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NASCAR '09: Talladega preview

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Another thing you're likely to see is what is infamously known as "The Big One." The multi-car wreck, usually triggered by the slightest bit of contact, that can quickly erase a team's chance for victory and a fantasy owner's chance for a high score. But even with the threat of the Big One looming, there is still plenty of opportunity to score big this Sunday. Check out our picks for this week's favorites, sleepers and longshots that will help you stay headed in the right direction among the chaos.

Tony Stewart

In the first eight races of the season, Stewart has shown that his decision to leave the comfort of Joe Gibbs Racing for his own team was the right one. Currently fourth in points, Stewart is knocking on the door of his first win as a Sprint Cup owner. In the last three races, he's finished fourth or better; including a second-place finish last week in Phoenix. Since the introduction of the CoT at Talladega, Stewart has posted two top-10 finishes and won last Fall. Stewart's current momentum plus his Talladega success make it almost a perfect storm for Smoke to light up the competition this weekend.

By the numbers: Of the three CoT races held at Talladega, Stewart leads all drivers in laps led (123).

Denny Hamlin

Another driver to keep an eye on this weekend is Stewart's former JGR teammate, Denny Hamlin. Like with Stewart, it seems like only a matter of time before Hamlin finds his way into victory lane given his recent string of top finishes. In the last four races, Hamlin has finished second twice and no worse than 12th, putting him fifth in the standings. While he's still looking for his first Talladega victory, he has had his share of success there. In the three races run at 'Dega in the new car configuration, Hamlin has led laps in each event and scored a pair of top-fives before being caught up in a wreck last Fall. He should have help up front from current teammate Kyle Busch, so look for Hamlin to be in a position to score you big points this Sunday.

By the numbers: Hamlin has been running at the finish in all but one of his six Talladega starts.

Clint Bowyer

With a pair of recent subpar finishes, look for Bowyer to put another notch in the top-10 column this weekend. After getting off to a bumpy start at Talladega early in his career, Bowyer seems to have figured out a few things about plate racing and has scored finishes of 11th, ninth and fifth in the last three races. And he hasn't done it the easy way either. In those three races, his best starting position was 23rd. With a fourth-place run at the Daytona 500 to help pad his credibility, Bowyer is a solid option for a near-top-level driver whom can score you big points with this weekend, and one many might not be thinking of using.

By the numbers: Only Jimmie Johnson (447) has scored more Sprint Cup points at Talladega than Bowyer (428) in the last three races.

Robby Gordon

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No, that's not a typo. I didn't mean to say Jeff Gordon, although he will probably run well, but he's not much of a sleeper pick. Known primarily as a road racer, Robby has quietly made a name for himself as a plate racer. In the four plate races last season, he finished no worse than 11th, which was in this race last year. After two engine failures and his run-in with Michael Waltrip last weekend, Gordon is in need of a good run this weekend. Considering the price you'll likely pay to put him on your roster, taking the gamble with Gordon could be a very profitable win-win situation: low cost with a high return.

By the numbers: Gordon has just one DNF in his last 14 Talladega starts.

David Ragan

Another driver that should be a bargain for you to pick up is David Ragan. After a successful sophomore campaign, his third season isn't going as smoothly. He kicked off the year with a sixth place finish at Daytona, his only top 10 of the year, and it's been all downhill since then. But in his brief career, if there is one place where Ragan has shown he can right the ship it's at plate tracks. In 2008, he finished fourth in this race and improved one spot to third in the fall event, leading 11 laps in the process. Whether it's Daytona or Talladega, there is something about this type of racing that suits his style. And you should use that to your advantage this weekend.

By the numbers: In nine career plate track starts, Ragan has finished outside the top 20 only twice.

Carl Edwards

To many of his fans, Edwards seems like a modern-day Superman, racing at high speeds, soaring through the standings and flipping his way into victory lane. But just like Superman had kryptonite that brought him to his knees, Edwards has Talladega. In nine starts, he has three DNFs and has finished in the top 15 just once in the last two years, while finishing 40th or worse on two occasions. It's not just Talladega though; Edwards struggles at Daytona as well, where he's sporting a meager 21.4 average finish in nine races. While the No. 99 team obviously will turn things up a notch and likely make multiple trips to victory lane, this isn't the weekend to bet the farm on that happening. There are too many other drivers who are good here and too many other tracks that Edwards is better at to waste playing him this Sunday.

By the numbers: Edwards' average finish of 24.6 at Talladega is his lowest at any active track on the Sprint Cup Schedule.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

No Earnhardt at Talladega? I must be crazy, right? Possibly, but I promise there is a reason behind my madness. Yes, Junior is a five-time Talladega winner, but his hot streak was in 2001-2003 when he won four in a row. He hasn't won here since 2004. In fact, in the eight races since that last win here, he has finished in the top 10 just twice. Add to that the pressure you know this team has to be under to perform well, especially here, where so many are expecting it. So far this year, this team hasn't dealt well with pressure, whether it be on the driver's side or the crew's side. Something is just off and it doesn't show any signs of fixing itself just yet. Plus, many players will likely see Talladega and the name Earnhardt and automatically put them together; meaning you won't gain much ground by picking him if the majority has. I'm not giving up on Junior rallying to have a decent year, but from a fantasy perspective, he's just not worth the gamble right now.

By the numbers: In the eight races since his most recent Talladega win, Earnhardt has four DNFs.

Next up: From big and fast, to small and fast, next week is another Saturday short track affair at Richmond.