The only way to truly pick a winner at the 2.66 mile superspeedway that is Talladega is to be a really good dart thrower. However, I will do my best to look over the stats, trends and weekend events to most accurately tabulate the driver to wind up soaking wet in victory lane.
What place better to start than with history. Within the last ten years, two drivers stand out among the rest in wins.
Both Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. have compiled four wins each, but Earnhardt, Jr.’s wins came in four consecutive races from 2001 to 2003.
Gordon’s wins came since 2004 and he was the track’s last back to back winner, pulling off that feat in ‘07. Also, Gordon’s ‘07 wins makes him the only multiple winner in the past five seasons.
One doesn’t have to go far to find another set of impressive stats. Earnhardt, Jr. and Gordon’s teammate, Jimmie Johnson, has accumulated five top tens and an average finish of 12.5 over the last five years, leading all drivers in both categories. Johnson also has two poles in that stretch, but without any wins. His lone Talladega win came in May of 2006.
On the more unlucky side of the stats, in the past twelve races Martin Truex, Jr. leads all drivers with eight DNFs. When coupled with the past two weeks of this season, Truex, Jr. would seem to be trending in the wrong direction for Aaron’s 499, but of the four races he did finish, three were in the top ten.
When looking at momentum, the wise choice would be with the Roush Fenway bunch. They are coming off a fantastic week that saw all four of their cars finish in the top seven, including winner Matt Kenseth.
If you include Marcos Ambrose, Trevor Bayne and A.J. Allmendinger, which would give Ford seven of the top nineteen spots, once again lending some credence to the notion that the new “FR9” engine is one to be reckoned with at these super fast speedways.
Then if you add in the fact that the new Ford power plant has improved cooling, this could very well be another banner week for the “Blue Ovals”.
Normally, looking at the weekend’s practice and qualifying speeds would be a good indication of how the race might shape up, but with one practice session being cut short because of rain and the fact that this is an impound race, those numbers might as well be thrown out of the window.
That being said, the Hendrick powered Chevrolets grabbed the top four spots to start Sunday’s race, having Jeff Gordon earning the pole, Johnson starting second, Mark Martin third and Earnhardt, Jr. rolling off fourth. Now encompass the top two from the practice charts, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman respectively (both using Hendrick engines) it looks as if we have another player in this season’s engine battle and some very big players in today’s race.
The one trend that seems to be continuing is that of new winners at each race, both this season and at Talladega. The only exception being Kevin Harvick’s multiple wins this year. It is from this trend and this season’s only repeat winner’s team who you’ll find capturing the checkered flag.
Paul Menard has been putting together a rather impressive start to 2011. Menard has the quite stout Earnhardt Ganassi engine under the hood; he also has some pretty good teammates to draft with. Plus Menard was the top non-Hendrick qualifier, starting in the fifth spot.
Adding all this up and including the entire logic one can muster, we must be reminded that this is Talladega, the biggest wildcard track on the circuit.
So what does it mean? Grab your darts and start chucking, because after all the two by two drafting, double file restarts and multiple Green/White/Checkered finishes, it most likely will come down to luck. Being in the right spot at the right time and with the right drafting partner will be what launches the winner across the finish line.