We now head to race number four and the one marked as the wild card that could change everything: Talladega. Just saying its name generates thoughts of high speed drama and 20 car pileups.
You don’t even have to do anything wrong; someone well in front of you can mess up…and you’ll just get caught up in their mess. It doesn’t matter where you are, the big wreck is always looming.
Currently, the top three are separated by 30 points, with Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, and Jeff Gordon about another 100 back apiece. However, no one in the top six is out of contention at the moment.
Talladega has a habit of throwing not just one, but several monkey wrenches at drivers and teams.
No one knows how it will play out, but everyone does know it will be crazy and the standings will get shaken up.
1. Jimmie Johnson: He avoided Carl Edwards' gutsy, but unsuccessful slide job at Kansas to take his fifth win of the year. So, he’s won in the run into The Chase, and is running up front and winning during The Chase. I think I’ve read that script somewhere before…and it normally ends with Johnson on top at the end.
He and the No. 48 team are simply the team to beat the moment…and have been even when they hit bumps in the road as Kyle Busch dominated. You couldn’t really ever think that this bunch wouldn’t be in the thick of things; they’re simply too good.
However, they’re not safe yet. If they get out of Talladega as they went in, they’ll be in good shape to will another run. However, that is BIG “if.”
2. Carl Edwards: He gets my vote in the “Ballsiest Move of the Year” category after his battle with Johnson last week. He came up short in the end, but remains only 10 points back and well within striking distance.
Likewise though, he’ll have to get past ‘Dega before anyone can consider him a true threat this year. That’s not to say he hasn’t been competitive enough to do so (because he and No. 99 bunch have been), but too much happens down in Alabama for anyone to feel confident heading into Sunday. If he come can out where is going in, look him to also make a run at a title.
3. Greg Biffle: I find it very hard to say he had a “bad” race last week after he finished third. Sure, his two rivals did finish ahead of him, but “The Biff” was right behind them. I think he’s just fine where he is.
Talladega hasn’t been really nice to him though. His best finish in the last three ‘Dega races is 18th. He’ll need to improve on those performances, but he’ll also have to avoid the trouble (which is much easier said than done).
4. Jeff Burton: Just as he always does, the younger of the Burton Brothers is just hanging around. He isn’t making much noise, but isn’t really out of the picture; he’s just in the background for the time being.
And there is absolutely nothing wrong with just hanging around. His patience is a virtue (even though he has yet to capture a title of his own). If Talladega is nice to him, and if the people in front of him hit trouble (which is quite likely), don’t be surprised if his face suddenly appears near the top.
5. Kevin Harvick: The new found consistency has carried over from the summer and Harvick sees himself in a good spot to make a run if Sunday works in his favor. He’ll need to start turning his top tens into top fives though.
Simply being consistent may not be enough, even if he is helped out by others having trouble. He and the No. 29 team will have to start putting themselves in position to win some races. They probably can do that, but they really need to do so now.