E.A. Sports Today

Dega could be wilder than ever

With 4 drivers, including Earnhardt, facing elimination from Chase, there’s a lot on the line

Talladega Superspeedway chairman Grant Lynch

Talladega Superspeedway chairman Grant Lynch

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA – Racing at Talladega Superspeedway is wild enough under normal circumstances, but throw in all that is on the line in Sunday’s GEICO 500 and the typical free-for-all that becomes the closing laps could be wilder than ever.

Twelve drivers sit on the starting grid in the hunt for the Sprint Cup championship; four will be out at the end of the day. Three of the four on the bubble aren’t guys you’d expect to be there given their body of work this season and two are among the most popular drivers who regularly have lined up to help each other at the end here.

Something’s got to give and that could create carnage maybe even earlier than normal in the 188-lap race that always has The Big One somewhere.

“Due to a few of us needing to win and win only, you’re going to see a handful of guys who are eager to be doing something and (be) active and proactive to moving to the front the entire race,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “And that might be enough to pull along another handful of guys to get in the middle of that and move forward as well.

“Judging by what we saw at Charlotte at end of the race (last week) — the emotion we saw there — you’re definitely going to have that inside all these race cars, at least several of them. Several are going to have guys in there thinking about the situation and understanding how dire and critical things are and probably that’s gonna trigger guys to making moves and do things with more urgency that they typically would at some of these races.”

Only two of the 12 are guaranteed spots in the final eight Eliminator round – points leader Joey Logano and No. 3 Kevin Harvick – by virtue of winning the previous two Contender round races at Kansas and Charlotte. The four below the line are anywhere from one to 26 points back of the coveted eighth position, currently held by Kasey Kahne.

Six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt, a five-time Talladega winner, are currently tied for 11th and figure they need a win-or-else to advance. The other two drivers sitting below the cut line today are Matt Kenseth (by one point) and Brad Keselowski, a five-time winner this season. And even though Kahne is eighth, he only controls his destiny by winning Sunday.

If what it’s worth, the four drivers below the cut line have more combined victories at Talladega than the eight above it – 10-9, and Gordon, who’ll start near the rear, has six of those.

“It is more important to win than it has been on other weekends,” Keselowski said. “That’s a huge challenge and Talladega isn’t a place you want to go to knowing you have to win. … You definitely race more aggressively when you have as much on the line as you do now; there’s no doubt about that.”

Earnhardt said he can’t remember being in a win-or-else position before. His plan is to try to stay as close to the front as possible to control the race. The only thing Johnson can equate to it is his 2012 race at Homestead.

And that’s what could make the finish a frantic one.

“I can promise you with four guys needing to win to transfer that at the end of the race there will definitely be some racing,” Johnson said. “It might be us four, but there’s at least four who have a really big reason to take chances and to be aggressive and to win.”

It has to be a race promoter’s dream.

“On a normal time it would be very exciting to have, knowing four guys are going to go home,” TSS chairman Grant Lynch said. “What makes this one even more intense is the four guys who are in the four worst positions.

“When you were doing your brackets, you didn’t have those four in those positions coming out of Talladega or going into it. That just ratchets it up so much more, to know those guys have the worst chance of coming out of this and for them to really know the only way they can ensure they get there to win they have to win, I don’t know how you can have things any better.”

It may be cruel to have a track as volatile as Talladega host such a high-stakes elimination race, but get used to it. The race will be in the same position next year.

“This is a Dale Jr. place,” Lynch said. “So to have him in that position … can you imagine if he won Talladega and went on to a race in the next (round) and go to Homestead and win. That would validate the Chase forever.”

Al Muskewitz is Content Editor/Senior Writer of East Alabama Sports Today. He can be reached at musky@wrightmediacorp.com and followed on Twitter at Al Muskewitz@easportstoday1.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. figures he has to win Sunday to advance into the next round of the Chase for the Cup. (Staff photos)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. figures he has to win Sunday to advance into the next round of the Chase for the Cup. (Staff photos)


(55) Brian Vickers, 196.129
(48) Jimmie Johnson, 195.732
(47) AJ Allmendinger, 195.496
(12) Ryan Blaney, 194.015
(2) x-Brad Keselowski (alternator), 194.007
(95) Michael McDowell, 193.693
(33) Travis Kvapil, 193.603
(5) Kasey Kahne, 193.498
(32) Terry Labonte, 193.431
(7) Michael Annett, 193.162
(31) Ryan Newman, 191.302
(78) Martin Truex Jr., 190,981
(20) x-Matt Kenseth (engine), 193.415
(23) Alex Bowman, 193.376
(99) Carl Edwards, 193.291
(21) Trevor Bayne, 192.401
(43) Aric Almirola, 192.278
(41) Kurt Busch, 192.096
(13) Casey Mears, 191.908
(27) Paul Minard, 191.773
(38) David Gilliland, 190.985
(26) Cole Whitt, 190.970
(49) Mike Wallace, 184.729
(16) Greg Biffle, 191.577
(34) David Ragan, 191.420
(9) Marcos Ambrose, 191.214
(10) Danica Patrick, 191.149
(88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., 191.134
(40) Landon Cassill, 191.130
(3) Austin Dillon, 191.027
(1) Jamie McMurray, 190.818
(83) JJ Yeley, 190.689
(15) Clint Bowyer, 190.681
(66) Michael Waltrip, 190.586
(98) Josh Wise, 190.507
(36) Reed Sorenson, 189.305
(14) Tony Stewart, OP
(11) Denny Hamlin, OP
(4) Kevin Harvick, OP
(22) Joey Logano, OP
(18) Kyle Busch, OP
(42) Kyle Larson, OP
(24) Jeff Gordon, OP

x-will start in back
OP-Owners points

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