Finishing The Job

TALLADEGA, Ala. - It is down to eight races left in the Winston Cup season and the difference between second and fourth place is a mere 54 points. It just so happens many consider the second, third and fourth-place drivers (Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) the top restrictor-place drivers. While Johnson has taken two out of the last three poles at Talladega, Junior has won four out of his last seven Winston Cup races on the 2.66-mile track.

While it looks like Junior has the clear advantage, Johnson and Harvick have quickly developed their restrictor-place skills. Johnson led the most laps at Talladega's spring race, while Harvick started the race in the second position and went on to finish second to Junior.

"You know that the No. 8 (Dale Jr.) and the No. 15 (Michael Waltrip) are going to end up in the front," said Johnson. "The problem is passing the lead car. That's the hardest position to make. Third to second is easy. Second to first is the hardest one. So I've been very content in following the No. 8 and the No. 15, but I find myself sitting in second without an opportunity to pass. So if you're deep in the pack and those guys are in front of you, you know you're going to get to the front. But as you start getting closer and you have an opportunity, you need to take it because you might just be building a coffin for yourself in settling for second."

If you throw into the mix Johnson's teammate, Jeff Gordon, and Junior's teammate, Michael Waltrip, you probably have the group of drivers that many fans feel are the best on the restrictor-place tracks.

Johnson currently sits in third place in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings, just 37 points out of second place. Johnson has ranked among the top-10 in the Winston Cup points standings for 61 consecutive races, dating back to the 2002 spring race in Atlanta.

Johnson will be driving chassis No. 4870 that was built during the off-season for the 2003 superspeedways. This is the same Lowe's Chevy that led the most laps in the spring Talladega race.

Qualifying is scheduled to start at 4:05 p.m. ET.

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