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Weekend at Talladega continues to shake up the Chase

It’s not for nothing that they called last Sunday’s Good Sam 500 at Talladega the wild card race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Thanks to the fifth worst finish of his Chase career at Charlotte, Jimmie Johnson went in to last weekend 35 points behind the leader Carl Edwards. With any other driver that would register a minor blip on the news radar; bad finishes happen. Sometimes it’s just not your day. But with five-time champion Johnson this is the proverbial bombshell that gives hope to fans who are asking, “Is he finally done?”

Points leader Carl Edwards played it safe by hanging out at the back of the pack all afternoon. Teammate Greg Biffle was his drafting partner all day. In the final laps Biffle pushed Edwards to a safe but solid 11th place finish. The big losers were Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. Both caught up in crashes. Harvick dropped from

second place, 8 points out of the lead to fifth place, 26 points behind Edwards. Busch, also caught up in an accident, dropped from 4th place 18 points from the lead to 6th place, 40 points out of the lead.

Chase leaders have historically had a varied history at Talladega. Recently, the points leader has thrived. In the last three Chases, the points leader Jimmie Johnson has increased his lead at Talladega, but prior to that, the fall race was consistently bad news for the points leader

• In 2004, Jeff Gordon lost the points lead at Talladega after a 19th place finish. Kurt Busch took over and held on to win the championship. That year Talladega was the third race of the Chase.
• In 2005 Johnson entered Talladega with a seven-point lead over Rusty Wallace. After finishing 31st, Johnson trailed Tony Stewart by 82 points.
• In 2006 Jeff Burton’s points lead shrank from 69 points to just six leaving Talladega.

• In 2007 Johnson again lost the points lead at Talladega. He went into the race with a six point lead over teammate Jeff Gordon, and left trailing by nine points.

There was a fair amount of conversation all week leading up to Sunday’s race about the actions taken by NASCAR and the Speedway management. In an effort to give a bit of extra promotion oomph the management announced a $100,000 bonus to the driver who led the most number of times, if the total lead changes hit or went over 100. The nature of restrictor plate racing is that there are constant lead changes. Talladega set the NASCAR record for the most lead changes with 88 in the spring races in 2010 and again in its spring race this season. At first blush it seemed like an interesting gimmick and talking point. Then some of the talking heads on the Speed Channel began speculating about the potential danger that could be caused by drivers taking foolish chances just to rack up the number of times they could get to the head of the pack, then fall back and do it again and again. When you step back and take a look at it, perhaps encouraging gamesmanship at 200 mph is not the greatest idea their promotions people have had lately.

NASCAR made the decision that they did not like the two-car drafting that has become the way to go at Daytona and Talladega the past couple of years. In an effort to get back to the cars running in packs again, they changed the rule on cooling system pressure so the cars could not run tucked in behind their drafting partner without over heating. It didn’t work. The creativity of the race team mechanics and engineers was way ahead of them.
I found Saturday’s truck race fascinating. The drivers in the truck series in general do not have the restrictor plate racing expertise to run in the two-car drafts like the Cup and Nationwide drivers have. Kevin Harvick/Childress Racing drivers Ron Hornaday and Mike Wallace put on a clinic on how to run a two-car draft. They were so much faster than the bulk of the field running in a pack that it was no contest. They simply played with the rest of the field and lead at will. Hornaday easily pushed teammate Wallace to the win.

 You may reach Pete Barber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.                                                                           

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