Points leader Jimmie Johnson sat on the pole for Talladega’s Amp Energy 500, but soon after the race started decided the best place for his Lowe’s Chevrolet was to be near the rear of the field. It’s not your usual strategy for restrictor plate racing but it is one that we have seen before that has produced mixed results at best.
Talladega, along with Daytona, is known for the ‘big one’ that can take place at any time and at any place on the track. More times than not, it is triggered by one car that has been bumped by another, sending it into the path of what amounts to no more than a traffic jam that just happens to be moving around 200 miles per hour.
By staying in the rear, Johnson wanted to be able to avoid the ‘big one’ and be around to race at the end when the final laps were set to go off the board. The strategy wasn’t working out the way he had envisioned because with less than 10 laps to go he was stuck in the back of three-wide racing with no room to make a move toward the front of the pack. It looked as if the best finish he was going to salvage would be in the mid 20’s.
That’s when the ‘big one’ finally happened. Ryan Newman went airborne after contact, sending him for a wild ride that ended up with him resting on his roof. The caution flag immediately began to wave and Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus ordered his driver into the pits for a splash of gas before NASCAR decided to red flag the race until Newman could be cut out of his car.
Johnson wasn’t the only driver in need of gas for those final laps. As soon as the red flag was lifted several drivers and crew chiefs realized they were in need of fuel as well. Those needing a splash of fuel included Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and Juan Pablo Montoya, who just happen to be Johnson’s main competitors in the Chase.
When the race finally got underway Johnson had moved into the top 10 thanks to the Knaus call, but Martin, Gordon and Montoya saw their chances of a good finish vanish by waiting to refuel after the red flag. Kurt Bush was tagged by Brian Keselowski triggering a 13-car crash that collected all three drivers and all but ended any hope they had of catching Johnson for the title with just three races remaining.
Johnson’s sixth-place finish coupled with finishes of 28th by Martin, Gordon’s 20th and Montoya’s 19th-place finish increased the two-time defending champion’s lead by 66 points over Martin who now trails by 184 points. Gordon in third trails by 192 points and Montoya sits in a distant fourth, 239 points out of the top spot.
Johnson’s 184-point lead is formidable but not insurmountable as there is a mathematical chance that he can be overtaken with only three races left at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami. Without a lock on the title, Johnson and Knaus will leave their rear-of-thefield Talladega strategy behind when they unload at these tracks. It will be business as usual for the 48 team, and that has always been running up front and leading as many laps as possible.
CHASE NOTES: The tightest competition over the next three races in the Chase surrounds the 10th spot. Making the Chase is a huge accomplishment in itself, but finishing in the top 10 assures your team and sponsors even more publicity when it comes to the season ending awards banquet. Carl Edwards now holds the 10th position with a slim 11-point lead over Denny Hamlin. Making the fight for that spot even tighter is the 35-point lead that eighth place driver Ryan Newman has over Edwards and the 23-point lead that ninth-place Kasey Kahne has over the 10th spot.
PIT NOTES: Carl Edwards is one of only four Chase drivers (Juan Montoya, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman) that haven’t posted a win this season. This week’s stop at Texas may be the place that Edwards sees his name removed from that list. In nine prior stops at Texas, Edwards has posted three wins including a sweep of both races in 2008. He has a 13.9 finishing average in his 10 starts but as you would expect of a three-time champion, Jimmie Johnson leads all drivers with a 9.1 finishing average.
Race Preview — Event: Dickies 500. Track: Texas Motor Speedway (1.5-mile oval, 24 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: Nov. 8, 3:30 p.m. TV: ABC. Radio: PRN. Defending champion: Carl Edwards.