NASCAR Sprint Cup: 10 Drivers Who'll Be in the Running at Talladega

Michael Guadalupe@The_GuadaFeatured ColumnistOctober 5, 2012

NASCAR Sprint Cup: 10 Drivers Who'll Be in the Running at Talladega

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    Talladega is this Sunday and could shake up the chase standings as we know it.

    Which drivers will be able to avoid the big wreck that is infamous at this type of track?

    Will hanging out toward the back of the pack prove to be a viable strategy?  Or will a driver who tries to remain toward the front be the one who wins in the end?

    Talladega could end the chase dreams of some drivers, or it could help push those at the top even closer to winning the Sprint Cup championship.

    Without a doubt, with so much on the line for so many drivers, Talladega should be a great race this Sunday.

    Here are 10 drivers who will be in the running at Talladega.

Jeff Gordon

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    Jeff Gordon understands the importance of a solid finish at Talladega.

    He also knows what wrecking would do to him and his chase chances.

    Gordon was quoted over at SBnation.com as saying:

    "(The championship leaders) are thinking, 'We can't afford to get caught up in the big one, and I'm sitting here thinking, 'I can't afford not to be leading laps, running up front and to not win this race.'"

    Clearly Gordon has winning on his mind when he gets set for Talladega this Sunday, but what will his plan be as he gets set to try to win the race and keep his chase hopes alive?

    "We're going to be more aggressive when it comes to the temperatures we run, but we also know what happened to us at Daytona," Gordon said (via SBnation.com). "That was more from a failure, so we're going to push the limits this weekend. We've seen other teams do it and get to the finish."

    Gordon used an aggressive approach to make it into the chase in the first place, coming from 24th in the standings to 12th, just in time for the chase and knocking Kyle Busch out of the wild card spot.

    "For us, it's not racing for points, it's about racing for the win and being aggressive," (via SBnation.com).

    Gordon knows he needs to place highly in order to keep moving forward in the chase, which is all the more reason to watch for Gordon to be in the running at Talladega.

Clint Bowyer

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    A lot of drivers dislike Talladega because of how much can change during, and after, the race.

    Clint Bowyer, however, is not one of those drivers.

    Bowyer has managed to win each of the past two fall races at 'Dega, and now that he is sitting fourth in points, a win here would inch him even closer to the top.

    Bowyer was quoted by Mark Aumann over at NASCAR.com as saying:

    “It seems like each and every week, these first few [races], it's just been a point or two here, a point or two there. This is one that can swing 20, 30 points and take you out of the running—or push you into it.”

    “Everybody is anticipating those last few laps here. I love racing here. It's so much fun. That's such a thrill to be able to go around there and know that the storm is brewing and all hell is fixing to break loose and you're fixing to be a part of it. It's a pretty neat situation to be in.”

    Clearly Bowyer enjoys this track, and while other drivers are worried about the huge shift in points and position this race causes, Bowyer seems to be embracing it.

    He has the right attitude to help him get the win when the white flags waves in the end on Sunday.

Kasey Kahne

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    Kasey Kahne has had a bumpy season.

    Struggling during the beginning of the year but winning two races and eventually securing a spot in the chase, Kasey Kahne has managed a comeback.

    Now he sits fifth in points, and is ready to strike at Talladega.  He knows, though, some of the other drivers sitting in first through fourth will need to have some bad luck at 'Dega.

    "We're just sitting in a spot where the other guys need to have problems or we'll never catch up to them," Kahne said over at USAToday.com.

    Talladega is just the race to turn things in Kasey's favor.  While he may have never won at Talladega, this could be the race to change all of that.

    Joining Hendrick Motorsports does have its advantages, especially when you consider that his teammates have a combined 11 wins at this track.

    Kahne knows he might also have to change up his usual strategy, if he plans on winning this race.  He was quoted over at ESPN.com as saying:

    "What I've done the past two, three years is just tried to race and stay out front, as close to the front as possible. It's hard to sit in the back and just kind of sit back there, relax and wait until 10 laps to go."

    Points might be a focus for Kahne and the No. 5 team, but don't be shocked to see him running up toward the front when this race is coming to an end.

Jimmie Johnson

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    Jimmie Johnson is one driver everyone has their eyes on in the chase.  Johnson is one of the best drivers in NASCAR today and more than likely will be in the running to win at Talladega this Sunday.

    "You want to have a positive mind-set and that glass is half-full mentality, but the reality is regardless of how good your equipment is, you can't get away from anybody," Johnson said over at USAToday.com.

    Johnson will need a positive mind-set when he heads into Talladega, because in all three plate races so far this year, he hasn't managed to finish a single one.

    Johnson was quoted over at ESPN.com as saying:

    "It definitely is the one track in the Chase I've kind of been a little concerned about. There are so many things that are out of your control. I think the odds are in our favor to be able to finish one of these restrictor-plate races this year. At least I hope so."

    Johnson clearly has concerns about Talladega this Sunday.  Still, with some of the best equipment in NASCAR, a great pit crew and being a fantastic driver himself, it's hard to imagine Jimmie Johnson won't be in the running for this race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Dale Jr. once dominated Talladega, massing four consecutive wins at the super speedway.

    Jr's perspective now though, has changed. "The (track) that worries me the most is Talladega," Dale said over at USAToday.com.

