Chase Leader Keselowski Seeks ’Dega Double – Everything appears to be breaking right for Brad Keselowski
Keselowski reclaimed the top spot in the standings by five points over Jimmie Johnson. New Hampshire winner Denny Hamlin is third, 16 points behind Keselowski.
The points leader after the third race of the post season has gone on to win the championship five of eight times in the Chase era. The Dover Chase winner has been crowned champion twice – Johnson in 2009-10.
Keselowski now heads to one of his favorite tracks, Talladega Superspeedway, bidding to become the first driver since Jeff Gordon in 2007 to sweep at the 2.66-mile track. May’s victory was the 28-year-old Michigan native’s second at ’Dega, where he collected his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win in 2009.
Keselowski’s average finish of 13.0 is Talladega’s best among active drivers.
The season champion has yet to win the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 under the Chase format. But only one – Johnson, 26th in 2006 – has finished outside the top 10 in Talladega’s fall race.
Recently, the points leader has thrived in Alabama. In the last four Chases, the points lead – held by Johnson from 2008-10 and Carl Edwards in 2011 – has grown after the Talladega race.
But prior to that, trouble. The breakdown:
- In 2004, Gordon lost the points lead after a 19th-place finish. Kurt Buschtook over, and held on for the remainder of the season. Talladega was the third race of the Chase.
- In 2005, Johnson entered Talladega with a seven-point advantage over Rusty Wallace. After the race, in which he finished 31st, he trailed eventual champion Tony Stewartby 82 points.
- In 2006, Jeff Burton’spoints lead shrank from 69 before Talladega to just six leaving it.
- In 2007, Johnson again lost a points lead at Talladega. He went into the race with a six-point advantage over Gordon and left trailing his teammate by nine.
Keselowski, now a nine-time winner in 118 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts, is the third Penske driver to win five or more races in a single season. The 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion joins NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Rusty Wallace, who won 10 times in 1993, eight in 1994 and five in 1996; and Ryan Newman, an eight-time winner in 2003.
Bowyer’s Success Measured By Wins, Not Stats
Statistics can fool at first glance, especially at Talladega Superspeedway.
Consider that Clint Bowyer has the 30th-best Average Running Position (21.8) and 18th-best Driver Rating (79.5) at the 2.66-mile track.
Yet Bowyer, a solid fourth in Chase standings 25 points behind leader Keselowski, is going for his third consecutive victory in the Talladega Chase race.
Bowyer won as a Chase “outsider” a year ago and a qualifier in 2010. Sandwiched between the two victories was a second-place finish with Bowyer nailed to the rear bumper of Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet.
He’ll make his second start at the track as the driver of Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 15 Toyota, having finished sixth in Talladega’s May race. Bowyer has a top-10 finish in five consecutive ’Dega races and has completed every lap in all but one of his most recent nine starts. The record for consecutive top 10s at Talladega is eight, by Dale Earnhardt Jr. from 2001-04.
“Things are so tight right now and the competition is so close it’s literally a point or two here and a point or two there that’s shaking up the Chase right now,” Bowyer said. “[Talladega] can shake things up in a big way.
“It can propel you to the lead or bury you.”
Like Keselowski, Bowyer looks forward to Talladega.
“I enjoy it but I also know what can happen here,” he said.
Johnson, Hamlin Need Plate-Race Turnarounds
Jimmie Johnson is zero-for-three in this season’s trio of restrictor plate races at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway. Three races equal three accidents and finishes of 42nd, 35th and 36th – and work to be done on Sunday.
Johnson has a pair of Talladega victories, the most recent in the track’s 2011 spring event. But his ’Dega Driver Rating (81.5) is his worst of any track on the schedule.
Denny Hamlin looks to extend a modest Talladega Chase race streak. Hamlin finished eighth in last year’s event and ninth in 2010, his near-miss championship season. His overall performance at the 2.66-mile track has been good – Driver Rating of 87.0, eighth best – but Hamlin’s average finish in 13 races is 18.2. He was among 17 leaders of May’s Aaron’s 499 but finished 23rd.
Earnhardt’s History Points To Success At Talladega
Dale Earnhardt Jr. always brings his “A” game to Talladega. For this weekend’s Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 at the 2.66-mile track, he needs to pack similarly.
