Will we see massive two car tandem racing? Will drivers use multiple radio channels to negotiate with draft partners? Will a larger restrictor plate on the engines create more single car passing? Can two cars hook up in a draft without grease on their bumpers? Will there be a big one?
These are just some of the questions we will all be asking when the teams from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series takes the green flag for Sunday's running of the Good Sam Club 500 at the Talladega Super Speedway. There are so many factors that comes with racing on this massive super speedway that anything could happen by the time the race is over.
Yes, that includes the possibility of a positive or negative impact on the hopes of the group of drivers who are still very much in contention to win the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship. The biggest question of all could turn out to be: will Talladega turn out to be a Chase maker or a Chase breaker?
THE STORY BREAKDOWN
There are two significant changes, regarding the style of racing we normally see at Talladega, recently handed down by NASCAR. The first is a change in the restrictor plate. The original intent of placing these plates over the engine's carburetor was to slow the cars down. So it was highly interesting to note that NASCAR decided to issue a plate with larger openings on them. The new plate for Sunday's race is 1/64th of an inch larger and the openings will now measure 57/64th of an inch in diameter. As minuscule as those measurements seem, it will raise the engine output an additional seven to ten horsepower. That could push average speeds past 200 MPH. It's also possible that the new restrictor plates could increase the individual passing capability of the cars.
The second major change for the Talladega race involves the pressure relief valves on the car's cooling system. It will be re calibrated to reduce the pressure by approximately eight pounds per square inch. This change is expected to greatly impact the bumper to bumper two car tandem drafting that has become so prevalent in restrictor plate races at both Talladega and Daytona. The pop off valve change is expected to reduce the number of laps in which the two cars can stay locked together. The change could mean that the two cars will have to swap positions on a more frequent basis. It's anticipated that the car pushing from the rear may have to pull away every one to two laps to get some badly needed fresh air for the radiator.
While the change in the pop off valve rating could lessen some of the two by two tandem racing we've seen lately, the increased swapping of positions between the two cars could create concern regarding a potential crash. That factor leads to a NASCAR mandated change in the team's policy of lubricating the rear bumpers of their cars. Simply put, they can't use that procedure anymore. In past restrictor plate races the teams used everything from lubricants, ointments and even cooking spray on the bumpers to prevent the pushing car from accidentally spinning out the lead car in the tandem. The lubricants also prevented the two bumpers from getting locked up after the contact was made.
NASCAR said earlier this year that they would not make any rule changes regarding the multi channel radio systems the drivers used to set up drafting partnerships with another driver. Many of the drivers have already established partnerships based on successful hook ups during last April's Talladega race. But if a new partner is needed they will have direct radio connections to a variety of drivers to help them charge to the front of the pack.
Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr once referred to this two by two tandem procedure as "love bug racing." He's right, it does resemble two roaches engaged in intimate relations. But that procedure may be a little more difficult during Sunday's Talladega race. It's not easy playing love bug without the grease.
THE LAS VEGAS BREAKDOWN
To determine who's going to be terrific at Talladega, or terrible at Talladega, we once again turn to the professional number crunchers from the Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE). Topping their Talladega list is Kevin Harvick at 10 to 1 odds. Let's face it, Harvick and his Richard Childress Budweiser team, are very good at restrictor plate racing. He's currently ranked second in the Chase standings and only five points from the top. He's a previous race winner at Talladega with six top five finishes and ten top ten finishes. He also has a healthy average finish ratio, (AFR), of 14.3. If Harvick can find a way to tag team with his Childress team mate Clint Bowyer this Sunday then look out. This will be a very tough tandem.
Also at 10 to 1 odds is Dale Earnhardt Jr. When it comes to restrictor plate racing, this driver learned his lessons well from his famous father. Junior is a five time winner at Talladega with nine top fives and a 14.6 AFR. He also has seven career super speedway wins. Unfortunately his Chase hopes are pretty much over, ninth at -60 points, so that means he's free to concentrate on an issue that's really bothering him: that win less streak that dates back to the summer of 2008. Earnhardt was extremely strong at Talladega last April and was the second half of a tandem that pushed team mate, and race winner, Jimmie Johnson under the checkers. This is actually a very good wager consideration.
