RotoWire Partners

Good Sam Club 500 Preview: Talladega - Superspeedway Luck

Mark Taylor

Mark Taylor

Taylor covers NASCAR for RotoWire. He is a three-time winner of the FSWA's Racing Writer of the Year award. He is also a military historian, specifically the World War II U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

This weekend the luck factor comes into play like no other race in the 10 events that makeup the Chase for the Sprint Cup. NASCAR comes to Talladega Superspeedway for the Good Sam Club 500 and for the wild restrictor-plate racing action that Talladega provides. This is the perfect event to throw in with the short tracks, flat tracks, and intermediate ovals that make up the final 10 races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Considering that super speedway racing has gradually changed back into the pack-style racing of old over the course of this season, thanks to several technical rule changes, we once again have the "big one" in play when we visit the restrictor-plate ovals. The competitors can race in two-car drafts in the last handful of laps, but by-in-large the events have grown back into the old-time racing of three-wide and several rows deep. Five hundred miles of racing in these tight conditions almost always leads to disaster, and that's where the luck comes in this weekend. If Brad Keselowski hopes to engrave his name on the Sprint Cup for the first time, a victory here will go a long way in that end. The Penske Racing star won here in May of this year. That victory should go a long way towards boosting Keselowksi's confidence entering this event. The two biggest threats to Keselowski's championship hopes this season, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson, sport some of the best finishing stats in the series at the 2.666-mile tri-oval. When the green flag drops the mayhem will ensue and championship hopes will be made or dashed after 500 miles of racing at 'Dega.

Talladega Superspeedway may be unlike any of the other tracks in the Chase, but history still plays a big part. The drivers that tend to run up front and win at this large oval are usually the same drivers each and every time we visit Talladega. As you'll see in the table below, some of the drivers who are vying for the championship are also very proficient at Talladega Superspeedway. Here are the loop stats for the last 15 races at the famous restrictor-place track.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUAL. PASSES# of FASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15DRIVER RATING
Jeff Burton19.04,048501001,67690.7
Dale Earnhardt Jr.19.83,350662301,72690.0
Brian Vickers18.32,55534701,29987.3
Denny Hamlin18.22,736572041,28987.0
David Ragan17.12,36629261,11687.0
Kurt Busch16.25,05345831,78886.8
Matt Kenseth18.23,513462001,74986.7
Brad Keselowski13.01,475333161186.2
Joey Logano16.11,608232474584.8
Tony Stewart17.12,431662571,40684.5
Jimmie Johnson15.92,73541751,33981.5
Jeff Gordon19.92,204413311,30281.5
Juan Pablo Montoya18.52,30643601,16080.4
Kyle Busch23.32,837731401,42280.4
Jamie McMurray19.52,370471591,28479.9
Aric Almirola 21.670317534379.7
Clint Bowyer15.61,841618893579.5
Trevor Bayne21.067812524978.1
Kevin Harvick16.32,553691071,23476.5
Martin Truex Jr.23.52,40945441,23175.1

The loop stats from Talladega look a bit odd when compared to other tracks in the series. Right away we notice a lack of drivers like Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards in the Top 10 of this list. Luck plays a large part in winning Talladega. Some times it's all in the timing and when to make your move at this oval. The second thing we notice is the lower overall driver ratings. Wrecks play a big part in Talladega racing, and everyone eventually gets caught up in a big one, putting a dent in their statistical performance. In this season's race at Talladega in May we saw Brad Keselowski being pushed by Kyle Busch to rocket past leader Matt Kenseth on the next-to-last lap for the win. The 34 lead changes and handful of late cautions led to a thrilling green-white-checkered finish. We're certain that we're in for more of the same in this Sunday's Good Sam Club 500. We should see some big multi-car crashes and some late cautions as the urgency gets the best of the drivers in the closing laps. With the big wrecks and caution flags as a result of the pack racing, we could see a return to the "sand-bagging" drivers who hang out in the back of the field. The driver who keeps a low profile most of the race may ultimately be the one to push to the front in the closing laps and make for a thrilling victory. One thing is for certain, the championship field should narrow even more after this 500-mile event. From that standpoint this truly is separation Sunday. Some drivers will move on to Charlotte with their Chase for the Cup hopes intact, while others will load the wrecked remains of their race cars onto the hauler and start to think about next season. Here are the drivers who you need to focus on for fantasy racing glory at Talladega Superspeedway.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

Brad Keselowski -
The winner of our last Talladega race comes to Central Alabama this weekend looking for more checkered flags and visits to victory lane. Keselowski has to be looking forward to Talladega Superspeedway this Sunday afternoon. Aside from his victory in the Aaron's 499, his second career win at the huge oval, the Penske Racing star is fresh off his fifth win of the season at the Monster Mile this past weekend. Keselowski is focused like a laser beam on the championship, and racing at one of his favorite tracks will only boost his confidence in the Good Sam Club 500.

