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Keeping Pace

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Talladega

Carl Edwards (No. 99 SUBWAY Ford): “A year ago, I didn’t want to go there at all because I knew the potential for losing points. But right now, I know the potential for Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin and those guys to lose points. So greedily, I’m kind of hoping to go there and have things get mixed up and gain some points.”


Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

Fans dream about Sunday’s AMP Energy 500 at Talladega Superspeedway , one of the season’s most eventful races.

Those drivers in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship may consider it a nightmare — especially since it comes with only four races remaining in the 2009 season.

There have been five editions of the Chase format. And on three occasions — 2004, 2005 and 2006 — the points leader entering the AMP Energy 500 has failed to win the title.

Conversely, the points leader after Talladega — Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet) in 2007, Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet) in 2005 and Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) in 2004 — went on to become champion.

In the Chase era (2004-present), the points leader after six races has gone on to win the championship in two of the five Chases. Prior to the Chase’s inception, from 1975-2003, five drivers won the title after trailing with four races to go. (See chart page 4)

Johnson’s current lead of 118 points might appear comfortable but history suggests otherwise. Although Johnson has finished ninth and second in his past two AMP Energy 500 starts, the three-time champion’s overall record in the race isn’t good. Before his runner-up performance in 2007, Johnson failed to finish higher than 24th with four finishes of 31st or worse.

He finished 30th in Talladega’s Aaron’s 499 earlier this year. Talladega is his third-worst track for average finish (17.7) and Driver Rating (84.1) Ironically, Johnson is the only driver to win a championship in the Chase era with an AMP Energy 500 finish outside the top 10. He overcame a 24th-place performance in 2007.

Chase ‘Outsiders’ Eye Talladega Victory Lane

It’s been more than two years — 23 races — since a Chase race has been won by a driver not part of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

The drought, extending to Greg Biffle’s (No. 16 3M/Filtrete Ford) Sept. 30, 2007 victory at Kansas Speedway, could end this week especially if past Talladega performances are considered.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy “Get on the 88”/National Guard Chevrolet) is one obvious candidate. So is Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&Ms Toyota), Michael Waltrip (No. 55 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota) and 2009 Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford).

Earnhardt is a five-time Talladega winner three times capturing the AMP Energy 500. Busch won last spring’s Aaron’s 499 and finished fourth at Martinsville — his first top-five finish since Sept. 20.

Then there’s this spring’s surprise winner Brad Keselowski, who’ll drive the same No. 09 Miccosukee Indian Gaming & Resort Chevrolet. Two non-Chase drivers have won the Amp Energy 500: Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) in 2006 and Dale Jarrett in 2005.

Loop Data Reinforces Talladega’s Wild-Card Reputation

The seventh race of the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, at Talladega, will truly be the wild card event.

Anything can happen, as restrictor-plate racing sets up for a new set of skills and a new set of challenges.

The statistics tell the story. For instance, over this season’s first three restrictor-plate races, five of the top 10 drivers in Driver Rating are non-Chasers.

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) ranks first in restrictor plate Driver Rating this season, averaging a 110.8 in the two Daytona races and the first Talladega race. He’s also ranked at or near the top of many of the pre-race Loop Data categories at Talladega. Of those drivers who have driven more than one Talladega race since 2005, Hamlin ranks first in Driver Rating (94.8), second in Average Running Position (13.6) and seventh in Laps in the Top 15 percentage (60.1%).

If Hamlin wins this Sunday, he’ll win consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup races for the first time in his career.

It’ll also mean he keeps playing spoiler to Jimmie Johnson’s bid for four-in-a-row. Johnson enjoys a 118-point lead, but heads to one of his worst tracks in the series. His 84.1 Talladega Driver Rating makes the track his third-worst.

This season in restrictor-plate races, Johnson hasn’t fared that much better (at least by his high standards). In the three plate races this season, Johnson has only one top five, at the July Daytona race. That goes along with an average finish of 21.0, a Driver Rating of 90.3, two Laps Led, nine Fastest Laps Run and an Average Running Position of 11.5.

The good news for Johnson is that the two closest contenders – second-place Mark Martin (No. 5 Pop Tarts/CARQUEST Chevrolet) and third-place Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet) – have worse numbers this season in the restrictor-plate races.

In the first three races, Gordon has averaged a finish of 26.0, a Driver Rating of 67.8 and an Average Running Position of 21.8. His Driver Rating ranks 21st among all drivers in plate races.

Martin’s name sits even further down the stat sheet. In the three races, he has averaged a finish of 32.3, a Driver Rating of 63.7 and an Average Running Position of 29.8. His Driver Rating ranks 25th among all drivers in plate races.

