s a survival situation. You have to be around at the finish. Talladega has always been a wildcard race and it always will be.”
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