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson is in the mix for his sixth Sprint Cup Series championship. He comes out of Dover week second in the overall standings within arm's reach of Brad Keselowski. If the Hendrick Motorsports star hopes to keep his championship dreams alive, he's going to need a good performance this Sunday at Talladega. The good news is that even though Talladega isn't one of the No. 48 team's best ovals on the circuit, Johnson is still a two-time winner at the huge track. The five-time champion is a four-time pole winner with over 200 laps led at this facility. You can't count out Johnson when the stakes are this high.

Clint Bowyer -
Bowyer has always been very good on super speedways. Although he established all his stats and wins as a Chevrolet driver for Richard Childress Racing, it's clear that he has the knowledge of pack racing in the draft to succeed. His three restrictor-plate starts this season have netted one sixth-place finish, but that's about it. Bowyer's last three visits to Talladega prior to joining MWR had netted two wins and one runner-up finish. Given how well the No. 15 Toyota team is racing and the urgency of the championship, we expect Bowyer to up his game in Sunday's 500-mile melee at Talladega.

Matt Kenseth -
This veteran driver is a classic example of finding your groove at a particular oval later in your career. The Roush Fenway Racing star enters this event hurting in the championship chase after a disappointing finish at Dover. The urgency to perform at Talladega Superspeedway will be at an all-time high for the No. 17 Ford team. Kenseth has one win and four Top-5 finishes in his last five restrictor-plate races. This driver and team have hit on something with this rules package on these huge ovals. Kenseth led 73 laps and finished third in May's Aaron's 499 at Talladega.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for a Top 10 and have an outside shot at winning

Denny Hamlin -
The Joe Gibbs Racing star is thick in the middle of the championship battle. He enters Talladega week just 16 points arrears the leader Brad Keselowski in the Chase standings. Hamlin has had some incredibly fast cars at this 2.66-mile oval over the years, but he's yet to roll into victory lane at this facility. Despite having over 200 career laps led at Talladega Superspeedway, Hamlin has only five Top 10s in 13 starts to show for. Whether it's drafting luck or skill, we're not sure, but one thing is for certain. No other Talladega start has been this crucial for the No. 11 Toyota team. We believe you'll see that on full display on Sunday afternoon.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
While the 2012 season has cooled a bit for Earnhardt and the No. 88 team entering the Chase, he still makes a steady start on his favorite tracks. Earnhardt's restrictor-plate resume this season holds finishes of second-, ninth- and 15th-place on these big ovals. The NASCAR icon will be looking to make an impression this Sunday at the huge speedway in Central Alabama. Earnhardt likes the move back to pack-style racing at Daytona and Talladega and he's been quite outspoken about that fact. He won five races at this facility in that style of racing years ago. Don't forget that little fact this weekend.

Kasey Kahne -
We don't typically think of Kahne when it comes to super speedway racing, but he's been red hot on these ovals this season. We're sure that the off-season move to the Hendrick Motorsports' No. 5 team has a lot to do with this. Kahne finished a brilliant seventh at Daytona this summer in the series' latest visit to a restrictor-plate track. He has also collected finishes of fourth- and sixth-place in his last two visits to Talladega. The veteran driver and long-time crew chief Kenny Francis have developed a good package for these big ovals. Considering that Kahne is alive and well in the championship picture, sixth-place overall entering the weekend, he should go for broke in the Good Sam Club 500.

Greg Biffle -
Biffle is another driver we don't typically think of when it comes to restrictor-plate racing. However, the No. 16 Ford team has given the veteran driver some powerful equipment on these tracks in 2012. Biffle has 94 laps led in the three super speedway races to-date and a pair of Top-5 finishes in those three events. He led 15 laps and finished fifth in May at Talladega Superspeedway, so optimism should be running high. Despite the rough outing at the Monster Mile this past weekend, we believe Biffle will be a big rebound candidate for the 500-mile event at Talladega.

Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Talladega who can provide a solid finish

Jeff Gordon -
Gordon is the top restrictor-plate driver among all active drivers with a series-leading 12 victories. So it's not surprising that we've listed him in our sleepers list this week. The Hendrick Motorsports star has fallen well off the pace for this season's championship and that's what is really surprising. Although he is struggling somewhat, there's good reason to believe Gordon will rebound this Sunday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway. The No. 24 team has had fast cars in 2012 on these huge ovals. Gordon enters this event with two poles and one Top-5 finish this season in the three restrictor-plate races. Gordon's luck didn't hold up in May in the Aaron's 499, but he will have a Top 5 fast car and the ability to finish it there if the luck holds up.

Kyle Busch -
Busch has struggled with consistency at times this season, and he's looked absolutely brilliant at times as well. Not the ideal fantasy racing scenario. For this weekend, we're going to focus on the positive for the No. 18 Toyota team. In this case, Busch is a one-time winner at Talladega (2008) and he's shown powerfully strong cars in recent trips to these huge speedways. For the mere fact that he finished runner-up at Talladega Superspeedway earlier this season, we have to respect his ability. Busch is surging after leading over 300 laps and finishing seventh this past week at the Monster Mile, so he should be up to the challenge in Sunday's Good Sam Club 500.