2009 Restrictor Plate Driver Ratings
(3 Races)
                         Driver
Driver               Rating
Denny Hamlin     110.8
Matt Kenseth      106.4
Kyle Busch         105.5
Tony Stewart       101.1
Kurt Busch          100.3
David Ragan          92.9
Jimmie Johnson     90.3
Carl Edwards         88.4
Dale Earnhardt Jr.  82.3

Latest-Ever Talladega Weekend Produces ‘Hallow-Dega’ Festivities

When the 2009 schedule was announced and Talladega Superspeedway was assigned a date well past its traditional early October weekend, track officials made an easy decision:

It’s Halloween; let’s have a party.

Thus the genesis of Hallow-Dega to be observed Saturday with fun literally from dawn to the beginning of November.

Fan activities include a scream contest at the SPEED stage; costume contest; a haunted maze; fortune teller; wax hands interactive display; pumpkin seed spitting contest; Halloween characters and a hall of mirrors.

The above events will take place in the track’s display area.

Following the conclusion of Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Mountain Dew 250 Fueled by Fred’s, a four-band concert will take place in the display area. The concert is free to race fans.

All four bands will return for Sunday concerts: Houston County and Blackberry Smoke to the display area; LoCash Cowboys from 10-10:45 a.m. in the hospitality village and Colt Ford at the same time for Allison Grandstand customers.

All AMP Energy 500 ticket holders are invited to a 9 p.m. Q& A with Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the Infield Stage to be followed by another concert featuring one of the nation’s hottest country groups the Zac Brown Band. Southern Ground Records artists Levi Lowrey, Nic Cowan and Sonia Leigh also will perform.

Motor Racing Outreach will present four Christian-themed concerts on Friday and Saturday nights (8-11 p.m.) open to overnight parking customers.

Who So Ever will play in West B; The River at Family at Renaissance in West C and Trackside the Band at North Park.

Talladega’s Top Active Winner Jeff Gordon Not Giving Up On ‘Drive For Five’

Jeff Gordon’s single 2009 victory came at Texas Motor Speedway in April. But the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion hasn’t given up on his “Drive for Five” despite trailing Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson by 150 points with four races remaining.

If Lowe’s Motor Speedway, where Johnson won several weeks ago, is “Jimmie’s House,” then certainly a case can be made for Gordon to claim at least part ownership to Talladega Superspeedway.

Gordon is the track’s top active winner with six trips to Victory Lane. Gordon’s first victory came in the 1996 DieHard 500. He swept both Talladega races in 2007 — the last time a driver has won the track’s spring and fall events.

Gordon is riding a streak of four top-five finishes including seconds at Kansas and Auto Club Speedways. A victory and with it a possible springboard to a championship season could be just 500 miles away.

The Gordon you see from here will be all-in.

“I will say the next five races; we are going to be extremely aggressive. We’ve worked our way up to third in points. They (Johnson and Mark Martin) have a pretty comfortable lead and how they race vs. how we race is probably going to be a little bit different,” he said prior to last week’s race. “I think that is the one advantage that we have right now is that we’re far enough back to where we really don’t have a whole lot to lose and it is sort of their championship to lose and we are going to race them hard.”

Etc. & Quotable

Mark Martin: “Talladega is the lotto. I used to think that if you took a fast car down there, you would be speedy enough to be ahead of the trouble, but that’s not the case anymore.”

Carl Edwards (No. 99 SUBWAY Ford): “A year ago, I didn’t want to go there at all because I knew the potential for losing points. But right now, I know the potential for Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin and those guys to lose points. So greedily, I’m kind of hoping to go there and have things get mixed up and gain some points.”

Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 TARGET Chevrolet): “For a fan, it doesn’t get much better than that. I’ll tell you the truth I get a kick out of it. I always get a kick out of it.”

Oh what might have been for Denny Hamlin, who won the TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville, Va. after an accident while leading and engine failure in successive weeks all but cooked his title chances. Small consolation: Hamlin became the first Virginia driver since Joe Weatherly in 1961 to win at Richmond International Raceway and Martinsville in the same season. “Of course everyone knows anything can happen. In the position I’m in right now in points, I love going to Talladega because it’s an opportunity for me to make up points if someone happens to have an issue,” said Hamlin.

This week’s race will be the last for a Kyle Busch-Steve Addington driver-crew chief combination. Dave Rogers, current crew chief of Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 NASCAR Nationwide Series team which captured the series owner title in 2008, takes over at Texas Motor Speedway. Addington, who headed the team over five seasons (and backed Busch to 12 victories) will be assigned to another job in the JGR organization. “We hope … they can use the final three weeks of this season to begin working on communication and setups for the 2010 season,” said JGR President J.D. Gibbs.

Don’t forget: Daylight Saving Time ends at 2 a.m. Sunday. Set the clock back one hour to be sure you catch all the action from Talladega Superspeedway on SPEED and ABC.

NSCS Etc.

