NASCAR Chase 2012: Top Drivers Who Must Snag Win at Talladega

LOUDON, NH - SEPTEMBER 21:  Dale Earnhardt Jr. drives the #88 AMP Energy/Diet Mtn. Dew/National Guard Chevrolet during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 21, 2012 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Chris HummerAnalyst IOctober 7, 2012

It's possibly the most exciting track in racing. Talladega features top speeds, big wrecks and three-wide racing at its best.

But for NASCAR's top drivers competing in the Chase, Talladega is perhaps the most nerve-wrecking track on the circuit.

It's restrictor-plate racing, so that means bunched packs and the possibility of huge wrecks—something that the 12 drivers in the Chase must avoid to remain in contention.

Meanwhile, for some of the racers at the back of the Chase standings, Talladega is an opportunity to take risks and vault up the standings with a win.

Here are the drivers who must snag a win at Talledga to keep their Chase hopes alive.

 

Jeff Gordon: 10th place, 48 points behind leader

Jeff Gordon has a better average finish over the past two races than anyone—including Chase leader Brad Keselowski—with a third-place finish at New Hampshire and a second-place finish at Dover. But thanks to a disappointing 35th-place finish in the Chase opener, he sits a long way back from the top of the standings.

A win at Talladega would do wonders in getting Gordon back into contention for his "Drive for Five."

Over his career, Talladega has been a fickle beast for Gordon. He has an average career finish of 16.77, but he's only won three races on the track—though he did win at his first-ever race there.

In order for Gordon to get back into contention, he'll have to find a way to channel his early-career magic.

 

Greg Biffle, 11th place, 51 points behind leader

Greg Biffle has never won at Talladega, so he faces an uphill challenge from the start. However, the Roush Fenway Racing driver must find success; otherwise, he'll slip too far down in the standings to come back.

The good thing for Biffle is that he's had a good run in restrictor-plate tracks this season. He's finished in the top 10 in his last two opportunities at Talladega, including a fifth-place finish in May.

If he and fellow teammate Matt Kenseth find themselves in the top 10 late, they would be effective drafting partners down the stretch.

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr., 7th place, 39 points behind leader

If there was a race in the Chase that Earnhardt Jr. circled coming in, it was this one.

Talladega has been Earnhardt Jr.'s best track throughout his career—he has five career victories and a pair of second-place finishes there—and he must take advantage of that on Sunday.

He's one of the most talented restrictor-plate drivers on the circuit with his knack for driving in tight spaces and his drafting and passing abilities. This should serve him well down the stretch if he can manage to avoid "The Big One" early in the race.

Expect Earnhardt Jr. to jump into contention late and come away with his first win at Talladega since 2004.

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