Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sprint Cup 2010: Race 33 -- Talladega: Gremlins in the Top Ten from Qualifying

Okay, yes, it’s Halloween, but to look at the starting lineup and say the starting lineup for the Amp Energy Juice 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway, and say it spooks me would have to be the understatement of the millennium. Juan Pablo Montoya will lead the goblin parade from the poll and there are some haunting scenarios behind him to be sure.

There are three potential “start and park” teams qualifying in the top 10 with another, Jeff Fuller close behind in 13th. The three legit contenders for the championship line up with Kevin Harvick starting 14th, Denny Hamlin in 17th and Jimmy Johnson running his rear bumper in 19th.

It sure makes a tense track even more nerve-wracking to see Joe Nemechek starting 4th. His car has “Host Gator” sponsorship, but how long will he be on the track? Dave Blaney for Tommy Baldwin racing starts 7th. Casey Mears starts 9th in the #13 Geico car which has been parking most of the season. Jeff Fuller runs as a second Nemechek entry while Michael McDowell (#46) starts 15th. Michael Waltrip (#55) starts beside Jimmie Johnson in 20th with Aaron’s sponsorship. Is this a MWR car or a Prism car that will jump off the track at the earliest convenience?

Bill Elliott enters the race using his Past Champions provisional to make the field but is not racing for the “legendary” Wood Brothers this week. Instead, he will be racing the Air National Guard sponsored #26 Ford for the Latitude 43 team, an operation that has struggled for the entire season regardless of driver. The legendary Wood Brothers are not competing this week. Three teams failed to qualify, two of which the #64 car driven by Landon Casssill and the #66 Prism entry are start and park teams. Unfortunately, with several start and park entries in, the #38 Long John Silver Ford driven by Travis Kvapil goes home.

After the week long drama over the fate of Richard Petty racing, it is noteworthy that Ford’s qualifying effort is so dreadful. Of the Ford starters in the race, Carl Edwards for Roush//Fenway starts his #99 Subway Ford in 23rd. His teammates lined up with Matt Kenseth #17 in 27th, David Ragan #6, in 29th, and Greg Biffle #16 in 34th. Meanwhile, the Petty operation’s top driver was Elliott Sadler in 33rd place. In that context, Kasey Kahne’s switch to Red Bull must seem like a breathe of fresh air with his #16 position ahead of both Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson.

If there ever could be a lot of scenarios to breed a bad case of the Talladega creepies, this race on Halloween provides lots to feel weird about based on qualifying. That they qualified at all might be noteworthy since the last two races started by owners’ points due to weather. This fall’s race will feature sunny weather in the high 70’s with light wind.

The field is set to see which driver pulls off the best tricks to be treated to a trophy in victory lane. Given where the contenders line up and the riff-raff that is way up front, the stage is set for some haunting scenarios where surely dreams could be broken.


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