News & Media

Qualifying the Chasers: Talladega Superspeedway

October 26, 2011, Bill Kimm,

Teammates Johnson, Gordon claim spots in top five; ten contenders in top 16

Jimmie Johnson (Qualified second) -- After his wreck at Charlotte, Johnson is on the brink, no question. And coming to Talladega has the No. 48 team excited, especially after they won here in the spring. But Johnson has been very inconsistent at the 2.66-mile track. Johnson has two wins, five top-fives and nine top-10s in 10 starts, but he also has seven DNFs. The good news for Johnson, most of his success has come recently. He has seven top-10s, including two wins and two seconds, in his past 10 'Dega starts. In recent Chase races, Johnson has been spectacular with a second (2007), ninth (2008), sixth (2009) and seventh (2010).

Jeff Gordon (Qualified fifth) -- Gordon has more starts than any Chase driver at Talladega and it shows in the stats. He has more wins (six), top-fives (14), top-10s (18) and laps led (831) than anyone else in the Chase. The impressive thing about Gordon is he has been able to maintain that consistency despite all the changes this race has gone through. Gordon's victories span 11 years -- from 1996 to 2007 -- and in the spring, Gordon finished third, backing up an eighth-place run in last year's Chase race. The only thing making the No. 24 team nervous is he's due for a DNF. The longest he's gone in between DNFs at 'Dega is six races, and Sunday will be his sixth start since he crashed in the 2008 Chase race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Qualified sixth) -- Earnhardt is among the best at Talladega, just not recently. Five wins, nine top-fives and 12 top-10s are nothing to scoff at, but most of those came before his move to Hendrick. In HMS equipment, Earnhardt has an average finish of 15.2 with two top-fives, but he has led at least eight laps in every race. In fact, Junior has been out front in 21 of his 23 starts at the superspeedway. Coming off a fourth in the spring, this weekend could be a huge momentum swing for Earnhardt.

Carl Edwards (Qualified ninth) -- Edwards' third at Charlotte gives the Roush driver five top-10s in five Chase races, four of which were top-fives -- the only driver who can make that claim. Edwards is in the middle of an eight-race stretch of ninth or better finishes as he heads to the wildcard of Talladega, where he has been somewhat successful recently. He finished sixth in the spring and has finished 17th or better in his past four starts at the track. The good news for Edwards, the points leader has increased his lead in the past three Chase races at Talladega.

Ryan Newman (Qualified 10th) -- Newman has the third-worst average finish among Chasers at Talladega, but don't let that fool you, he's been pretty good at the superspeedway -- just not recently. Newman's never won at 'Dega, but he does have four top-fives and seven top-10s in 19 starts. Unfortunately for Newman, they were all with Penske. In Newman's time at Stewart-Haas Racing, he finished third in '09, but since then it's been a 36th, 35th, 23rd and 25th. Newman has had some memorable finishes at Talladega, but it's been with a destroyed race car. Newman is one of two Chasers (Hamlin) without a top-five in the Chase and he will have to snap his recent skid at Talladega to end that streak.

Matt Kenseth (Qualified 11th) -- Kenseth has had an awesome Chase ... after Chicago. With finishes of sixth, fifth, fourth and first, Kenseth is now third in points, seven behind Edwards. He will need all of those points, because Talladega hasn't been kind to the '03 Cup champion. Kenseth has never won at Talladega, and hasn't finished in the top 10 there since 2006. The good news: Kenseth is much better in the fall than spring. Since 2004, Kenseth's average finish in the fall race is 16.1, in the spring it's 24.3.

Tony Stewart (Qualified 12th) -- Stewart is starting to get into desperation mode. After starting the Chase with back-to-back victories, he hasn't posted a top-five since. He's coming to a track where top-fives have come fast and furious. Stewart has nine of them in 25 starts, fifth-best among NASCAR tracks. The one problem -- all of those came with Joe Gibbs Racing. Stewart's best finish in his own equipment is a 16th in the 2010 spring race. This is a man, though, who has finished first or second seven times at Talladega, so he can never be counted out.

Kevin Harvick (Qualified 13th) -- Harvick joins Edwards and Kenseth as the only drivers with at least four top-10s in the Chase and he heads to a track where he has been among the best recently. Harvick's career 14.3 average finish is second-best among Chasers thanks to a win, six top-fives and 10 top-10s in 21 starts. In his past three starts, no one has scored more points at Talladega than Harvick. He won the spring race last year and backed it up with a second-place finish in the fall. Then this spring, he finished fifth for his third consecutive top-five. In Chase races, Harvick has finished no lower than 21st with two runner-up finishes and two other top-10s.

Kurt Busch (Qualified 14th) -- Despite no victories at Talladega, Busch has the best average finish among Chasers at the track, so that says something about his consistency. From 2004-2007, Busch had a streak of seven finishes of eighth or better. He's been more up and down recently, but still considered a favorite at the track. Busch has led laps in all but four of his 16 career starts and led 19 laps in the spring. The one concern for the No. 22 team is Busch's recent Chase performances at Talladega. His past three Chase finishes have been 21st, 30th and 30th.

Brad Keselowski (Qualified 16th) -- Talladega will always hold a special place in Keselowski's heart as it is the track he won his first Cup Series race. Since then, Keselowski has been hit or miss at the superspeedway. He has a win, an eighth and a 10th, but also has finishes of 34th and 33rd. Keselowski can lay claim to one fact -- he's led in every race he's competed at Talladega. His two top-10s have come in the fall, and after a points hit at Charlotte, if Keselowski is to say in the championship picture, he will need another top-10 on Sunday.

Denny Hamlin (Qualified 31st) -- Poor Hamlin ... he just can't catch a break in the Chase. Hamlin finally posted a top-10, but lost ground in the championship. That being said, he heads to a track where he's seen some success. Hamlin has four top-10s in 11 starts at 'Dega, including three top-fives, and has held the lead in 10 of those events. Unfortunately, in the other seven starts, he's finished 21st or worse. Bottom line, Hamlin finishes races at Talladega -- he has eight lead-lap finishes -- and don't be surprised to see the No. 11 out front for a few laps.

Kyle Busch (Qualified 34th) -- Busch went from 43rd to second at Charlotte to keep himself in the championship hunt, and it's a good thing, because he has the worst average finish among all Chasers at Talladega. His 24.2 average finish and five DNFs don't bode well for Busch's title hopes, but it's not as bad as the stats indicate. For one, Busch is always out front. He's led laps in the past eight races at 'Dega and while his crash this spring didn't help his average, it wasn't his fault. If Busch can stay out of trouble, he should have a good points day.