Let’s roll the dice again this weekend and head to the Yellowhammer State (no clue as to what that means) for the second and final time of this 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Now, I will tell you that the Matty’s Picks columns have been rather lengthy the past 10 weeks or so, and one of the SpeedwayMedia.com editors (Uncle Role Model) let me know about it in the Media Center at Charlotte Motor Speedway last week. So the days of my quirky facts and less than insightful information are over…party pooper.
[media-credit name=”talladegasuperspeedway.com” align=”alignright” width=”128″][/media-credit]Not acting like a tough guy or anything (in all seriousness), there are only a few things that have given me the chills and made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. A brief recap of some of those moments is as follows; the first is even the thought of a needle coming towards my skin, the second was walking into Notre Dame Stadium for the first time just a month ago, and the third was standing in the first row on the front stretch at Talladega Superspeedway while a pack of 43, 750HP stock cars took the wind out of my lungs as they flew by at 200MPH. Talladega is just one of those tracks that all NASCAR fans must visit to truly take in the speed, the talent, and the tailgate that Dega has to offer.
It’s a tough week to pick a winner because of the fact that ANYTHING can happen in 188 laps at Talladega. Avoiding “The Big One” at the 2.66-mile tri-oval is key, and as of late, finding a partner that is willing to push you to victory and not try anything crazy coming thru the tri-oval on the final lap is the last piece of the puzzle on the way to Victory Lane in Alabama.
Let me start by saying that I had the time of my life last weekend in North Carolina. I was blown away by the organization and execution of the race weekend. It was the most well organized, thoroughly staffed, and most hospitable race environments I have ever been a part of. NASCAR race organizers should be required to attend a race weekend in Charlotte before they even think about hosting a Sprint Cup Series race. (Cough, Kentucky…)
I will start with the bad news first this week in my recap section.
My Dark Horse pick for last Saturday’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was 5-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion, Jimmie Johnson. Johnson ran in the Top-10 for the majority of the laps Saturday night, before he was involved with an incident after racing Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick for position.
The No. 48 Lowe’s/Chevy 100 Year Anniversary Chevrolet was shown in the 7th position when I heard one of the loudest cheers (besides Jr. taking the lead at Bristol), that I’ve ever heard in my life. I was standing in Turn 4 at Charlotte Motor Speedway when the crowed erupted, and as I turned to watch the giant HD video board to see that my Winner Pick had plowed the wall coming out of Turn 2.
Johnson finished the race scored in 34th, netting me nothing to brag about and spoke following his on-track incident, “That one stung for sure,” Johnson said. “I’m just thankful to have such safe race cars, safe walls. Everything did its job. That was a pretty big impact. It’s just unfortunate that we wrecked. We got into Turn 1, and the (No.) 39 was real tight on my outside, and it pulled me around the corner. From there on, I was just kind of hanging on.”
I said last week that I was more confident in my Dark Horse pick than my Winner Pick, and for good reason. Kasey Kahne’s driver rating going into last weekend’s Bank of America 500 spoke for itself. He was fourth in overall driver rating at Charlotte Motor Speedway at 94.5, and had 7 Top-5’s including 4 wins at the 1.5-mile quad oval.
Three practice sessions later, it seemed like Kahne had the car to beat last weekend, winning two of the three practice sessions. Kahne ran very well all night except for when he pitted JUST before the caution flew, catching him a lap down to the leaders about midway through the race. He opted to take the wave around, putting him back on the lead lap, and keeping my hopes alive for a solid finish.
It was pretty fun watching Kasey Kahne work his way back through the field and back into the Top-5 with around 50 laps remaining.
Kahne was able to race his way all the way back to fourth, netting me a Top-5 Dark Horse pick (my first since Brad Keselowski finished 3rd way back in August at Michigan).
“We had a great Red Bull Toyota. The guys did an awesome job. It was just a fine line of being really good or a little off. We kind of went over it throughout the race…we had to fight back. It was just kind of being in the wrong spot at the wrong time. We had a really good car and it was another positive race for us.”
Picking anyone at a Superspeedway makes me very nervous. I could go through miles and miles of statistics, driver ratings, rants, gut feelings, but really it all comes down to having a bit of luck on your side to win at Talladega. On top of having Lady Luck in your corner, the 2-car draft has created a very team-oriented style of racing at Talladega and Daytona. So having someone who will not get selfish at the end of the race and settle for second is a key to victory at a restrictor plate race.
This week will be an all or nothing version of Matty’s Picks as I will be picking a pair of teammates to drive to the front on lap 188 Sunday afternoon.
There is just a hint of strategy this week in making my picks, because a you know it’s a two-car dance at Talladega. Many times it turns out that the two-car pushes are teammates.
Yesterday, many teams were at Talladega Superspeedway for testing of the new Electronic Fuel Injection system that will make its debut next season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The two fastest cars on the track…Richard Childress racing teammates.
My Winner Pick this week is “The Closer”, for his “Where did he come from?” racing style over the course of the 2011 Sprint Cup Season. Kevin Harvick won the spring race last April at Talladega, one of his four wins at either Daytona or Dega.
In 60 starts at the two Superspeedways, Kevin Harvick has 15 Top-5’s, 26 Top-10’s, and a slew of come from the rear of the pack to finish strong’s. Harvick currently sits just 5 points behind points-leader Carl Edwards, and is looking for a win to separate himself from the rest of the field for the Sprint Cup. Watch for Harvick to receive some help by way of Paul Menard in taking the checkered on Sunday.
Dark Horse Pick
With the two-car tango, any driver who plans on winning the Good Sam Club 500 on Sunday will have to have some help from behind.
Paul Menard and Kevin Harvick had the two fastest cars on the racetrack yesterday during the EFI testing at Talladega Superspeedway. The tandem ran over 90 laps together, and to me it was practice for Sunday.
Menard’s history at Talladega is less than impressive with just one finish in the Top-5 after 10 starts at the 2.66-mile monster. His record at Superspeedways in general have been subpar, with an average finish of 21.2 at Dega and Daytona.
To me, the advantage lies in the testing session yesterday as drivers and crew chiefs alike had their chances to work the bugs out and get a bit more comfortable with the two-car tango. Watch for Menard and Harvick to hook up early and run the majority of the 188 laps on Sunday glued to each other’s bumpers.
That’s all for this week, as always check me out on Twitter @ML_B_Lo for some less than insightful NASCAR news.
Until Next Time…You Stay Classy NASCAR NATION!