Driver Handicaps: Talladega

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This weekend the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway for the UAW-Ford 500 - the 14th overall and first restrictor-plate race for the Car of Tomorrow. To help you make your Dale Jr. Reality Cup Racing fantasy picks, RacingOne brings you our weekly detailed look at some of the field for the 188-lap event.

Who's Hot at Talladega
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has five wins and nine top 10s in 15 starts.
Jeff Gordon, who is also a five-time winner, leads all drivers with 800 laps led.
Tony Stewart has finished second six times.
Kurt Busch has finished eighth or better in the last six races.
Kevin Harvick is coming off his sixth and seventh top 10s with a pair of sixth-place finishes.
Jimmie Johnson has a win and a runner-up finish in his last three starts.


Keep an Eye On at Talladega
David Gilliland has one pole and one top five in two starts at Talladega. He will also have Mike Wallace as a teammate this weekend.
Matt Kenseth has an 8.7 average finish in his last five starts at Talladega.
Jamie McMurray has the second best Talladega driver rating at 100.9.
Kyle Busch and Paul Menard were the fastest in Talladega testing on the final day.
Martin Truex Jr. is coming off two consecutive top 10s at Talladega.
Evernham Motorsports drivers Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler were the fastest among the Dodges in testing on the final day.


COT Performers
Jeff Gordon leads all drivers in starting average (10.5) and finishing average (5.7) among the drivers that have competed in all 13 Car of Tomorrow races. Gordon's teammate Jimmie Johnson leads all drivers with three wins. Denny Hamlin has also been strong in COT competition by winning one race (New Hampshire), leading an impressive 690 laps and posting an average finish of 11.1. Among drivers with four or more starts - Carl Edwards (Ford), Ryan Newman (Dodge) and David Reutimann (Toyota) hold the best average finish among their manufacturers at 11.9, 15.5 and 27.8, respectively. David Gilliland has the worst average finish among all the drivers that have made every COT start at 32.1. COT Driver Averages | COT Lap Leaders


Talladega Testing Report
Paul Menard turned in the fastest lap time on the final day of the Talladega test with a top speed of 193.045 mph. A total of 23 drivers posted top speeds in the 191-192 mph range. After seeing top speeds hit the mid-190s during the first day, NASCAR decided to use a slightly smaller restrictor plate (31/32nds instead of a full 1 inch) in order to lower the speeds. Speeds | Video Recap


Track Performers
Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in wins (11) and laps led (1,306) on restrictor-plate tracks. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is second with seven wins and has the best average finish among drivers with five or more plate starts, at 14.0 in 32 appearances (including NHIS in 2000). Dale Jarrett surpassed Sterling Marlin for third in career plate wins in the 2005 fall Talladega event with his sixth win. Marlin, who will attempt to qualify the No. 09 Chevrolet, is the active pole winner on plate tracks with seven. Jimmie Johnson became the eighth driver to win back-to-back restrictor-plate races, with his wins in the 2006 Daytona 500 and Aaron's 499.


Talladega Rookie Report
David Ragan was the top finishing Raybestos Rookie in the spring race at Talladega Superspeedway after he finished 17th. In fact, Ragan ranks second among all drivers with an 11.3 average finish (three starts) on restrictor-plate tracks. Juan Pablo Montoya finished 31st with fellow rookies David Reutimann (32nd) and Paul Menard (43rd) falling out of contention due to engine problems. AJ Allmendinger was the only rookie that failed to qualify in April. Rookie Standings


Qualifying Tidbits
Jeff Gordon captured his first pole in 29 starts at Talladega Superspeedway this past April with a lap of 192.069 mph. David Gilliland qualified second in the M&M's Ford with an identical lap of 192.069 mph, but the pole went to Gordon since the No. 24 was higher in owner's points than the No. 38. Gordon's pole also denied the No. 38 car of its fourth consecutive pole at Daytona. Gilliland, won his first career pole at Talladega last fall and then went on to score his second consecutive restrictor-plate pole in the 2007 Daytona 500. In the two races prior to Gilliland's pole at Talladega, Elliott Sadler drove the No. 38 to the top spot. This year's Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick was the last non-RYR or Hendrick driver to win the pole, doing so in the 2005 spring race. Over the last 10 races there have been seven different Bud Pole winners. Qualifying was cancelled in the fall of 2002 and Stacy Compton is the last driver to sweep both poles in one season (2001). Nine of the last 15 races have been won from a starting position of 10th or worse. Past Pole Winners | Starting Positions of Talladega Winners


