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NASCAR Cup Series

Talladega: Change You (Can’t) Count On

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By Matt Weaver (TALLADEGA, AL) – Observers have been hesitant to proclaim the Chase for the Championship a two-team race primarily because Talladega was always looming around the corner.

With the so-called wild card race set to play out this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, I’m here to tell you that it’s not going to make a difference and that the Chase is — at most — a three team affair between Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick.

Consider that the top-three drivers are separated by 30 points (just four between Kenseth to Johnson) and that is a manageable gap to overcome over the next five races. But to assume that Talladega will be the great equalizer is a deeply flawed way of thinking.

First, no team is likely going to gain the 43-plus points needed to overtake or even catch the leaders. The ideal scenario for those wanting a renewed and expanded championship picture is for both Kenseth and Johnson to be wiped out in an early accident while everyone else from third-place Harvick on back to escape and score top-10 finishes.

While it is possible that both the No. 20 and No. 48 teams don’t make it to the finish, the same fate is just as likely to befall the other 11 Chasers as well.

At best, it’s realistic to hope for a net gain of around 15 points if something happens to the two primary contenders but even that’s a stretch due to how competitive both Kenseth and Johnson have on restrictor plate tracks this season.

The chances of getting taken out in the big crash decrease as a car moves closers to the lead and both Johnson and Kenseth have spent a lot of time out front at both Daytona and Talladega this season.

Johnson’s 2013 season on plate tracks need little introduction. The five-time Sprint Cup Series champion opened the season by scoring a second victory in the Daytona 500, finished sixth at Talladega in the spring and won in his return trip to Daytona Beach in July.

That’s an average finish of 2.6.

Kenseth was one of the top-3 unarguable favorites from both the Daytona 500 and Aaron’s 499. He likely would have been a player at the end of the 500 but his engine expired — as the leader — in the middle stages of the race.

Kenseth again dominated the spring Talladega race and just wasn’t able to close out on the victory during a frantic final green-white-checkered finish that ran into the twilight hours. And don’t forget that Kenseth won two plate races last season, including this very fall Talladega race.

So despite so many claims to the contrary, Talladega is just like any of the other remaining five races in the Chase for the Championship in that bad finishes from the contenders are unlikely and that the path to victory lane goes through both the Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson.

Matt Weaver is the Executive Editor of POPULAR SPEED. He has covered NASCAR since 2011 and full-time since 2013. Weaver grew up in the sport, having raced himself before becoming a reporter in college at the University of South Alabama. He has been published all across the country and routinely makes radio appearances on Sirius XM Satellite radio and NBC Sports Radio Network.

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