Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: Aaron's 499

Thursday, May 02, 2013

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.

Track Quick Facts
(courtesy NASCAR Media):
Last five winners: Matt Kenseth 10/7/12, Brad Keselowski 5/6/12, Clint Bowyer 10/23/11, Jimmie Johnson 4/17/11 and Clint Bowyer 10/31/10.
First Cup start here (Active drivers): Dennis Setzer 4/26/98, Jamie McMurray 10/6/02, Eric McClure 4/25/04, Jacques Villeneuve 10/7/07 and Robert Richardson 11/1/09.
First Cup pole: Stacy Compton 4/22/01, David Gilliland 10/8/06, Travis Kvapil 10/5/08 and Juan Pablo Montoya 4/26/09.
First Cup win:  Ken Schrader 7/31/88, Brian Vickers 10/8/06 and Brad Keselowski 4/26/09.

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 fourth. Richard Brickhouse, in the No. 99 Nichols Engineering ‘69 Dodge, started ninth and won the race. The average race speed for that event was 153.778 mph.

May 6, 2012: Brad Keselowski won the Aaron’s 499 from a 13th place start in the lineup. It was the No. 2 Dodge driver's second victory and fifth top-10 finish in 2012. It was his second win in seven races at Talladega. Drivers leading ten or more laps: No. 27 Paul Menard 10 laps, finished 17th; No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 10 laps, finished ninth; Race-winner Keselowski led 10 laps; No. 5 Kasey Kahne 11 laps, finished fourth; No. 16 Greg Biffle 15 laps, finished fifth; No. 14 Tony Stewart 16 laps, finished 24th; No. 55 Michael Waltrip 21 laps, finished 19th and No. 17 Matt Kenseth led the most laps (73 of 194) and finished third. Pole-sitter No. 24 Jeff Gordon was passed on the first lap, never led a lap, was involved in a multi-car wreck on lap 142 and was credited with a 33rd place finish.

October 7, 2012: Matt Kenseth won the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 from a 15th place start. This was the No. 17 Ford driver's second victory of 2012 and his first victory and eighth top-10 finish in 26 races at Talladega Superspeedway. Pole-sitter No. 5 Kasey Kahne led nine laps and finished 12th. Drivers leading 10 or more laps: No. 13 Casey Mears 10 laps, was involved in a 25-car last lap wreck, finished 26th; No. 48 Jimmie Johnson 11 laps, finished 17th; No. 29 Kevin Harvick 12 laps, finished 11th; No. 16 Greg Biffle 16 laps, finished sixth; No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 18 laps, involved in last lap wreck finished 20th; Race-winner Kenseth led 33 laps and No. 1 Jamie McMurray led the most laps (38 of 189), wrecked with three to go and was credited with a 34th place finish.

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 20 finish as track favorites Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick.  There were 45 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
Putting aside all the planning and testing for this race; the drafting partner strategies; pit-road decisions during the race and all the rest that goes into getting to the Talladega checkered flag; it can all go away in the blink of an eye. On a Green-White-Checker restart with two to go (lap 187), Tony Stewart was among the top-five in the October 2012 Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500. He passed Matt Kenseth for the lead on lap 188. On the final lap (189), “The Big One” took out about 25 cars, including Stewart who ended up on his roof. He was uninjured but was credited with a 22nd place finish; Kenseth won the race. Stewart has one win (October 2008) and a 15.8 average finish in 28 starts at Talladega. If he keeps the wheels of the No. 14 Chevrolet SS on the track to the end of the race, look for at least a top-20 from Stewart on Sunday.

Another driver caught up in that last lap wreck in the October event was David Ragan. He still managed to cross the line in fourth place.  He also finished the May 2012 race in seventh place. Ragan carries a 16.0 average finish in 12 Sprint Cup starts at the Alabama track; fourth-best of all current drivers making at least 10 starts. For whatever reason, Talladega has become his best track. His average finish here is better than at any other track on the Cup Series schedule. Ragan also has a win and carried a 7.7 average finish here in the Nationwide Series. He entered one Camping World Truck Series race at the track; started second and finished in seventh place. This is a great week to save one of your favorite picks and fill in the slot with the No. 34 Ford Fusion driver.

Our last two picks are part-timers. First, we’re looking at Trevor Bayne whose qualifying average of 8.5 in four starts is the best of all drivers entered this week. His average finish of 21st place included a wreck halfway into his first start. His average for the last three races is a more reasonable 14.6. In the October 2012 race, Bayne was put down a lap after about 70 laps, got the lap back and worked his way into the top-five by the closing laps of the race. He was running fourth with four to go when his fuel-pressure gauge began fluctuating, sending him to pit road and an eventual 21st-place finish. Bayne finished 13th and sixth in his two Nationwide Series trips to Talladega.  Consider using the Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford driver this weekend.

Michael Waltrip chose the July race at Daytona and the two Talladega races for his turn in the ride-share No. 55 Toyota Camry. As owner of the team, he gets to pick and choose his races; and restrictor plate racing is definitely his favorite style of competition. In 53 previous Sprint Cup starts at Dega, he has one win, seven top-five and 15 top-10 finishes. Waltrip has led 32 races for a total of 233 laps.  While we don’t expect the same kind of performance from his since he has scaled back to only three races in 2013, we do think Waltrip is still capable of a top-20 or better run on Sunday.   

Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at
Email :Anthony Ballantoni

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