Aaron's 499 Fantasy NASCAR Preview

by C.J. Radune on April 24, 2008 @ 11:01:39 PDT


Talladega Superspeedway is the other restrictor plate track on the Sprint Cup schedule. How effectively the drivers draft is the key to winning. Handling is not as important at Talladega as it is at Daytona International Speedway, and tire strategy isn't all that important. Cars race in large packs, creating lanes of cars four- and five-wide.

It is important for cars to be able to run several different lines. It is hard to tell which lane is going to move the fastest. The best way to pass is to get in the fastest lane and use the draft to get a run.

Restrictor plate racing makes the results somewhat unpredictable, whether it's a race run caution free or the big one wipes out a handful of drivers. In the past, the superspeedways have been the playground of Hendrick Motorsports and Dale Earnhardt Inc. This year, however, Penske Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing appeared to have closed the gap with solid finishes at Daytona earlier this season.

Location: Talladega, Ala.
Shape: Tri-oval
Length: 2.66 miles
Laps: 188
Banking: 33 degrees

Leading the Pack

Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Pepsi/DuPont Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Gordon is aiming for three-straight wins at Talladega in this weekend's Aaron's 499. In his last four starts at the track, he has two wins, one pole and has led at least one lap in each race. He is currently 13th in Cup points and needs to eliminate his DNFs (three), which he has struggled through in the first eight races. It is imperative that he finishes at Talladega to stay within touch of the top 12. Gordon has been qualifying well all year and now needs to turn those starts into solid finishes.

Kurt Busch | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Racing

Currently 16th in Cup points, Busch must be thinking he should have more than one top-five in his season thus far. Busch hasn't finished in the top 10 this season since he pushed teammate Ryan Newman to victory in the Daytona 500. Busch is an excellent superspeedway driver and has put together a string of seven consecutive top-10 finishes at Talladega. Busch has the highest average finish (5.8) of any Cup driver at Talladega in the last three years, and this weekend, he has every opportunity to pickup his second top-five finish of the year.

Tony Stewart | No. 20 The Home Depot Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Amazingly enough, Stewart has been the quietest driver in the Gibbs Racing camp this season. He currently sits seventh in Cup points, tied with teammate Denny Hamlin - who wins the tie due to his one win - and trails Gibbs' new addition Kyle Busch, who is in second. Stewart has led one lap or more in his past eight starts at Talladega but has had some mixed results when it comes to finishing. In those eight starts, he has three top-fives and five top-10s. If Stewart can avoid the Big One in the Aaron's 499, he should be in line for his 12th top-10 in 19 starts.

Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

After some unfortunate luck in the first few races of the season, Hamlin has turned on the afterburners and is currently on form with three straight top-five finishes. In his four starts at Talladega, Hamlin only has one top-five. The other three starts haven't resulted in anything better than two 21st-place finishes. Hamlin will be a great driver to watch this weekend due to his recent performance. If he can stay clean in the draft, Hamlin could be in store for yet another solid result.

Jimmie Johnson | No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Johnson silenced questions about his slow start by picking up a win in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. He is on a streak of three top-five finishes in the last three races and has two straight second-place finishes at Talladega. In his last four starts at the track, he has one win, two other top-fives and one DNF. Johnson has the fifth-highest average finish of any Cup driver in the last three years and stands every chance of continuing his solid results in this weekend's race.

Drivers to Keep an Eye On

Matt Kenseth | No. 17 DeWalt Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Coming into the season a favorite to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, Kenseth has struggled to a mediocre campaign to start 2008. He is currently 15th in Cup points with just on top-five and four top-10s. While his last two starts at Talladega haven't been great results, he does have three top-10s in his last five starts. Kenseth will be another fun driver to watch in the Aaron's 499, where he works to turn his season around and tries to match teammate Carl Edwards, who has three wins so far in '08.

Ryan Newman | No. 12 Alltel Dodge | Penske Racing

Newman won the only Cup visit to a superspeedway this season, when he took home the Daytona 500. Since Daytona, he has one top-five and another top-10 to his credit. It has been a struggle at many tracks for Penske Racing, where they have four top-10s in 24 starts this season. After engine trouble in the Subway Fresh Fit 500, where Newman started from pole, he finished a disappointing 43rd. After some bad luck and poor finishes, he could be hoping teammate Busch is behind him on the last lap at Talladega to push him to his second victory of the season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 AMP/National Guard Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Earnhardt stated that he is off to his best start to a Sprint Cup season with his new team. Currently third in Cup points with three top-fives and six top-10s, one cannot argue with him. A master at restrictor plate racing, Earnhardt is always a driver to watch at Talladega and Daytona, but with Hendrick Motorsports equipment he becomes that much more intriguing. In 15 of the past 18 races at Talladega, either an Earnhardt or Hendrick driver has won. He trails only teammate Gordon (six) for the most wins by an active driver (five). If there is one driver to point to who has a great shot at scoring their first victory of the season, it is Earnhardt.

Jamie McMurray | No. 26 Crown Royal Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

With only one top-10 finish this season, it isn't likely sitting well with McMurray. Currently 26th in Cup points, McMurray is the lowest-placed driver of the Roush Fenway group. Talladega has been shaky for him of late, picking up two top-five finishes and two DNFs in his last four starts. McMurray has the fourth-highest driver rating of any driver in the last three years at Talladega, and if McMurray can avoid getting caught in a wreck, he should finish near the top 10.

Brian Vickers | No. 83 Red Bull Toyota | Red Bull Racing

Vickers has produced an impressive and somewhat surprising start to his 2008 season. He is 19th in Cup points, which is a far cry from where he finished in last year's standings (38th) after starting only 23 races. He won the UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega in 2006 while driving for Hendrick Motorsports. If he can avoid the DNFs (three) that have plagued him at times in his seven starts at Talladega, he could be looking to get Toyota to Victory Lane again this year.

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About C.J. Radune

Radune has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.

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