A win or strong finish at the tough-to-predict track would go a long way in propelling Earnhardt back into championship contention. Heading into the fourth race of the Chase, he sits seventh in the standings, 39 points back.
In 25 NSCS events at Talladega, only twice has Earnhardt failed to lead a lap – his first race there in April 2000 and the October 2005 race. He currently has a streak of 13 consecutive races in which he has led at least one lap going back to May 2006. Over his career, he has logged a total of 719 laps led, with his highest total (133) coming in the April 2002 race.
Earnhardt Jr., a five-time winner at Talladega, trails only his father Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon in wins at Talladega. Earnhardt Sr. is the all-time wins leader with 10 victories; Gordon has six. Earnhardt Jr. last triumphed back in October 2004. Overall, Earnhardt has captured nine top-five and 13 top-10 finishes with an average finish of 14.8 at the track.
Can The Victor Be A Spoiler?
Here’s your answer: Absolutely. Talladega offers arguably the best opportunity for non-Chase drivers to poach a win and play the role of spoiler in the championship hunt. “Spoilers” are 0-for-3 to start this season’s Chase. But a race at Talladega could change all that – and often does.
In the eight previous Chases, a non-Chase driver has won the Talladega race four times, including last year when Clint Bowyer captured Richard Childress Racing’s 100th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.
The first Talladega “spoiler” just happens to be calling the race this weekend for ESPN – Dale Jarrett, who won the ’Dega Chase race in 2005. Other Talladega spoilers: Brian Vickers in 2006 and Jamie McMurray in 2009.
McMurray ranks among the top spoilers this weekend, mainly because of his restrictor-plate history (he has three career plate wins). Though in a slump that has seen five consecutive finishes outside the top 20, McMurray excels at Talladega. He finished 11th in the spring, and has led laps in five of the last six races.
If not McMurray, Kyle Busch might be the best. Coming off a 302-laps-led effort at Dover, Busch scored a runner-up finish at Talladega last May and won in 2008.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.
Carl Edwards will make his 600th NASCAR national series start this weekend, becoming the 40th driver to reach that milestone. The starts breakdown: 294 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, 245 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and 60 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. … With Edwards’ fifth-place finish at Dover, Roush Fenway Racing reached 700 career top-five NSCS finishes. … Michael Waltrip will return to the seat of the No. 55 Toyota for the fourth time this season. Waltrip finished 19th at Talladega earlier this season, and led 21 laps. He finished ninth at Daytona in July, his last start. … Comedic actor Kevin James, who has developed a reputation as a command giver extraordinaire, will be the grand marshal for Sunday’s Talladega race and give the command to start engines.
Home Tracks Roundup
Major Announcement With PIR & NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series
Phoenix International Raceway, NASCAR and OCESA made an historic announcement Tuesday in Phoenix: the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series will make its inaugural race in the United States on Friday, March 1, 2013, as part of the SUBWAY Fresh Fit NASCAR Sprint Cup Series weekend.
The NASCAR Toyota Series is one of three international touring series under the NASCAR banner. The historic race marks the first points event for any of the international series to be held in the U.S. The event will be a 75-lap race and will count toward the 2013 championship.
Bobby Santos picked up his first NASCAR Whelen Modified win of the season Sunday at Stafford; Doug Coby finished ninth to move a step closer to his first title. He leads Ryan Preece by 17 and defending tour champion Ron Silk by 18 heading to the season finale Oct. 14 at Thompson. … Jorge Goeters won the NASCAR Toyota Series race at Monterrey Sunday to close to within two points of Daniel Suarez, who finished third, with two races remaining. … Ander Vilarino swept the Euro-Racecar Series event at Valencia. The series wraps up its first year under the NASCAR banner Oct. 13-14 in LeMans, France.
Tables Turned: Stenhouse Chases Sadler This Time Around
No one can doubt the talent that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has, but his championship chase this season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series is quite different compared to his last. In 2011, Stenhouse took the standings lead with 15 races left on the schedule and didn’t look back. This season hasn’t been quite as fortuitous. With five races remaining, Stenhouse is second in the standings, nine points behind Elliott Sadler. Already deemed the ‘Comeback Kid’ of the series, Stenhouse has the opportunity to be the sixth driver in series history to win back-to-back championships if he can make up the points deficit in the last five races.
