NASCAR is turning a fast corner into their playoffs, the Chase for the Sprint Cup, with the Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway this Sunday. Drivers will challenge the 2.66-mile tri-oval with 33-degree banking, hoping first to finish and then hoping for a win.
Talladega is a wild card that could provide alterations in the top tier of Chase point holders because NASCAR’s longest oval track always seems to host the "big one," a multi-car crash that disables engines and chassis.
When Chase winners finish strong, the good finishes of Chase contenders become pointless because they don't advance.
It's apparent that it takes wins to move up, unless leaders fall off early due to crashes or mechanical failures.
Chase contenders other than Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch may win, but their point deficit is likely too hefty a hurdle to leap. Chase math still has potential for some, but the likelihood doesn't add up.
Still, Talladega is a crapshoot that may provide woes for point leader Kenseth and second-place Johnson. If so, the points race could change. But right now, Kenseth and Johnson are in the driver's seat in more than one way.
The top five contenders shared their take on the upcoming competition in Talladega.
Kenseth knows to expect strategy at the big track.
"If the guys we're racing and are trying to beat are being really careful and want to ride in the back," Kenseth said. "Then I look at that as an opportunity to try to hopefully lead some laps and get some bonus points to be in the mix."
Kenseth also knows he needs to avoid crashing.
"If you do come out unscathed you may even have a shot to win. That’s kind of how we’ll go there this weekend is to just approach it like another race. We'll go race hard and hopefully things work out for us."
Johnson has been in this Chase hunt before and understands it well.
"After Talladega, at that point, you can really race individuals," Johnson said. "Up until Talladega, you're still racing the field. Anything can happen and anybody has a chance. But leaving Talladega, you can really narrow-in on who is left and what that spread is in points."
Harvick simply gets Talladega.
"Don't wreck," Harvick said. "That's the perfect strategy. How you do that I don't know, but I'm hoping we have the luck we need to make sure that we don't have any major issues this weekend at Talladega."
Gordon is on the same page as the guys he is chasing.
"With the big-pack racing, there is always the chance of the 'big one,'" Gordon said. "You have to approach this race with a positive attitude; fight to avoid whatever may occur and hope that you come out of it with a race car."
Gordon knows crashing at Talladega can happen any lap.
"It doesn't even need to be in one piece. It just needs to get across the line with a decent finish."
Busch views the fast future with knowledge of the past.
"Certainly, we'll know a lot about the standings after this week, and a little bit more after Martinsville as we head to the final three," Busch said. “You've got to have the execution of everything go your way”
Busch also has a strategy for the race.
"It starts with coming off the hauler and getting good practice sessions going, qualifying well, trying to always stay up front, and then put yourself in position for a chance to make it through this weekend with a decent finish."
Busch also shared racing reality.
"You can't count on this weekend to be able to tighten the points."
Fans can count on an active race that will likely have lengthy crash cautions.
Those fans without tickets to one of the 143,231 seats can view the action October 20 at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.