It’s both appropriate and interesting that the next round of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship is being held at the Talladega Super Speedway on Halloween day. When the checkers fall on Sunday’s Amp Energy Juice 500, it’s going to be interesting to see which team got tricked and which one got a treat. Can you imagine a ghost flying into the garage stall occupied by Jimmie Johnson’s No.48 team and saying “Chad, may I borrow a screwdriver?”
Talladega is of course a restrictor plate race. It’s an environment where four wide racing is more the norm instead of a video highlight. It’s also the home of the big one, the racing situation where the slightest flinch in the wrong direction can trigger a high speed, multi car, accident. It’s going to be interesting to see how this race impacts the Chase profile.
THE STORY BREAKDOWN
Headlining the focal point of the Talladega intensity is the Chase. Jimmie Johnson goes into Sunday’s race with a slim six point advantage over Denny Hamlin and a 62 point lead over Kevin Harvick who holds down third.
From this trio of Chase contenders Harvick is without question the focal point. He appears to have a greater level of expertise at restrictor plate racing and he won the spring race at Talladega last April. He’s also the only driver to score top ten finishes in all three of the restrictor plate races held this year.
Johnson is a previous winner at Talladega. He also seems to qualify well at restrictor plate events. He has a 9.71 start average in 17 races which places him on the top of the charts in that category among active drivers. On the other hand, Hamlin has yet to win a restrictor place race in 19 tries but does have four top ten finishes. Among this trio Harvick seems to be holding all of the cards. If he’s going to eradicate any of Johnson’s lead then Talladega will be the place for him to get the job done.
The other big storyline from this weekend that will warrant a lot of commentary is the financial status of Richard Petty Motorsports. All four of the RPM cars will be at the race track this weekend but that alone is a miracle considering all of the revelations we heard regarding the financial woes of majority team owner George Gillett Jr.
The financial woes seem to center around a $90 million loan Gillett secured from the Wachovia Bank used to initially purchase the race team from its founder Ray Evernham back in 2007. Approximately two years ago there was a corporate merger with Petty Enterprises followed by a second merger with Yates Racing. The status of that loan hit default recently. Adding to the problem were mounting unpaid bills owed to Roush Fenway Racing, who supplies the Ford Fusions the team uses, along with Roush Yates Engines who supplies the power plants for the cars.
On Tuesday Booth Creek Resort Properties LLC, owned by Gillett, sold their stock in the companies that operate the Northstar at Tahoe Ski Resort for a reported $63 million. This move reportedly eased some of the debt structure which in turn allowed the team’s presence at this Sunday’s race at Talladega.
Meanwhile there are reports that says that Richard Petty, who owns a four percent minority interest in the operation, is taking on the daunting, if not completely impossible, challenge of attempting to put a group of investors together to buy out Gillett. At this point in time it’s not certain that the team will make next week’s race in Texas.
THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN
The Las Vegas based WSE, World Sports Exchange, understandably has pre race favorite Kevin Harvick, and Richard Childress Racing, on top of their rankings at 6 to 1 odds. Right behind Harvick is a lot of “Smoke.” Tony Stewart is rated at 7 to 1.
At 8 to 1 are a pair of drivers who could be an interesting long shot wager. Jamie McMurray is the defending race winner and won the 2009 event when he was still driving for Roush Fenway Racing. However, McMurray has three major wins for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing this year including last February’s Daytona 500 the other restrictor plate track on the Cup schedule. Also in this ranking is Kyle Busch who is another former Talladega winner. Never overlook the capability of this driver and Joe Gibbs Racing.
Next we have one of the more interesting, and possibly lucrative, WSE proposals. Dale Earnhardt Jr is listed at 10 to 1 odds for the race. A few weeks ago anyone would have told you not to waste your money. The struggles of this team over the past two seasons have been well documented. So have the arguments between the driver and the crew chief that has fueled garage rumors stating Lance McGrew may not be the crew chief when the 2011 season starts next February. But what makes this wager so interesting is the team’s performance last weekend in the Martinsville race. Earnhardt led more laps in this race than his combined total all season. The other factor here is the numbers this driver has at Talladega. He’s a five time winner there including a series high four consecutive wins that ranged from 2001 to 2003.
Another wager to consider is Jeff Gordon at 12 to 1 odds. Gordon leads all active drivers with six wins at Talladega and 13 top five finishes. This could turn out to be a solid long shot wager assuming Kurt Busch is through getting even with Gordon for atrocities that dates back several years.
In the middle portion of this week’s WSE rankings you will find Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards at 15 to 1 while previous race winner Jimmie Johnson is ranked 18 to 1. Johnson could turn out to be another good long shot prospect. The #48 team’s restrictor plate efforts have to wake up eventually. At 20 to 1 is a quartet of drivers featuring Denny Hamlin, Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer and Juan Pablo Montoya.
At the bottom of the WSE list is the trio of Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman and former winner Brad Keselowski at 25 to 1 odds. At 30 to 1 is the quartet of two time winner Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Aric Almirola in the RPM Ford formally occupied by Kasey Kahne while Joey Logano completes the category.
Now for the disclaimer: NASCAR wants to remind you that these numbers are for information and entertainment purposes only. They neither encourage nor condone the placing of wagers on their races. If you need an alternative source for spending your allowance then dial up the NASCAR Store on your computers and purchase some Richard Petty Motorsports souvenirs.
THE RACE BREAKDOWN
The Amp Energy Juice 500 is 188 laps/500.08 miles around the Talladega Super Speedway’s 2.666 mile quad oval.
The race has 46 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. 11 of those entries are on the go or go home list. These teams do not have a guaranteed starting berth because they are currently outside of the top 35 in owner’s points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speed to make the race.
The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held at Talladega in September of 1969 and was won by Richard Brick house. Since that time the track has hosted 82 Cup races that have sent 40 different winners to victory lane. 13 of those races has been won by drivers who started from the pole position. 31 of the races have been won from the first two starting berths.
Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing are tied for the most team wins at Talladega with ten each.
In restrictor plate racing, lead changes can often be fast and furious. The track record for most lead changes, 88, was set last April. That same race also established a new track record for most leaders at 29.
The most yellow caution flags at a Talladega are 11, set back in 2004. On the opposite extreme there has been three times when a race there ran caution free with the most recent one being back in the fall of 2002.
When it comes to qualifying at the Talladega Super Speedway NASCAR icon Bill Elliot is the man. He set the track record, during the non restrictor plate days, of 212.809 MPH back in 1987. Then Elliot set the restrictor plate record, 199.388 MPH, in 1990. He also holds the track record for most poles at eight.
This massive speedway is 48 feet wide to accommodate the multiple line racing. The turns are banked a whopping 33 degrees while the tri oval has 18 degrees of banking. The front stretch measures 4,300 feet and is banked 16.5 degrees. The backstretch is 4,000 feet long but only has two degrees of banking. The pit road is 3,000 feet long and 48 feet wide. Pit road speed is 55 MPH.
The speedway presently has seating for 143,231 fans.
The weather should not be a problem this weekend. The forecast calls for sunny skies and 73 degrees.
The Amp Energy Juice 500 will be broadcast live by the ESPN2 Network beginning at 12 pm eastern time. The re broadcasts will be Monday morning, 330 am ET, on ESPN2 and again on Wednesday afternoon, 12 pm et, on SPEED.