Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sprint Cup 2011: Race 32 -- Talladega, the Big Bad Blender

Be careful which driver you're in love with, this race is bound to break your heart.

If Sprint Cup fans thought Jimmie Johnson’s collision with the wall and subsequent DNF eliminated him from the Championship Chase, Johnson did exactly what he needed to do to give himself a fighting chance sitting on the outside poll aside teammate Mark Martin for tomorrow’s Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega, and how about that, as fate would have it he has his drafting partner there too. Adding to the strategic possibilities  or limitations, Jack Roush mandated that all Roush-Yates powered cars, in other words the entire Ford fleet, must partner with other Fords, giving his two title contenders Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth a whole lot of buddies on the field including the two Richard Petty rides that have been riding strong recently and Trevor Bayne, the young Daytona 500 star racing for the “legendary” Wood Brothers who starts 4th.  For this week’s consideration of possible championship contenders, the driver must be with one race’s point total to still be considered viable with five races including Talladega in consideration.

Here are the possible contenders in rank order and where they start tomorrow.

1-      Carl Edwards, #17, Ford, starts 9th
2-      Kevin Harvick, #29, Chevrolet, starts 13th (-5)
3-      Matt Kenseth, #17, Ford, starts 11th (-7)
4-      Kyle Busch, #18, Toyota, starts 34th (-18)
5-      Tony Stewart, #14, Chevrolet, starts 12th (-24)
6-      Brad Keselowski, #2, Dodge, starts 16th (-25)
7-      Kurt Busch, #22, Dodge, starts 14th (-27)
8-      Jimmie Johnson, #48, Chevrolet, starts 2nd (-35)

Talladega is what’s considered a blender race as teams can take a tremendous dive in the standings made far worse on a restrictor plate race where a car can run well all day, not wreck, but wind up out of the draft and in the wrong pack at the end of the race. This conversely gives some teams the opportunity to advance, but given we’re discussing the top eight teams, downward mobility is more likely than noteworthy moves upward, however, the top 3 are extremely tight. Kyle Busch begins the next group of competitors between -17 and -25, an nine point spread between 4th and 7th. While making up 27 points is not unthinkable for Kurt Busch, overcoming six drivers ahead of him would be the greater challenge. For right now, it would appear three teams are fighting to stay in top contention range while five drivers are fighting to give them some company. It’s worth noting that though Roush has two cars in great shape, they are not strong restrictor plate contenders even though Kenseth has a Daytona 500 win.  Of course who knows where Carl Edwards would have finished in spring 2010 if it weren’t for the horrifying homestretch crash that gave Brad Keselowski the Cinderella win.

The scramble continues next week at Martinsville, the diametric opposite of Talladega, but equally a blender race after which the shootout for the trophy will be lined up for the last three dates in the southern latitudes.

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