Talladega Loop Data Leaders (2005-2007)
*Fastest Early in a Run
*Fastest Late in a Run
Avg. Running Position
1. Regan Smith
1. Scott Riggs
1. Matt Kenseth - 9.4
2. David Reutimann
2. Juan Pablo Montoya
2. Kurt Busch - 10.3
3. Robby Gordon
3. Tony Stewart
3. Jamie McMurray - 11.0
4. Paul Menard
4. Scott Wimmer
4. Jeff Gordon - 11.7
5. Denny Hamlin
5. Jeff Burton
5. Jimmie Johnson - 12.4
Laps in Top 15
*Quality Passes
*Driver Rating
1. Kurt Busch - 767
1. Kurt Busch - 1672
1. Jeff Gordon - 103.0
2. Matt Kenseth - 749
2. Jeff Burton - 1539
2. Jamie McMurray - 100.9
3. Jamie McMurray - 724
3. Matt Kenseth - 1456
3. Matt Kenseth - 99.6
4. Jeff Gordon - 680
4. Jimmie Johnson - 1338
4. Kurt Busch - 98.7
5. Jimmie Johnson - 670
5. Jamie McMurray - 1273
5. Brian Vickers - 94.3
*Fastest Early In a Run: Ranks each driver during the first 25 percent of laps run since a pit stop.
*Fastest Late In a Run: Ranks each driver during last 25 percent of laps run since a pit stop.
*Quality Passes: Passing a car running in the Top 15 while under a green flag.
*Driver Rating Formula combining the following categories: Wins, Finishes, Top-15 Finishes, Average, Running Position While on Lead Lap, Average Speed Under Green, Fastest Lap, Led, Most Laps, Lead-Lap Finish. Maximum: 150 points per race.


Dale Jr. Reality Cup Tiebreakers
Last Five # of Lead Changes
Last Five # of Caution Laps
2007 - 42
2007 - 28
2006 - 56
2006 - 34
2006 - 63
2006 - 22
2005 - 33
2005 - 30
2005 - 50
2005 - 33
Average: 48.8
Average: 29.4


Staff Picks
Jeff Wackerlin: Mike Wallace
Pete Pistone: David Reutimann
Rachael West: Elliott Sadler
Note:
Drivers can be selected only one time per season. Race points will be added up each week. This is the 27th race of the season for this section of the handicaps. Standings


