Ah, my...As if there was anything more intriguing than NASCAR plate-racing of the Chase variety, this season we add to it the allure of Halloween.
If you're looking for Johnson, he'll be hiding in the bushes somewhere out back. And don't worry, he's not going to attempt to come out and scare anybody. He'll most certainly avoid any and all confrontation as he simply trys to survive the big spook that is the "big one"—the only scarecrow that stands in his way en route to a fourth consecutive Sprint Cup title.
The famed tracks of Talladega and Daytona are known as the "great equalizers" given the nature of restrictor-plate racing. It's all about survival and no driver is safe. If you can avoid the "big one" (or two, or three) as well as get a little bit of help from your friends, these races are contests that discriminate against none.
It was this very race that gave Dale Jarrett the last victory of his career—the only in his final five seasons. In the following season of 2006, it made Brian Vickers a winner for the first time. And, in the spring race this season, it was Brad Keselowski (celebrating in photo) sending Carl Edwards into the catch fence on his way to the first win of his Cup career.
On Talladega's sister track of Daytona, we saw Jaime McMurray record just the second win of his eight year career in 2007 as well as Ryan Newman's only win in his last four seasons (2008).
So, with Johnson hiding in his ghost costume, who might the special Halloween draft gods be looking for to be the subject of their latest chapter of improbable winners? Here we go...
1. Casey Mears - The 18th place finish at Martinsville last weekend that we've come to expect from Mears was actually his worst finish since the Chase bagan. He is currently riding a four-race survival streak at Talladega with finishes of sixth, seventh, 14th, and 16th. Momentum, history, and the savvy veteran teammates of Harvick and Burton put him at the top of the list.
2. David Ragan - After a stellar sophomore campaign in which he had 14 top-tens, Ragan has just two to his credit this season. To add insult to injury, he has finished 30th or worse in half of his last ten races. Big time trick here. The kid has quickly become one of the best plate-drivers in the game today. He's finished on the lead lap in all but two of his eleven super speedway starts. He finished third and fourth on this track last season and sandwiched a 12th between his Daytona finishes of sixth and 13th this season.
3. Regan Smith - The part-time driver of the tiny Furniture Row Racing operation actually won this race last season before a questionable penalty stripped it away from him. He has finished on the lead lap and no worse than 24th in his three other Talladega starts as well as is riding the same three-race streak at Daytona where he finished 12th in July.
4. Elliot Sadler - A long-time formidable foe at Daytona, the veteran continues to get it done. He finished fifth and 10th this season there and, while his success has never really spilled over to Talladega, he did finish 10th and 19th in his last two starts here. The benefactor of a much needed change at RPM (now in a Ford), this might be the time that he gets it done—in a big way.
5. Paul Menard - The proud poster boy of his papa's little shop, Menard has been relatively strong on the super speedways ever since he emerged on the Cup scene in 2006. This year's 500 is the only time has hasn't finished on the lead lap at Daytona. And, even with the Talladega master Dale Earnhardt Jr. no longer by his side, he has managed to string together finishes of 14th, second, and 13th at this track.
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