    "It's just a lottery weekend. You can't really separate yourself from anyone else. You can't really build a car that's better. We're all in a box and all the things we do to make the cars safe there, everyone builds the same car, so you just don't know really how you're going to run there."

    Drivers concerns about Talladega are nothing really new, and even though Jr. thinks Talladega is like a "lottery weekend," he still has what it takes to have a shot at winning this Sunday.

    Dale is currently seventh in points, one spot behind teammate Kasey Kahne.

    Jr. was quoted over at Sporting News as saying:

    “I’m still thinking championship. Anything can happen and stranger things have happened to get guys back into the title chase. This racetrack definitely is an opportunity to shake things up to our advantage. We’re in a spot where we can kind of let it all hang out, just kind of go for broke."

    Earnhardt Jr. might have his doubts about Talladega, but a go-for-broke attitude might be just what Jr. needs to be in the running.

Matt Kenseth

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    Kenseth is sitting 12th in the standings, last place out of all the drivers in the chase.

    That doesn't mean he won't be in the running at Talladega.

    Matt Kenseth not only won the Daytona 500 this year, but he was in the running for both the Talladega race in May and the Daytona race in July. 

    Kenseth has been dominant at plate racing this year and will more than likely continue his trend when Talladega kicks off this Sunday.

    He was quoted over at Yahoo Sports as saying:

    "The No. 16 (Biffle) and us have been really fast. We've been able to work together and stayed up front the whole time,'' Kenseth said. ''Hopefully we can do that again and, if there is some trouble, take advantage of that for Greg and I to gain some points."

    While Kenseth has had a poor start to the chase season, he will more than likely be in the running at the end of this race.

Greg Biffle

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    Greg Biffle is in a similar spot to Matt Kenseth.

    Biffle sits 11th in points, and with poor finishes so far throughout the chase, his chances at the championship have basically dwindled away.

    He has also been solid at plate races this season.  Along with Kenseth, these two have been in the running at the end of both the first Talladega race and the second Daytona race this year.

    And while Biffle might have gone on a bit of a tirade during the Dover race, things will be much different when he returns to Talladega.

    He was quoted by Lee Spencer of Fox Sports as saying:

    "We really needed to finish in the top three here to really be a factor, but now we’ll just work on being in the top 10.”

    It might be too much for the Biff to come back from his current point deficit, but this is one race he shouldn't be counted out of.

Tony Stewart

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    Tony Stewart has been quiet.

    Too quiet.

    Like many other drivers, Smoke's plan at these big super speedways is to wait until the end before making a charge forward.

    Unlike other drivers though, this plan actually works for Stewart.  He would run outside of the top 25 for the first half of the July Daytona race before making his push forward and winning.

    Smoke has won at Talladega before and understands what he needs to do in order to win again.

    He was quoted by Dustin Long of USAtoday.com as saying:

    "You can race your guts out for 188 laps and not accomplish anything. Guys are smart to either try to position themselves in the front of the field and, hopefully, try to stay ahead of when that big wreck happens or they take the cautious approach because it really doesn't matter what you do those first 180 laps, you aren't going to drive away from the field.''

    The defending Sprint Cup champion sits fifth in points.  Talladega could turn everything around for Smoke.  If Stewart hopes to keep his championship, he needs to make his move on Sunday.

    Look for Smoke to hold back for more than half of the race and try to avoid the infamous wrecks which happen at these super speedways.

    When the race starts to move towards the finish, though, look for Smoke to move to the front and be in the running to win on Sunday.

Denny Hamlin

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    Denny Hamlin has been extremely dominant this season.

    He even managed to conquer some of his Dover fears last week.  As we move into Sunday's race though, Hamlin's concerns are different from some of the other drivers.

    While drivers like Johnson and Jr. are worried about the chance of wrecking, Hamlin has more of a focus on his equipment.

    Hamlin was quoted by Mark Aumann of NASCAR.com as saying:

    "Any miles you can keep off your race car and the engine just saves it. You don't want to have some sort of mechanical failure with five laps to go and say, 'Man, I wish we hadn't run those five extra laps of practice."

    After winning the pole at Dover, a track Hamlin is not too fond of, the skies are the limit for Hamlin and the 11 team.

    Hamlin, Johnson and Keselowski seem to be the three drivers to watch for as the chase moves on.  With his new crew chief Darian Grubb and momentum from both the regular season and the chase, look for Hamlin to be one of the drivers with a shot to win Talladega this Sunday.

Brad Keselowski

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    Brad Keselowski has taken the chase by storm.

    Winning three races in the regular season, and two so far in the chase, Keselowski is sitting on top in points, right in front of Jimmie Johnson.

    Not only did he manage to win the May race at Talladega, he did it with his own strategy.  Some drivers like to sit back and wait until later in the race before they begin to make their charge forward.

    Keselowski thinks differently.

    'I don't know why you wouldn't want to be leading. I don't understand that theory at all, If you have a chance to be in the lead, take it and run,''' Keselowski said over at Yahoo! Sports.

    His strategy would make him the first driver in five races to be leading at Talladega during the last lap and hold on to the lead for the win.

    After already winning two races in the chase and managing to grab the points lead, Keselowski is definitely one driver to watch going into Talladega.

    Will his go-for-the-lead strategy pay off?  We will have to wait until Sunday to find out, but regardless, Keselowski is one driver who will be in the running.