Due to a repave at Kansas Speedway, the series races at Kansas and Charlotte have been transposed on this season’s schedule. But the same five tracks make up this season’s schedule as they did a year ago and while Sadler has the standings lead by nine points, some interesting statistics point to Stenhouse making a concerted run at that lead over the next five races. Last season, Stenhouse had a better average finish (5.4) than Sadler (6.8), and he also led (117) four times as many laps as Sadler (25) over the last five races of the schedule. Stenhouse also had a better average Driver Rating (116.6) compared to Sadler (104.1) over that same span of races.
This season, both drivers have been stellar through adversity and have continued to raise each other’s game. Richard Childress Racing’s driver and series standings leader Sadler has posted three Coors Light poles, four wins, 13 top fives and 21 top 10s. His season-to-date Driver Rating (108.3) ranks second in the series and his Average Running Position (7.122) leads the series. Sadler has raised his season-to-date Driver Rating by 8.6 points compared to his performance at this point in the season last year (99.7). Roush Fenway Racing’s Stenhouse has posted four Coors Light poles, five wins, a series-high 16 top fives, and 21 top 10s. He leads the series in season-to-date Driver Rating (109.8) and ranks fourth in the series in Average Running Position (8.956). Stenhouse also has improved his season-to-date Driver Rating by 2.7 points compared to his performance at this point in the season last year (107.1).
NASCAR Nationwide Series Heads Into Weekend Off
After 16 straight weekends of racing, the NASCAR Nationwide Series is taking a well-deserved weekend off. The series returns to competition the following Friday night (Oct. 12) at Charlotte for the Dollar General 300.
Over that span, 10 different drivers have found Victory Lane with NSCS regular Joey Logano visiting three times. Current NNS points leader Elliott Sadler has two victories during that time period, the same number of wins as runner-up Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (nine points back).
Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Austin Dillon, currently third in the standings (-25), also has two wins over the past 16 weeks, as does another NSCS regular, Brad Keselowski. Other winners during that span are Nelson Piquet Jr., Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Justin Allgaier and Kevin Harvick.
The weekend off provides the NNS drivers and teams a chance to recharge before the final five races over six weeks. They have another scheduled weekend off following the Kansas race on Oct. 20. They return to the track at Texas on Nov. 3 before hitting Phoenix and Homestead, where the champion will be crowned.
Annett, Whitt Perform Well At Dover, Working Toward Top Five In Points
Michael Annett and Cole Whitt had solid performances on Saturday in the OneMain Financial 200 at Dover. Annett and Whitt finished third and sixth, respectively, in the race won by Joey Logano.
Despite their strong showings at the one-mile track, both drivers are trying to crack the top five in the NNS championship standings. Through 28 of 33 races, Annett is currently sixth (138 points behind leader Sadler), while Whitt is seventh (-211).
Annett’s third-place finish at Dover is his sixth top five this season, an amazing accomplishment considering that in 105 races prior to this season he had never posted a top-five finish. His best finish prior to 2012 was three sixth-place efforts (Auto Club – 2009, Daytona – 2011, Bristol – 2011). His career-best finish at Dover ties his third place in Daytona’s July race.
NASCAR Nationwide Series, Etc.
While the rest of the series takes the weekend off, five series drivers will attempt to compete in this weekend’s NSCS race at Talladega Superspeedway: Cole Whitt, Sam Hornish Jr., Timmy Hill, Joe Nemechek and Trevor Bayne. … With Joey Logano’s win at Dover last weekend, his total has reached a series–high seven trips to Victory Lane this season. With that success, Logano has helped Joe Gibbs further his No. 18 team’s points lead in the owner standings by 21 points over Richard Childress’ No. 2 team. … When the series returns to the track next week for the Dollar General 300 Miles of Courage at Charlotte Motor Speedway, numerous drivers, teams and sponsors will “go pink” in support of Breast Cancer Awareness month.
