Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: Talladega

Thursday, May 03, 2012


Track history: Talladega Superspeedway was built in 1969 in an old soybean field near Anniston, Alabama. Track builders Bill France, Sr. and Bill Ward wanted it to be the biggest and fastest superspeedway on the Cup circuit. It is, without a doubt, the fastest racetrack in the world. Bill Elliott qualified at over 212 mph in 1987 at the 2.66-mile facility, which led to NASCAR's decision to slow down the cars here and at Daytona because speeds were getting unsafe. Both tracks use restrictor plates to limit the horsepower of the cars. Speeds on the straights (4,000 foot backstretch and 4,300 foot frontstretch) still exceed 200 mph.
The track is a high-banked tri-oval that is four lanes wide, with 33 degree banking at the ends and 18-degree banking in the tri-oval. For this reason, Talladega has a lot of 3-wide racing and it's not unusual to see the whole field running together at top speed the same as they did when the green flag dropped at the beginning of the race. The drivers run wide open all the way around the track, never lifting except to avoid getting caught up in the big wrecks, which are common in restrictor plate racing.

September 14, 1969: After driving the No. 71 K & K Insurance ‘69 Dodge to a 196.386 mph qualifying lap, Bobby Isaac started on the pole for the first NASCAR Cup race, the 1969 Talladega 500. It was the first of five consecutive Talladega poles for Isaac. After leading 13 laps, Isaac finished 4th. Richard Brickhouse, in the No. 99 Nichols Engineering ‘69 Dodge, started 9th and won the race. The average race speed for that event was 153.778 mph.

April 17, 2011: Jimmie Johnson won the Aaron’s 499 from a 2nd place start. It was the No. 48 Chevrolet driver’s 1st victory of 2011 and his 2nd at Talladega. The margin of victory of 0.002 seconds (over 2nd place Clint Bowyer) tied the closest margin of victory (Darlington - 3/16/2003) since the advent of electronic scoring in 1993. Drivers leading 10 or more laps: No. 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr. (11 laps, finished 4th), winner Johnson (14 laps), 22-Kurt Busch (19, 18th), 36-Dave Blaney (21, 27th) and 33-Clint Bowyer led the most (38 laps) and finished 2nd. Pole-sitter, No. 24 Jeff Gordon led 9 laps and finished 3rd.

October 23, 2011:
Clint Bowyer won the Good Sam Club 500 from a 3rd place start. It was the No. 33 Chevrolet driver’s 1st victory of 2011 and his 2nd in 12 races at Talladega. Bowyer passed drafting partner and teammate, Jeff Burton, on the final turn of the event. Drivers leading 10 or more laps: No. 7 Robby Gordon (10 laps, broken rear gear, credited with 37th), No. 1 Jamie McMurray (12, 29th), No. 29 Kevin Harvick (13, 32nd), No. 42 Juan Pablo Montoya (16, 23rd), No. 17 Matt Kenseth (21, 18th), winner Bowyer (25 laps), No. 31 Jeff Burton (26, 2nd) and No. 14 Tony Stewart the most (30 of 188 laps) and finished 7th. Pole-sitter, No. 5 Mark Martin led 2 laps and finished 20th.

Active driver who made his Cup series debut at Talladega:
Jamie McMurray on 10/6/2002 (started 5th and finished 26th).

Fantasy games won’t allow you to pick all track favorites so Mid-Pack Attack is here to help. A mid-packer may not win the race but has as good a shot at a top 15 finish as track favorites Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick.  There were 44 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Cup race. Here are our picks for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 in Anniston, Alabama.

Mid-Pack picks
NASCAR has been trying to break up the tandem “dancing partner” style of racing at Daytona and Talladega for the past couple of years. At the season-opener at Daytona this year, it looked like “pack racing” was back for the most part. There still was a lot of two-by-two racing but, with some of the cooling restrictions put in place by NASCAR, drivers couldn’t stay locked-up bumper to bumper for more than two or three laps. That may change this weekend with the warmer temperatures. Then, again, it may not, so the drivers won’t know how to race ‘Dega until after several laps of practice. With that in mind, here are our best guesses at mid-packers to fill out your fantasy rosters.

Jeff Burton has to wonder what else he has to do to pull off a win at Talladega. He led 71 laps in his last four starts and scored the 3rd most driver points in the last three at this track. Last October, he partnered with then-teammate Clint Bowyer to hold off several other tandem teams during the green-white-checker finish of the Good Sam Club 500. On the last turn, after almost three and a half hours of racing, Bowyer and Burton drag-raced to the finish with Bowyer taking the win by .018 seconds. The No. 31 Chevrolet pilot may not repeat that kind of finish but we think he’ll be a contender for another top 15 or better this week.

In 19 starts at Talladega, Jamie McMurray scored one victory (November 2009). He came up short to winner Kevin Harvick by .011 seconds in his next trip to the Alabama tri-oval in April 2010. He also has five top-five and six top-10 finishes and an average finish of 19.8. In the last 14 events at Talladega, McMurray ranks fifth in the number of laps led with 159. Overall in 38 Sprint Cup starts at restrictor plate tracks, he has logged three wins (Daytona 2007, 2010; Talladega 2009), eight top-fives, and ten top-tens and led 201 laps. ‘Dega is unpredictable, but, if he stays out of trouble, look for the No. 1 Chevrolet up in the top 15 on Sunday.

We like Juan Pablo Montoya’s chances this week at a track where he’s had some good finishes. In 10 starts here, he averaged a 14.4 start (including two poles) and a 17.1 average finish. Over the last five Cup races, the No. 42 Chevrolet driver has earned the 3rd-most points of all drivers entered in this event. His two 2010 starts at Talladega both resulted in 3rd place finishes. Montoya isn’t a driver who lays back at Talladega for most of the race. His average running position for all ten of his races was a 14th place. Look for him to work with teammate McMurray whenever possible on Sunday.

Our deepest pick this week is David Gilliland. He should be a reasonable buy in most salary-cap games. Gilliland has only six top ten finishes in 195 Sprint Cup starts; four of those were at the Daytona and Talladega superspeedways. He has only two poles in his Sprint Cup career; one at Daytona and the other at Talladega; both scored on his first Cup visits to those venues. Gilliland also handles himself well as a drafting partner. Most drivers are not afraid of hooking up with him if necessary. His numbers for 2012 are far from great (average finish of 29.1 in nine races). If you’re saving your picks for another race and still need a fill-in for your roster, this would be a week to take a chance on the No. 38 Ford.



Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at RotoWorld.com.
Email :Anthony Ballantoni



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