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Friday, October 29, 2010

Talladega AMP Energy 500 Race Preview...Beyond the Numbers
 Talladega Super Speedway; the 2.66 mile Tri-oval in Northern Alabama that since 1968 has been entertaining race fans. We love to watch the boys get down and dirt, bump and rub, race hard all the way from the Green Flag to the Checkers. And there is always the “Big One” to look for. The Speedway is located in the northern part of Alabama, just south of Interstate 20 and about 50 miles to the east of Birmingham. The AMP Energy 500 will take place on Halloween – Sunday October 31st and drivers are hoping for treats instead of treats as they circumnavigate the 'Dega track 188 times on their way to 500.08 miles. Who will be at the top of the Leader Board when the Checkers fly?

Tony Stewart lost a spot in the points after last week's race in Martinsville...and he wants it back. With four of his last five starts at 'Dega finding Tony outside of the top ten at the end of the race, he needs to set a goal of duplicating his win in the 2008 AMP Energy 500. Other than that win, Stewart has taken the Checkered flag in the top ten on 11 other occasions. Tony find the top ten by the end of the day in more than 50% of his Cup starts at Talladega and in 54% of his Superspeedway starts. Will Tony get tricks or treats this year in his goodie bag?

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 Jimmie Johnson comes to Alabama the Chase leader but with 41% of his starts at Talladega ending with top ten finishes Johnson is definitely not a shoe-in this weekend. One start for Johnson has resulted in a win and four more times he has posted top five finishes. In recent appearances at 'Dega Jimmie has only found the top ten by the end of the race two out of his last five starts. Johnson has also had two finishes in the 30's and one 13th place finish in the spring 2008 race in his last five starts here.

Five-time Talladega winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. comes into this weekend with only two of his past five starts ending in a top ten finish. Dale's last top ten came in the Spring 2009 race in Alabama, his last two starts have given him 11th and 13th place finishes. He has flirted with the top ten in all but one of his last six Cup starts at this track. Earnhardt has never started from the pole position at this Superspeedway but coming off of a seventh place finish last week he should have quite a bit of confidence about this Halloween weekend.

Denny Hamlin currently resides in the second position for the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship just six points behind Jimmie Johnson. Denny is in the best position anyone has been in after six Chase races to take over the points lead. With no wins at 'Dega and three top tens in nine starts, Denny posts a 19.3 average finish here. Hamlin has fought hard to gain on the points leader, however so don't expect a less-than-desirable average at this track to stop Denny from coming out with guns blazing.

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 Kevin Harvick is working at the 62 point deficit that exists between himself and the Chase points leader. Kevin sits in third position in the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship, won in the Spring Talladega race, and has eight top ten finishes in his 18 Cup starts at this track. With a 20.8 for an average finish in his last five Cup starts in Alabama Harvick needs to improve on all but the most recent of his appearances at 'Dega – his win in this year's Spring race - and go for the points this weekend. Maybe Kevin should dress as a race winner for Halloween this year...

Jamie McMurray won the AMP Energy 500 in 2009, finished in the runner-up spot in the 2010 Spring race; we have seen Jamie make things happen this year when he expects to do well. McMurray has 16 starts at the Talladega Superspeedway; six of those starts have given him top ten finishes at the end of his day. One-third of all of Jamie's starts at Superspeedways have resulted in top tens. After a pole start at the Auto Club Speedway, a win two weeks ago in Charlotte, a win in the AMP Energy 500 in 2009, and a second place finish at his last Cup start in Alabama McMurray is coming to town with some big plans for a Halloween party in Victory Lane.

Mark Martin brought home a second place finish in Martinsville last week; can he do it again in Alabama? Martin certainly has the edge on the rest of the field in regard to experience. Mark has 45 Cup starts at Talladega dating back to 1982. Over the course of these last 28 years Martin has posted just two wins but claims a top ten finish in more than half of his starts at this Superspeedway. One-third of Mark's 69 top ten finishes at Superspeedways have happened at Talladega.
 Kurt Busch is sitting in the ninth position in the Chase points standings. This could be Kurt's best chance for a big points weekend in the remainder of this season. Although this Busch brother has never won at 'Dega, he posts a 12.8 average finish and has found his way to the top ten in 13 of his 19 starts here. This Alabama track is by far his best Superspeedway – 42% of Kurt's Superspeedway top ten finishes have come at this track. Coming off a string of finishes outside of the top ten, Kurt has his eye on a strong run on Sunday at Hallow-Dega.

Clint Bowyer is out f the Chase but his season is far from over. After a dismal week at Martinsville found him in the 4th turn wall less than a third of the way through the race, he finished 38th due to a rear gear failure after his team got him back o the track post-accident. Clint comes to Talladega with the desire to gain points on 11th place Greg Biffle who is 90 points in front of Clint. Bowyer can claim three top ten finishes at 'Dega in his nine Cup Series starts and finished in the seventh position here in the Spring. Clint is going to be racing for his first Cup win at in Alabama Sunday in the AMP Energy 500.

Gaining two places in the Chase after Martinsville, but still 246 points behind Chase leader Johnson, Jeff Burton comes to Alabama this weekend with 13 top ten finishes to his credit at this track. Finishing in the top ten in three of his last five starts at 'Dega helps Jeff with the confidence aspect and the mental side of this weekend's Halloween special. Jeff typically performs just barely better at the Fall race in Talladega than in the Spring. His Fall race average finish is 18.06 whereas he posts a 18.64 for his Spring race average finish.

 My pick for the win in Sunday's AMP Energy 500 is Jamie McMurray with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kevin Harvick rounding out the top three. Also in the top ten we should expect to see Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, and Kurt Busch. Kyle Busch will be the cause of the “Big One” while racing against Jeff Gordon, taking Juan Pablo Montoya out of the race in the process. Watch for veteran driver Mark Martin to dominate early but fall off in the later stages of the race to the rear of the top ten.

The AMP Energy 500 practice on Friday will air at 2pm and 3:30pm on the SPEED Channel. Saturday brings us Live Practice, again on the SPEED Channel coming on-air at Noon. Raceday will be on the SPEED Channel from 10am until Noon. ESPN2 picks up coverage at Noon and will carry on until race coverage from Talladega starts on ESPN at 1pm. Don't miss this afternoon of Have-at-it-Boys racing on Halloween from the South.

Amy McHargue

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