Top 20 Driver Notes - Based on Current Standings
1. Jimmie Johnson (Points: 5506): Johnson won his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in the 2006 spring race after starting 16th. It was also his second plate win of 2006 after winning the Daytona 500. This past April he went on to finish second for his fourth top 10 in 11 starts. In 2002, Johnson won his second of 12 career poles in his first race at the 2.66-mile superspeedway. In the 2004 Talladega fall event, Johnson equaled his worst finish (37th) after the engine overheated from a collision on pit road. In the last nine races Johnson has led in every race adding to his 180 laps led at Talladega.
2. Jeff Gordon (Points Behind: -6): Gordon leads all active drivers with 11 wins on restrictor-plate tracks. He is currently tied with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the most wins among active drivers at Talladega Superspeedway. Gordon's last victory at Talladega came in the spring when he led 71 laps from the pole. His laps led total, of 800, currently leads all drivers. In the 2005 fall race, Gordon finished 37th ending a string of six consecutive races in which he led a lap, with the most being 139 in the 2005 spring race.
3. Clint Bowyer (Points Behind: - 14): Bowyer posted a 36.7 average finish in his first three starts at Talladega Superspeedway. He will pilot a brand new car (chassis No. 207) in Sunday's UAW-Ford 500.
4. Tony Stewart (Points Behind: - 117): Prior to the 2006 fall race where he finished 22nd, Stewart finished second in three consecutive races at Talladega Superspeedway. In fact his overall total of six runner-up finishes at Talladega ties him with Bobby Allison (Martinsville) and Mark Martin (Pocono) for most second-place finishes on a track without a victory. In 17 Talladega starts, Stewart has 10 top-10 finishes and has led 145 laps.
5. Kevin Harvick (Points Behind: - 126): Harvick currently holds the longest streak without a DNF at Talladega Superspeedway of 13 races. In fact, he has only scored one DNF in 26 restrictor-plate races. Harvick, who has two runner-up NEXTEL Cup finishes at Talladega, saw his worst finish (23rd) in the last eight races come in 2006 after being black-flagged from prior damage. He rebounded in the last two events by posting a pair of sixth-place finishes. Harvick's best qualifying effort at Talladega came in the 2005 spring race when he won the pole. In that event he led 12 laps and finished 12th snapping a four-race streak of finishes of seventh or better.
6. Kyle Busch (Points Behind: - 136): Busch's pair of second-place finishes at Daytona are his only top 10s in nine starts on restrictor-plate tracks. His best effort in five starts at Talladega Superspeedway came last year in this event when he finished 11th.
7. Carl Edwards (Points Behind: - 142): Prior to 2007, Edwards put together a solid run of finishes in three consecutive races Talladega Superspeedway. In that span, he recorded an average finish of 7.3, which included his career-best Talladega finish, of fifth, in the fall of 2005. His first two starts didn't fare as well, as he finished 42nd (mechanical) and 32nd (crash), respectively. This past spring the engine failed on the No. 99 Ford and Edwards was relegated to another 42nd-place finish. This weekend Edwards will be racing a new chassis (RK-519) in the UAW-Ford 500.
8. Martin Truex Jr. (Points Behind: - 158): Truex Jr. is coming off consecutive top 10s at Talladega Superspeedway and first finishes of 20th or better in five starts. On Sunday he will be driving a new car (chassis No. 028) when he makes his 11th career restrictor plate start in Cup.
9. Kurt Busch (Points Behind: - 177): Busch has finished in the top 10 in 10 of the 13 races he has competed in at Talladega Superspeedway, including the last six events. His best finishes at the 2.66-mile superspeedway are three third-place runs, with two of them coming in the last two races. Busch, who has scored 16 top-10 finishes in 27 restrictor-plate races, has led at least one lap in the last 10 races at Talladega.
10. Jeff Burton (Points Behind: - 186): Jeff Burton has raced in 56 restrictor-plate races, including the 2000 New Hampshire event when he led every lap. Burton has run 27 of the events at Talladega Superspeedway where he has captured two top fives and 10 top-10 finishes. His fourth-place finish in the 2006 spring race was his first top five and second top 10 in six track starts with Richard Childress Racing. The 2004 fall race marked Burton's first race at Talladega with RCR. He led six laps in that event and ran in the lead pack until he broke a valve in the engine with five laps to go, relegating him to a 13th-place finish. Burton's worst finish with RCR at Talladega came in the 2005 fall race when he ended with a DNF in the 35th position.
11. Matt Kenseth (Points Behind: - 219): Kenseth captured his best finish, of third, in 15 starts at Talladega Superspeedway in the 2005 fall race. In 2006, he continued the top-10 streak by finishing sixth and fourth, respectively. Kenseth led at least one lap in his first eight starts for an overall total of 61 and then led a combined 70 in the last four races. This weekend Kenseth will be driving a new chassis (No. RK-518) that was tested last month at Talladega.
12. Denny Hamlin (Points Behind: - 248): Since winning the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona in 2006, Denny Hamlin has yet to score a top 15 in seven restrictor-plate races. Hamlin's best effort on a plate track came in the 2006 Pepsi 400 at Daytona when he finished 17th. This weekend Hamlin will debut chassis No. 158 in the UAW-Ford 500. Although Sunday will mark the car's first race, this car has played the role of back-up car for six races this season.
13. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Points: 3373): Although Earnhardt Jr. has posted an average finish of 25.3 in his last four starts at Talladega Superspeedway, his track record speaks for itself. From the fall event in 2001 through 2004, Earnhardt Jr. mastered Talladega scoring five wins - including four straight - and two runner-up finishes. His 40th-place finish in the 2005 fall event was his worst at the track since placing 42nd in his first start in 2000. Junior has the best finishing average (14.0) among all active drivers with five or more starts on restrictor-plate tracks and the third best (12.6) at Talladega. In 15 starts at the Alabama track, Earnhardt has led in 13 races, including 10 consecutive from 10/15/2000 - 05/01/2005, for a total of 539 laps.
14. Greg Biffle (Points Behind 13th: -164): Biffle has yet to post a top-10 finish in nine starts at Talladega Superspeedway. His best finish of 13th came in the 2005 spring race. This weekend Biffle will be racing a brand new car (chassis No. RK-521) that was tested at Talladega last month.
15. Casey Mears (Points Behind 14th: -54): In April, Mears appeared to be on his way to a possible third career top 10 at Talladega Superspeedway until a crash took him out of contention. The incident was triggered after the car of his teammate Jimmie Johnson got into the back of Mears' No. 25 while he was slowing down to enter pit road. The end result was a 39th-place finish in his first track start with Hendrick Motorsports. Mears' only top 10s at Talladega came in 2004 with Chip Ganassi Racing.
16. Ryan Newman (Points Behind 15th: -9): Newman has finished in the top 10 four times in 11 starts at Talladega Superpseedway. His best finish is a pair of fourth-place efforts in the 2003 and 2005 fall race. This weekend he will drive a new car (chassis No. PRS-521) that was test at Talladega last month.
17. Jamie McMurray (Points Behind 16th: -248): McMurray was able to equal his best finish at Talladega Superspeedway for the third time this past April after he took the checkered flag in fifth. The finish was his second top five in three track starts with Roush Fenway Racing. Prior to joining Roush in 2006, McMurray captured two top-10 finishes in seven starts with Chip Ganassi Racing. In 2005, he led 38 laps in the fall race before finishing 12th. McMurray will be racing the same chassis (No. RK-517) that he tested at Talladega last month.
18. Bobby Labonte (Points Behind 17th: -26): Labonte has one victory and 11 top-10 finishes in 29 races at Talladega Superspeedway. In a seven-race stretch between 1996-1999, Labonte never finished lower than eighth, but since then has gone on to post only three top 10s. He has started fifth or better five times and has led a total of 150 laps at the superspeedway. In three track starts with Petty Enterprises, Labonte has posted an average finish of 19.7.
19. J.J. Yeley (Points Behind 18th: -47): Yeley has yet to post a top 10 in seven combined Busch and Cup starts at Talladega Superspeedway. His best finish came in the 2006 spring race when he placed 11th. This weekend he will debut the same chassis (No. 152) that was tested at Talladega last month.
20. Juan Pablo Montoya (Points Behind 19th: -39): Montoya, who finished 31st in his Talladega debut in April, will be racing the same car (chassis No. 750) that was tested last month at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.

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