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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Talladega packs ‘em in

Jenna Fryer Associated Press

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Mark Martin is the only Chase for the championship driver with a victory at Talladega Superspeedway.

Does that give him any advantage over his rivals in today’s race? Absolutely not.

“I am going to go out there and do the best I can. That’s all,” Martin said Saturday. “I can control the effort – our effort, my effort. I can’t even come close to controlling the outcome of it. If we take our hit tomorrow, then that’s what it is.”

Talladega is the wild card of NASCAR’s 10-race title hunt, the one place where anything can happen and the points standings can shuffle dramatically. It’s the only track in the Chase that requires carburetor restrictor plates, which sap horsepower and keep cars to less than 200 mph.

The plates prevent cars from breaking away, creating huge packs of side-by-side racing. One bump or bobble can trigger a huge accident, collecting cars at random. It happened to Jeremy Mayfield last year, when he was taken out in a four-car accident and finished 38th. It ended Mayfield’s shot at winning the Nextel Cup title.

“These restrictor-plate races are really intense,” said Carl Edwards, eighth in the Chase. “This place, you can’t be too careful. You can’t try too hard to watch out ahead. If there’s a wreck, you can’t stop too quick.”

It’s become so tense, few drivers enjoy racing at Talladega. That includes Martin, who won there in 1995 and ‘97. He’s on pins and needles the entire time in his car. But he’s the first to admit that if he were a spectator he wouldn’t be able to pull himself away.

“I hate racing here in today’s format,” he said. “But it’s one of the best ones to watch on TV. It’s not about us. It’s about television, it’s about the fans. I think the competitors would rather see a race where you had more control over your destiny than this. But that doesn’t matter.”

Points leader Jimmie Johnson has failed to finish the fall Talladega race the past three seasons and was victim to an overheating engine last year that dented his title hopes.

He knows Talladega again will be a crapshoot.

“In our sport, there are so many risks involved that you learn to deal with it in some ways and try to keep an open eye while you’re on the track to avoid potential problems,” he said. “Talladega is a huge risk. Martinsville (Va.) is a risk. So there’s still a few out there.

“I think everybody is real nervous about Talladega, and hopefully everybody drives that way and we don’t have any big pileups.”

Elliott Sadler and Dale Jarrett, neither involved in the Chase, start on the front row for the UAW-Ford 500.

Jarrett originally was third but moved up a spot when Kevin Harvick was disqualified because his car failed inspection.

NASCAR ordered crew chief Todd Berrier from the grounds Saturday and suspended him for the race. Car owner Richard Childress will climb back on the pit box today to help call the race for Harvick, who will start 42nd.

Berrier was suspended for four races earlier this year, and Childress filled in then, too. The team responded by winning in Bristol, Tenn.

Of the Chase drivers, Rusty Wallace was fastest in Saturday’s final practice. He’ll need speed today because Wallace blew his engine during qualifying and will start 41st.

Wallace, who trails Johnson by seven points in the standings, will be driving with eyes wide open.

“It’s always a probability that you’re going to have a big wreck, and it’s always somebody else’s doing,” Wallace said. “Somebody gets really aggressive, three- and four-wide, they get bumping through the tri-oval and somebody loses it. Let’s just hope that doesn’t happen. And if it does happen, let’s hope I get through it and I’m in the front already when it’s happening behind me.”

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