Joey Logano -
The last half of the season has been a tough go for Logano and the No. 20 Toyota team. However, evidence points to some improvement taking place. He enters this weekend riding a three-race Top 10 streak and looking for more in this weekend's Good Sam Club 500. The restrictor-plate tracks have been good for Logano this season and for his career for that matter. He has two Top 10s in the three super speedway races to-date, and his last effort on a restrictor-plate track (Daytona) was a brilliant fourth-place finish. With four Top 10s in seven career Talladega starts, Logano appears to be a solid choice for this 500-mile nail-biter.

Kurt Busch -
We brush aside the negatives and give the colorful driver of the No. 51 Chevrolet a tip of the cap in this week's final start for Phoenix Racing. Busch will be leaving this team for the No. 78 Furniture Row team next week at Charlotte. He will go for broke in a car that has a history of being fast on the restrictor-plate race tracks. Brad Keselowski won at Talladega in this very same car in 2009, so the ceiling is pretty high. Busch's plate-track stats speak for themselves with 13 Top 10s in 23 Talladega starts. That's a sterling 57 percent Top 10 rate on a track that requires as much luck as skill to succeed.

Paul Menard -
Menard and the No. 27 team will put on a solid performance at Talladega Superspeedway this Sunday afternoon. The RCR driver has shown some real ability on the plate tracks in 2012. He had a very impressive sixth-place finish in the Daytona 500 and a steady 17th-place finish the last time we visited Talladega Superspeedway. The yellow Menards Chevy has been seen racing up front on these huge ovals all season long. The RCR Chevrolets are typically fast on these super speedways, so it doesn't hurt at all to gamble on Menard this weekend.

Jeff Burton -
In the deep sleeper category, we can't overlook Burton this Sunday. The No. 31 team has not been very impressive overall, but you'll be challenged to find a more consistent team over the past year on the restrictor-plate tracks. Burton has the veteran experience and horsepower to pick a good finish this weekend in the Good Sam Club 500. He has a pair of runner-up finishes, a fifth-place finish and a 10th-place finish in the last four super speedway events. That includes a brilliant runner-up finish at Talladega earlier this spring. He should crack the Top 15 in this event and possibly exceed expectations for a lower tier driver.

Trevor Bayne -
The 2011 Daytona 500 winner has had a pretty good season part-time racing for Wood Brothers Racing. Bayne has two Top-10 finishes in 11 starts this season. He's generally been a Top-20 finisher no matter what the venue this season, and that makes him better than half the field most weeks. The driver of the No. 21 Ford's last two efforts has been 16th- and 20th-place finishes at Atlanta and Chicago. Bayne's last two trips to Talladega have netted eighth- and 15th-place finishes at the Alabama oval. You could do far worse than Bayne in your weekly lineup or salary cap league in this 500-mile event.

Flops - Drivers to avoid at all costs

Marcos Ambrose -
The No. 9 team have been quite productive this season from a fantasy racing standpoint, so it's hard to place them in the flops list this week. Ambrose has one win and eight Top 10s this season. However, we believe the trend has been downward in recent weeks. The RPM driver has two finishes outside the Top 20 in the last three races entering this weekend. Ambrose has been as tough luck as they come on the restrictor-plate tracks during his Sprint Cup Series career. He's only cracked the Top 10 once in his seven career trips to Talladega. That works out to a sub-par 24.9 average finish at this facility.

Ryan Newman -
We usually lean on Newman on a weekly basis for fantasy racing consistency, but he's been anything but consistent over most of the 2012 season. His 21st-place finish this past week at the Monster Mile snapped a three-race Top 10 streak for the No. 39 team. Newman posted a bunch of Top 10s at Talladega in the middle part of this past decade, but he has struggled tremendously in his last six visits to the 2.66-mile oval. The SHR veteran has three DNF's and no finish better than 23rd in his last six Talladega starts. Newman will likely have a decent car this Sunday, but odds are good it will take a ride back to the garage area on a flat bed truck before 500 miles of racing are complete.

Carl Edwards -
Edwards has been getting back on track of late. Fresh off a Top-5 performance at Dover, it's hard to put the No. 99 Ford team in the flops list this week but we must. Edwards has never enjoyed the success at the Alabama super speedway that he has had at Daytona. Ever since the Roush Fenway star flew into the front stretch fence airborne at 180 mph, he's been snake bitten at this facility. Edwards has only one Top-10 Talladega finish since the 2007 season and four DNF's over that same span.

Kevin Harvick -
The Richard Childress Racing veteran used to be one of our prime contenders on these super speedway tracks. A lot has changed in the last year. The move away from the two-car draft has probably hurt Harvick the most on these restrictor-plate race tracks. Despite having one career win and 10 Top-10 finishes at Talladega Superspeedway, the driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet has finishes of 32nd- and 25th-place in his last two trips to the 2.66-mile oval. Harvick has suffered similarly at Daytona as well. His 23rd-place finish in July's Coke Zero has us pessimistic about his performance in the Good Sam Club 500.