For those who found the first three races of NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup title playoff wanting for excitement -- and some post-race articles and reader comments showed there were more than a few -- your race is at hand.
Race No. 4 in the Chase is Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, the longest (2.66 miles), wildest and most unpredictable event in the 10-race title playoff.
Talladega, 50 miles east of Birmingham, is one of two high-banked, restrictor-plate tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule (Daytona is the other).
Simply put, that means the cars race around the speedway in packs as drivers draft with each other, hoping (a) they find a friendly drafting partner who can help them stay up front and (b) they avoid the multi-car wrecks that are commonplace in pack racing.
The leaders constantly are in flux and winning takes drafting skill, a strong engine and a whole lot of luck. All of which means the Chase standings could be well-shuffled by Sunday night.
Talledega “can shake things up in a big way,” said Clint Bowyer, who’s fourth in the Chase and has won the last two Chase races at Talladega. “It can propel you to the lead or bury you.”
Brad Keselowski, who’s won two of the first three Chase races, leads the standings by five points over Jimmie Johnson, 16 over Denny Hamlin and 25 over Bowyer. Keselowski also won the spring race at Talladega.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who’s 39 points behind and seventh among the 12 Chase drivers, is a five-time winner at Talladega.
His Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, a four-time Cup champion who’s 48 points behind Keselowski in 10th, has won six times there.
Johnson, another Hendrick driver, is a two-time winner but he’s also had his share of misfortune (see Vickers, Brian). Talladega, Johnson said, “definitely is the one track in the Chase I’ve kind of been a little concerned about.”