One and Done: AMP Energy 500

Christopher Leone@ChristopherlionSenior Analyst IOctober 29, 2009

FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 11:  Kurt Busch, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge, makes a pit stop during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway on October 11, 2009 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

For the first time in its history, Talladega Superspeedway hosts a race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, as NASCAR's premiere series heads to Alabama this weekend for the AMP Energy 500.

Of the ten tracks in this year's Chase, Talladega is by far the most unpredictable. Only four drivers boast an average finish better than 10.0 at the track, and they have a combined four starts—all of which occurred in this spring's race. That event featured a wacky finish in which Brad Keselowski found himself in victory lane, but Carl Edwards found himself airborne.

At a massive track like Talladega, where the cars reach some of their highest speeds and restrictor plates bunch up the field, the "big one," a massive 20-something car pileup, is looming around every corner, on every straightaway, in every drag race to the finish line. For that reason, picking this race is a crapshoot. Take everything with a full shaker of salt, and go with any hunch you might have.

Seriously. Scott Speed finished 5th here in the spring. Think about that.

If there's any weekend where staying within the confines of Chase drivers isn't necessary, it would be this one, because of the likelihood that an incident will wipe out half the field. Whoever survives the wreck, if it happens, probably won't have the best car in the field, just the best luck, and luck doesn't discriminate based on the points standings. But week in and week out, the Chase drivers give fantasy players the best chance of scoring a lot of points, so we might as well stick with the established system, no?

The five Chase drivers with the best records at Talladega:

Kurt Busch (avg. fn. 12.1): The older Busch brother has quietly assembled a solid Talladega record, with 12 top-10s in 17 starts. He has also led at least one lap in 13 of his 17 Talladega starts. Only two of his last 10 Talladega starts have been worse than eighth. While he's never won a Cup race at the track, the first thing you look to do at Talladega is survive, and he's only crashed out twice.

Tony Stewart (avg. fn. 13.8): Smoke "won" this race in controversial fashion last year (and as far as I'm concerned, that still should have been Regan Smith's win). He's led laps in 10 of the past 11 Talladega races, with the lone exception being this spring's race. Smoke's crashed out in four of his 21 starts, a slightly worse percentage than Busch, but he's also been able to do something that Busch can't say: finish better than third (one win and six second place finishes).

Mark Martin (avg. fn. 16.1): Martin only has five crashes at Talladega in 43 starts, a slightly better percentage than Busch, and both of his wins came after his horrendous 1994 incident, proving that bad crashes don't negatively affect everybody. But the last of those wins came in 1997, and Martin only has six laps at Talladega under race conditions in the new car: he skipped the track altogether in 2007 and 2008, and his spring race was cut short by an early incident.

Jeff Gordon (avg. fn. 16.4): The spring race didn't go well for Gordon, as he finished 60 laps off the pace in 37th. But he swept the track in 2007, and generally finds himself up front: he's led laps in 12 of the last 14 Talladega races (including six of the last eight). A statistic that should bring pause, however: In 11 starts since 2004, Gordon has won four, but has not finished better than 15th in the other seven.

Ryan Newman (avg. fn. 18.5): Well, Newman ran well and led laps in the wacky spring race... He also hasn't wrecked out of a Talladega race since 2005, as he kept the car going during the Edwards wreck and scored his career best finish at the track (third). Here's a question for you: If taking another stock car off the hood meant improving by another couple of spots, think he would take it?

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