Chase Watch: Who will win, get in at Talladega?
May 01, 2014, Staff report, NASCAR.com
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The new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format doesn't have Wild Cards. Under the previous system, the two drivers with the most wins from 11th through 20th in points made the playoffs.
Sunday's Aaron's 499 (1 p.m. ET, FOX) at Talladega Superspeedway could be the best hope for a Wild Card to make the 16-driver Chase Grid. Drivers with the most wins who sit in the top 30 in points and have attempted to qualify for all 26 races can make the Chase.
Last year's spring winner at Talladega, David Ragan, was 25th in points following last September's race at Richmond. Under the new format rules, he would have made the Chase.
As NASCAR returns to the world's fastest track, these five drivers have a chance to fast-track their way into the Chase with a win.
The defending race winner's other NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory came at Daytona International Speedway. Among active drivers with more than two Talladega starts, Ragan is tied with Brad Keselowski for the best average finish (14.2). He has lead-lap finishes in 12 of his 14 career starts, including seven top-10s and four top-fives. Ragan is 31st in points, 26 behind Front Row Motorsports teammate David Gilliland, so he needs to pick up his performance over the final 17 races to cash in a win for a Chase berth.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The 2013 Sunoco Rookie of the Year winner has the top driver rating (94.7) and best average finish (8.0) among active drivers. He has just two starts at this track, but he's kept himself in the mix in both races with the second-best average running position (12.5), average green flag speed (193.253 mph) and average mid-race position (12.5). Ford has won two of the last three races at Talladega, and the No. 17 car went to Victory Lane in the fall of 2012. Sitting 26th in points, Stenhouse Jr. would earn a provisional Chase spot with a win. He also would join other active drivers, Keselowski and Brian Vickers, by notching his first career win at the track.
Among active drivers, Gordon has the most wins (six), top-fives (15) and laps led (83). Four-Time hasn't won in Alabama since sweeping both races in 2007, but he has three top-14 finishes in his last three starts there, including a runner-up results in the fall of 2012. A seventh win would tie Rick Hendrick with Richard Childress for most wins at Talladega with 12 and would move Gordon within three of Dale Earnhardt, the all-time winner at the track.
Some drivers like to ride in the back at Talladega. Not Matt Kenseth. Since 2005, he has led the most laps (407), spent the most laps in the top 15 (2,239) and has the best percentage of quality passes, or passes among drivers in the top 15, at 73.8 percent. It all adds up to the second-best driver rating (91.6) among active drivers. Kenseth has three top-10 finishes in his last four starts at the track, leading 142 laps in this race last year before getting shuffled back to eighth.
For five races from 2010 through 2012, Bowyer had five consecutive top-seven finishes, including consecutive wins in the fall race. He failed to win three in a row in the fall of 2012 with a 23rd-place finish and was 18th in this race last spring, but he finished 10th last October. He has eight top-10 finishes in his 16 starts at the track, and his 15.9 average finish trails only Stenhouse, Keselowski, Ragan and Dale Earnhardt Jr. among active drivers.
Go deeper: Check out NASCAR's Talladega Statistical Analysis for more stats and notes for the Aaron's 499 (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX).
Here are the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings after nine races:
||Winner: Texas, Richmond
||Winner: Phoenix, Darlington|
|5.||Dale Earnhardt Jr.
||Winner: Las Vegas
|9.||Matt Kenseth||2nd in points|
||8th in points|
||9th in points|
||10th in points|
||11th in points|
||12th in points|
||13th in points|
||14th in points|