Most fans of the Chase usually look at the 10-race stretch that makes up the championship round and actually handicap each track according to its potential of being a major player in deciding which driver eventually ends up as the Nextel champion. Kansas usually isn’t one of those tracks that plays a big role in the outcome, but this year’s visit may turn out to be the pivotal stop in deciding who wears this year’s crown.
This weekend’s stop at Talladega is always looked on as the one race that could do more to determine the Chase than any other stop on the schedule, but after all of the rain and wrecks that we saw at Kansas, ‘Dega will have to go a long way to put its stamp on this year’s edition of the Chase. Greg Biffle won the event but only after having to endure two rain delays, several accidents and darkness to finally win what will go down as one of the most controversial races of the entire season.
The race was finally shortened because of darkness, but not before seven of the dozen Chase drivers were involved in accidents that saw their hopes for the title take on somewhat of a long-shot chance. Jimmie Johnson’s third-place finish moved him on top of the standings over teammate Jeff Gordon by a scant six points. Following in third, 14 points back, is Clint Bowyer and then the point margin jumps to 117 to fourth where Tony Stewart sits after being involved in a wreck after the last rain delay.
Stewart’s chances may not sound good with only seven races left, but Jimmie Johnson proved last season that seven races is plenty enough time to make up a bunch of points. When the Chase left Kansas last season, Johnson was in eighth place, 165 points back of Jeff Burton in the lead, and he was able to make that up on his way to winning his firstever title. That is good news for a couple of more drivers as Kevin Harvick in fifth is 126 points off the lead followed by Kyle Busch at 136, Carl Edwards at 142 and Martin Truex Jr. at 158.
While Kansas did a great job of shaking up the Chase, this weekend’s stop at Talladega also figures to have a say in just who walks away with the championship trophy next month at Homestead-Miami. Talladega always has the potential to produce what everyone likes to call the “big one” thanks to NASCAR’s mandated use of the restrictor plate. The plate is the governing body’s way of slowing down the cars and in the process attempt to make the racing safer. It does indeed slow down the cars, but the number of wrecked cars pushed back inside the haulers after the checkered flag waves usually is as high as any stop on the schedule.
This will be a different Talladega this time as the series will race for the first time ever at a restrictor plate track using the Car of Tomorrow. The car was tested a few weeks back at the track and the results seem to copy the kind of racing we see at the track from the Craftsman Truck Series. Anytime the trucks race at Talladega it is a great show as they are able to pass more freely than the present model of car being used in the Cup Series.
The trucks are bigger and bulkier, which forces them to punch a bigger hole in the air that results in more passing than in a Cup race. By using the COT, which is bigger and bulkier than the present cars being used, the racing should be better with more passing taking place. The only concern that NASCAR officials had after the COT test at the track was that the speeds might top the magical 200 miles per hour barrier and if that does happen, NASCAR has already said it would move quickly during the weekend to slow the cars down. The teams will start with the same restrictor plate (31/ 32nd of an inch), one-inch wicker height and a wing angle of 10 degrees that was used at the test, but if needed the size of the plate and the height of the wicker could be changed to slow down the cars.
Jeff Gordon has to be the one driver looking forward to going to Talladega this weekend. He leads all Chase drivers with five wins at the track and for his career can boast of finishing in the top 10 in over half of his starts (15 out of 29).
Race Preview – Event: UAW-Ford 500. Track: Talladega Superspeedway (2.66-mile tri-oval, 33 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: Oct. 7, 1 p.m. TV: ABC. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Brian Vickers.