Kyle Busch's 12 to 1 ranking is seemingly based on the fact that his Chase racing doldrums is bound to end sooner or later. Despite those doldrums, he's still fourth in the Chase standings 18 points away. He's a previous Talladega winner, but his AFR is a very high 24.2. But it's this driver's tendency to charge to the front of the field, like the proverbial bull in a china shop, that makes him a solid wager consideration for Sunday's race.
Tony Stewart, fifth in the points and 24 away, is a previous Talladega winner, with a 15.5 AFR, He also has six super speedway wins. However this team's performance levels has been up and down since the Chase began five races ago. If they can get control of the car's handling package at the very beginning of the race, they could become major players next Sunday.
Jeff Gordon, 11th in the standings and 66 points away, is worried about winning that coveted fifth NASCAR championship and he should be. That late race spin at Charlotte last weekend has his title hopes gasping for air. The good news here are the stats he's managed to collect over the years at Talladega and Daytona. He has a series high six wins at Talladega with 14 top fives and a 16.1 AFR. He also has a total of 20 super speedway wins. His drive for five championship run is not officially over yet, but he needs something amazing out of this Sunday's race to rejuvenate it.
Jimmie Johnson, eighth in the Chase and 35 points away, is a two time Talladega winner, including last April's very close finish, with a 16.4 AFR and six super speedway wins. His drive for six consecutive championships took a major hit following that savage wreck sustained at Charlotte last weekend. He's going to need a strong finish this Sunday to get things back on track again. But let's now rule out his championship status just yet. No one in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing fully understands the title process like this team does.
Kurt Busch, seventh in the standings and 27 points away, is still looking for that first ever super speedway win. However he does have a healthy 13.9 AFR at Talladega. The line of thinking, behind the 12 to 1 odds rating, may be that this team is due to win at the big tracks. That will depend on the Penske Dodge horsepower factor. It was a little lacking last weekend at Charlotte.
The WSE has series points leader Carl Edwards ranked at 15 to 1 this week. Like Kurt Busch, Edwards is also looking for his first super speedway win and has a very high 20.9 AFR at Talladega. He also may be overdue to rectify this situation this Sunday. But there might be one major drawback in that effort: Ford racing doesn't exactly have strong numbers at Talladega.
At 18 to 1 you will find Clint Bowyer the defending Talladega race winner from last October. Bowyer has a 17.8 AFR at Talladega but, once again, if he can hook up in a two car tandem with team mate Kevin Harvick he might turn out to be an interesting long shot wage consideration.
At 20 to 1 odds are a quintet of drivers beginning with Jamie McMurray. He's a previous Talladega winner, with four previous super speedway wins. He's very good at restrictor plate racing, but this is a driver who has endured a very disappointing season. It's a safe bet that he will be happen to see New Year's Eve.
Also in this group is Brad Keselowski who is sixth in the Chase standings and 25 points away. Keselowski won his first ever Cup race at Talladega. If they can get peak horsepower out of that Penske Dodge this Sunday, he might may an interesting long shot wager consideration.
David Ragan is also in the 20 to 1 group and here's another interesting long shot consideration. In recent years he's turned out to be rather good at plate racing. He proved that last summer with his first Cup win at Daytona. Ragan needs a strong run at Talladega because he's auditioning for a sponsor and possibly even a job. Long time sponsor UPS will not be returning after this year and the prospects of finding a replacement are not looking good. Ragan has already been told by Roush Fenway Racing to feel free to talk to other teams because they will not campaign the #6 car next year without funding.
Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne completes the 20 to 1 group. Hamlin, 12th in the Chase standings and 86 points away, has endured a very disappointing 2011 season and is another driver who's likely looking forward to New Year's Eve.
Meanwhile Kahne would love to get the beleaguered Red Bull Racing team a win before he leaves them to move to his new ride with Hendrick Motorsports next season. Unfortunately his Talladega numbers, including a very high 22.9 AFR, says not to expect a win this Sunday.
At 22 to 1 you will find the duo of Chase contenders Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman. Kenseth, ranked third in the Chase and seven points away, has the momentum of last weekend's victory at Charlotte. His team is on fire when it comes to pit road service. He's still looking for his first win at Talladega, and has a 19.3 AFR there, but considering the performance level of this team since the Chase began, Kenseth is a solid long shot consideration.
