Saturday, April 28, 2007

Talladega Viewer's Guide

Steve Byrnes /
Posted: 5 hours ago

With the Chase for the Nextel Cup 18 races away, some teams are bordering on desperation. Since he finished 7th in the Daytona 500, Kasey Kahne's best finish is 19th at Bristol. Owner Ray Evernham has said that they won't contend for a championship until they improve on restrictor plate tracks.

Darrell Waltrip says desperate times require desperate measures, and desperate men do desperate things. We're past the point when teams can say they have to be careful at Talladega because you can be up front or in the back and get wrecked. The teams struggling that are struggling to get into the top 35 and stay there just have to finish the race.

Who to Watch
Jeff Gordon: With momentum following a win last week at Phoenix, Gordon won this race two years ago.
Tony Stewart: Strong at Daytona until he was the first car crashed out of the race, there's a little bit of irony with Stewart. In 2002, he finished 43rd in the Daytona 500, too, and he came back and won the championship that year.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: His father is the master at Talladega with 10 wins, and Dale Jr. is second on the all-time list with five victories. He's due, too, after having a great race car and getting crashed in Texas, and then he got trapped in the pits at Phoenix.
Jamie McMurray: Although he finished 31st at Daytona, McMurray ran as high as third in the 500. He's my sleeper pick this week.
Kyle Busch: The No. 5 was a great race car at Daytona. He didn't have the finish to show for it, but he had a great piece so he should be one to watch on Sunday.

What to Watch
On the offensive: Racing at Talladega is like a high-scoring football game. It's the epitome of a track meet, and it's going to be wide open. It would be easier to say who aren't we going to watch.
Hanging back: I've seen Dale Jarrett used different strategy. He won at Talladega, leading the very last lap in the October race a couple of years ago. Sometimes he hangs near the back. The Yates cars are always strong on the restrictor plate tracks. Gilliland and Rudd both qualified well at Daytona. For Dale Jarrett, I've seen him use different strategies.
Coopetition: You'll see two-tire stops and drivers running and pitting together so they won't lose momentum on pit road. You'll see wheeling and dealing in the pits, on the racetrack and atop the spotters' tower.
'Getting a good suck:' You'll hear drivers talk about getting a good suck or a good pull from the car in front of them. Being fast by yourself in qualifying is one thing, but they want to run together in packs and pull up on the car in front of them. Part of it is drafting. Part of it's just trying to figure out your closing rate and how quickly you can make the pass and keep your momentum.

Pit Perspectives
At Phoenix, I was really impressed with Ryan Newman and the No. 12 team. They cracked the top five. Like a lot of guys, Newman was fighting a tight race car, but they kept getting the car better and better. They had a miscommunication in the pits, and they fell to 38th, which is hard to believe. It's an example of how perfect you have to be these days.

Finish Line
It's very basic at Talladega. You have to be in position on the last lap. Mark Martin said it repeatedly — with a lot of class — after the Daytona 500. He kept saying, "I lost my pusher," referring to Kyle Busch who had been behind him. Assuming you've made it through all of the race to lap 188, you have to be in position to win. In this year's Great American Race, Kevin Harvick's run off of Turn 2 at Daytona was pretty spectacular, but he wasn't in the garage. And he wasn't so far back in the pack that he lost momentum and any shot to run to the front.

sorce - foxsports

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