Talladega Milestones

Sunday’s AMP Energy 500 is the 100th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race to be held in the state of Alabama. All but 20 of those races have been held at Talladega Superspeedway. Six other Alabama tracks held events from 1951 through 1968; the most recent at Montgomery Speedway, a .5-mile track. That race, was won by the NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Bobby Allison. Allison, from Hueytown, won four times at Talladega.

Kurt Busch will make his 325th start. Martin Truex (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevrolet) will make his 125th.
 
Statistically Speaking
 
With four races remaining, these numbers illustrate this season’s close competition:

  • 13 different race winners
  • 10 different Coors Light Pole winners
  • 42 drivers led at least one lap
  • 35 drivers have scored at least one Top 10 this year
  • Average Margin of Victory of 1.138 seconds
  • 16 races with an MOV under one second
  • Average of 10 leaders per race
  • Average of 19 lead changes per race
  • Average of 21 green flag passes for the lead all along the track
  • Average of 2,809 green-flag passes per race
  • 53% of the cars finished on the lead lap
  • 84% of the cars were running at the finish
  • Alabamans In The Garage

From Casey Mears’ No. 07 Jack Daniel’s Chevrolet team: Spotter Jimmy Kitchens (Hueytown). Kitchens is a former driver who competed in 47 NASCAR Nationwide Series events.

From Martin Truex: Public relations representative Jarrod England (Mobile).

Ford’s FR9 Engine Debuts At Talladega

Suffice to say, Ford has had a difficult 2009 despite winning the season’s first two races. The manufacturer is without a victory since a drought of 32 races.

That said, a new engine package is in the works for several teams competing in this week’s AMP Energy 500. Roush Fenway Racing’s Matt Kenseth and David Ragan (No. 6 UPS Ford) will run the FR9 at Talladega.

The FR9 is Ford’s first “purpose-built” racing engine ultimately replacing the engine in use by NASCAR teams for decades. Its design was spearheaded by builder Doug Yates and Ford engineer David Simon.

“This puts us on a level playing field with the rest of the competition,” said Yates. “We feel like it’s going to give us some advantages aerodynamically where, perhaps, we can tape the cars up more and run the engines hotter. The RPM and power levels have changed tremendously.”

There are no common parts between the old and the new engine, according to Simon.

Previously announced crew chief changes at Richard Childress Racing take place this week with veteran Todd Berrier taking the reins of Jeff Burton’s No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet and Doug Randolph at the helm of the No. 07 of Casey Mears. Berrier is one of the few crew chiefs to have won in all three of NASCAR’s national series and backed Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) to Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 victories. He also won the 2001 NASCAR Nationwide Series title with Harvick. Randolph has a pair of NASCAR Nationwide victories this season both with Clint Bowyer (No. 33 BB&T Chevrolet). Dan Deeringhoff replaces Randolph beginning with next week’s race at Texas Motor Speedway. He began the season with the No. 29 NASCAR Nationwide Series team before heading RCR’s driver development program in May.

Regaining Lost Ground:

Overcoming Deficits With Four To Go
Yr.    Leader       Champion      Deficit
1992  B. Elliott     A. Kulwicki       144
1996  J. Gordon    T. Labonte        111
1979  D. Waltrip    R. Petty            53
2007  J. Gordon     J. Johnson        53
2006  M. Kenseth  J. Johnson        41
1982  B. Allison     D. Waltrip         37
1990  M. Martin     D. Earnhardt     16

Up Next: Texas Motor Speedway

The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup heads to Texas Motor Speedway for next Sunday’s Dickie’s 500 (ABC, 2:30 p.m.)

Carl Edwards won both spring and fall races at the track in 2009. Edwards has won three times at the 1.5-mile track, most by any driver.

There have been 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at the Fort Worth facility since 1997. TMS has hosted spring and fall races since 2005.

Jimmie Johnson is the only driver to win a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway. Johnson won the Dickies 500 in 2007.

Ford has won the most races at TMS (nine).

Fast Facts

The Race: AMP Energy 500

The Place: Talladega Superspeedway (2.66-mile superspeedway)

The Date: Sunday, Nov. 1

The Time: 1 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 500 miles/188 laps

TV: ABC, 12 noon ET

Radio: MRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128; (WTDR-FM 92.7 local)

2008 Winner: Tony Stewart

2008 Polesitter: Travis Kvapil

Schedule: Friday: Practice, 1:00–2:15 p.m. and 3-4 p.m.; Saturday: Qualifying, 11:15 a.m.

2009 Top 12 Drivers
    Driver                        Points
 1 Jimmie Johnson           6,098
 2 Mark Martin                 5,980
 3 Jeff Gordon                  5,948
 4 Tony Stewart               5,906
 5 Juan Pablo Montoya     5,898
 6 Kurt Busch                  5,858
 7 Ryan Newman             5,786
 8 Greg Biffle                   5,748
 9 Denny Hamlin              5,746
10 Carl Edwards              5,685
11 Kasey Kahne              5,659
12 Brian Vickers              5,568


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Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.

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