As a Fantasy owner, looking either to keep a lead or claw up the standings, Talladega is an absolute nightmare to predict. Expect a veritable smorgasbord of huge wrecks, twisted sheet metal, and blown dreams this weekend. If your line-up hits the marks, run out and grab a lottery ticket to cash in on your good luck.
Jeff Gordon:Now truly is the time for old four-time. Sitting some 150 points back in the standings, Gordon needs an extremely high finish on Sunday and the equivalent poor result for teammate and erstwhile protégé Jimmie Johnson. Luckily for the 18-year veteran, Talladega is a track at which he has traditionally excelled with six wins, 13 top-fives and 16 top-10s in 33 attempts. Still, Gordon, like the rest of the 43-car pack, needs all the luck he can get this weekend.
By the Numbers: Gordon has led at least one lap in 26 of the 33 races he has attempted at Talladega and has an average finish of 16.4.
Tony Stewart:After six second place finishes, Smoke finally broke through and placed first at Talladega in this race last year. Ironically, his bright yellow Subway machine came across the line in second place, but Stewart was awarded the win after an illegal "below the yellow line" by 2008 Rookie of the Year Regan Smith. As the winner of the Daytona night race on July 4th, restrictor plate racing is a discipline at which the owner/driver excels, so expect Stewart to run up front most of the day. To go along with the maiden win, Smoke also has nine top fives and 12 top-tens; numbers which demonstrate his great finishes every other race at the high banked track. Given that he was 23rd in the spring tilt, the law of averages suggests the driver of the No. 14 car takes another high finish this weekend.
By the Numbers: Smoke has completed 3854 of the 3962 laps he's run at Talladega, an impressive 97.3 percent clip.
Dale Earnhardt Junior: While it's been easy to forget for NASCAR's favorite son this season, Talladega is the place for Gordon to stick a band-aid over his woes. In 19 attempts at the biggest, baddest circuit in the sport, Junior has an extremely impressive record: five wins, eight top fives and 11 top-10s in 19 attempts, not to mention laps led in all but two of those races, one of which was his first try. Back in the spring, Junior's second place finish -- his best of the season to date -- was supposed to be a springboard to a Chase place. It didn't work out that way and Junior slumped down (and down) the standings to the point where he has become something of an afterthought on the track, if not in the stands. This weekend he'll be anything but forgotten as his competitors position themselves to draft with a man who, like his father, is a master at plate racing. Junior might not win but you can almost guarantee he'll be in the mix.
By the Numbers: Junior has led 655 laps at Talladega, second among active drivers to Jeff Gordon (805 laps). The next closest full-time competitor is Mark Martin with 315 laps led.
Marcos Ambrose: Running full-time at Cup level for the first time, Ambrose has shown he belongs with the best this season, and with the exception of the road courses, nowhere has that been more evident than at plate tracks: he finished 17th in the season-opening Daytona 500, fourth in the spring 'Dega race and sixth in the night race at Daytona. That's good enough for an average finish of ninth. More of the same should be welcome for Ambrose and, of course, Fantasy owners this weekend. The nature of the plate racing beast is that anything can happen, but if Ambrose can keep his nose clean and avoid the inevitable carnage, he could be a canny pick for your line-up this weekend.
By the Numbers: Two of Ambrose's eight overall top-10 finishes (in 43 attempts) have come at plate tracks.
Brad Keselowski: In his fifth start at Sprint Cup level, the feisty Keselowski held his line last spring when Edwards tried to cut him off coming to the stripe. The rest, as they say, is history as Edwards, with some inadvertent help from Ryan Newman, flew upside down into the catch fence and Keselowski took the checkers. Piloting the same James Finch owned machine, Keselowski will charge hard this Sunday and should definitely be a factor. Running just his 14th race at the top echelon of NASCAR, Keselowski is rapidly gaining a reputation as the sort of driver who will do anything -- absolutely anything -- to bite, scratch and gouge his way to the front. Drivers who see the No. 09 car in the mirror this Sunday afternoon would do well to remember that.
By the Numbers: Keselowski has led just one lap at Sprint Cup level -- good enough for the win last April.
Greg Biffle:On Monday night's edition of the Speed Channel's "This Week in NASCAR," the Biff made the point that he enjoys running at Talladega but he just doesn't have the finishes to prove it. The Roush Fenway Racer has one solitary top-ten run (seventh place in the spring race) in 13 attempts, and in four of the last six races at 'Dega, Biffle has been swept away in big wrecks. Last spring, after a fantastic opening to the Chase when Biffle won the first two races at Loudon and Dover and finished third at Kansas, teammate Carl Edwards' massive wreck took the Biff out of the running in both the race and in the Championship.
By the Numbers: Biffle has five DNFs in 13 attempts and has led a measly 15 of the 2458 laps he's run at Talladega.
Next Up: After the chaos of restrictor plate racing, next weekend sees a return to an intermediate circuit, namely the Texas Motor Speedway.