The same does not necessarily apply to Newman because there is no strength in his Talladega numbers. Ranked tenth in the Chase standings and 61 points away, it's time for the #39 team to concentrate on wins and laying the groundwork for 2012.
The WSE's lower tier begins this week with drivers Greg Biffle and Joey Logano ranked at 25 to 1. Here's two candidates who are looking forward to having a party on New Year's Eve. Biffle has been completely snake bit this season and potential wins have been disrupted by harsh luck such as a missing lug nut following a pit stop at the Charlotte race.
Meanwhile Logano spent a significant portion of the season waiting to see if Carl Edwards was going to take over his ride while watching his 2011 performance levels slide down hill. The driver originally referred to as "the best thing since sliced bread" seems to have grown some mold on that bread this year. It's time to place the focus on rebuilding for the 2012 season.
At 28 to 1 you will find the tandem of Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Burton followed by previous Talladega winners Mark Martin and Brian Vickers at 30 to 1. Drivers Martin Truex Jr and Paul Menard are rated at 35 to 1 while David Reutimann and A J Allmendinger concludes this week's WSE list at 40 to 1.
Any driver not listed is automatically listed at 15 to 1 odds by the WSE.
Now for the disclaimer: NASCAR wants us to remind you that these numbers are for informational and entertainment purposes. They neither encourage nor condone the placing of wagers on their events.
But, if you're going to do it anyway, then you may as well carefully examine the numbers provided for you from the professionals at the WSE.
THE RACE BREAKDOWN
The Good Sam Club 500 is 188 laps/500.8 miles around the Talladega Motor Speedway's massive 2.66 mile quad oval.
The race has 46 entries. 13 of those entries are on the go or go home list. These teams are not guaranteed a start in Sunday's race because they are currently outside of NASCAR's top 35 in owner' points. They will have to earn a start based on their qualifying speed.
The defending race winner, from October 2010, is Clint Bowyer. Jimmie Johnson won the most recent Talladega race last April.
There has been 84 NASCAR Sprint Cup races, since the Talladega Super Speedway opened in 1969, that has sent 41 winners to victory lane. The first ever Cup race, held in September of 1969, was won by Richard Brickhouse. Dale Earnhardt Sr leads the speedway's win list at Talladega with ten trips to the winner's circle. In the modern era Jeff Gordon tops the Talladega win list with six. Richard Childress Racing and Hendrick Motorsports are tied for the team wins with 11 each. Dale Earnhardt Jr holds the track record for consecutive wins there with four from October 2001 to April 2003.
Talladega is known for creating multi car crashes, referred to as "the big one", during its races. The most laps ran under caution there is 62. But despite the speedway's reputation for big crashes, there has been three times over the years when a Talladega race was ran caution free. The last occasion was October of last year.
A Talladega race is also known for massive lead changes. The track record is 88 lead swaps on two occasions with the last one being in April of this year. The speedway is also noted for extremely close finishes. Since the creation of NASCAR's loop scoring system back in 1993, every Talladega race since then has had a margin of victory of under one half of a second. The track record, for margin of victory, is 0.0002 seconds set last April. That margin also ties the all time NASCAR record set by Ricky Craven's win at Darlington back in 2003.
The track qualifying record, prior to the use of restrictor plates, is 212.809 MPH, set by Bill Elliott back in 1987. "Awesome Bill From Dawsonville" also holds the speedway's qualifying record, with the use of a restrictor plate, at 199.388 MPH set in 1990. 13 race winners have started from the pole position, 33 wins have derived from the front row and 23 races have been won from starting positions outside of the top ten. There has been 35 different pole winners since 1969.
The Talladega Super Speedway is a 2.66 mile quad oval that is 48 feet wide with a 12 foot apron. The speedway's massive turns has 33 degrees of banking. The tri oval area is banked at 18 degrees. The front stretch, including the tri oval, is 4,300 feet long with 16.5 degrees of banking. The backstretch measures 4,000 feet but only has a very challenging two degrees of banking. Pit road is 3,000 feet long and 48 feet wide. The pit road speed is 55 MPH. The speedway presently has seating to accommodate 143,231 fans.
Sunday's Good Sam 500 will be broadcast live by the ESPN Network with the "Countdown" show beginning at 1 pm eastern time. The race re airs will be Monday morning, 12 am et, on ESPN2 and again next Wednesday, 12 pm et, on SPEED.