Talladega Proves Decisive In Minting The Champion
Talladega Superspeedway has been part of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in six previous seasons. And with the schedule winding down – five races remain – the fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola is the “wild card” in the championship deck. And, to a degree, the decisive race in the championship.
The post-Talladega points leader has gone on to win the title in five of six seasons.
James Buescher cut Austin Dillon’s lead to three points a year ago as the pair both finished among the top 10. But Dillon led the rest of the way to the Homestead finale with three consecutive top-10 finishes. Conversely, Todd Bodine finished 18th in 2010 and still won the title. So did Ron Hornaday Jr. with a placing of 17th the previous year.
Could this year be different? Perhaps. Leaders Ty Dillon and Buescher are separated by a single point, matching the Johnny Benson-Hornaday spread entering ’Dega in 2008. Just once since the first weekend of August has the points lead been greater than eight points.
Dillon and Buescher have a bit of breathing room. Their closest rivals, Timothy Peters, Joey Coulter and Parker Kligerman, have significant deficits to overcome. Peters trails Dillon by 24 points. Coulter and Kligerman are nearly a full race behind.
Still – it’s Talladega, where anything can happen and frequently does.
Experience Isn’t Only Key To ’Dega Victory
There’s a single constant among the list of previous Talladega Superspeedway winners: Experience.
Todd Bodine remains the only series full-time winner with victories (2007-08). But Bodine, along with winners Mark Martin, Kyle Busch and Mike Wallace, count more than 3,000 NASCAR national series starts.
Bodine isn’t so sure experience is the only factor – perhaps reflecting on then-Red Horse Racing teammate John King, who won his first Daytona start earlier this year. “Understanding the draft and the subtle nuances of it gives you an advantage but the racing now is so different from what we used to do,” said Bodine. “So I don’t think the advantage is that great.”
Being in the right place at the right time with the right partner is, according to the two-time series champion.
“You have to be smart, and the main thing is you have to have fast trucks [to draft] to be able to put yourself in the position at the end of the race to capitalize on it,” he said.
Gale Ready To Win Again In Home State Competition
Sweet home Alabama, indeed. Cale Gale hopes to double down in his home state having already won ARCA’s first visit to Mobile International Speedway in the spring. Gale, who drives the No. 33 Chevrolet for Eddie Sharp Racing, has made a single series start at Talladega finishing 22nd in 2007.
The 27-year-old Mobile native finished seventh on Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and ranks second in Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. He counts a pair of fifth-place finishes, at Iowa and Dover, plus a Keystone Light Pole at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Series veteran Rick Crawford, promoter of Mobile International Raceway, also has entered the fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola. A five-time NCWTS winner, Crawford finished second in Talladega’s 2007 race.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
Two-time NASCAR Mexico Series champion German Quiroga returns to the series in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 51 Toyota buoyed by Nelson Piquet Jr.’s second victory of the season at LVMS. Quiroga competed twice for the team a year ago with a best finish of 16th. “Obviously, the series is getting more popular with Latin drivers. And Nelson just had his second win of the year,” Quiroga said. “… We are looking forward to having the same success or even better in the future.” … Turner Motorsports now has won seven times in the series with three different drivers and ranks second, one point out of the lead, in NCWTS owner standings. … Aric Almirola makes his second appearance of the season this week in the Wauters Motorsports’ No. 5 Ford he drove to a fifth-place finish in Atlanta. He finished second to Busch at ’Dega in 2010. … Piquet’s pass of Matt Crafton in Las Vegas marked the second time this season the lead changed hands on the final lap. Buescher displaced Peters to win at Chicagoland Speedway in July.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
- The Race: Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500
- The Place: Talladega Superspeedway
- The Date: Sunday, Oct. 7
- The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 500 miles (188 laps)
NASCAR Nationwide Series
- The Race: Dollar General 300
- The Place: Charlotte Motor Speedway
- The Date: Friday, Oct. 12
- The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ESPN, 7 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
- The Race: fred’s 250 powered by Coca-Cola
- The Place: Talladega Superspeedway
- The Date: Saturday, Oct. 6
- The Time: 4 p.m. (ET)
- TV: SPEED, 3:30 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 250.04 miles (94 laps)