Drivers Share Talladega Talk

Talladega

The fourth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup is also the final restrictor-plate event of the season, which means a wide range of opinions coming from the garage area. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)

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TALLADEGA, Ala. - There are a variety of different views from Sprint Cup Series drivers preparing for Sunday’s Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

The fourth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup is also the final restrictor-plate event of the season, which means a wide range of opinions coming from the garage area.

Those still in the championship picture realize how important Sunday’s race will be in the title hunt including Clint Bowyer, who said his strategy is to try and stay in front as long as possible but all that really matters is the last lap.

“It is,” Bowyer said of his approach. “It just depends on where you qualify. If you’re up front starting the race, you want to stay up front and stay up there. If not, you don’t want to be wiped out of this thing before halfway or even three quarters of the way through. You’ve got to be able to get yourself to the end of the thing, then get yourself in position.

“It doesn’t matter if you lead all the laps and run up front all day long, if you’re not there when that checkered flag falls nobody knows who led the most laps in most of these races anyways. Nobody even cares. They all care about who won and, more importantly, where this Chase bunch finished, because that’s what it’s all about right now.”

Sprint Cup Series point leader Brad Keselowski won at Talladega back in May. The Penske Racing driver has two wins at the 2.66-mile track during his career but knows because of its unpredictability, past success doesn’t mean much.

“I really respect the challenge that Talladega is mentally. But I certainly loathe the lack of ability to fully determine the outcome of your day,” Keselowski said.

“It’s a bit of a love-hate relationship but the mental challenge I really enjoy.”

Jeff Gordon is still in the Sprint Cup championship race even though he trails Keselowski by 48 points heading into Talladega. But the driver who has the most active victories with six is staying positive about the title hopes and using the same mental approach to restrictor plate racing.

“You just approach it with a positive attitude,” said Gordon. “I’m excited about this week. That’s the first time I can say that in a long time coming into a Talladega race because for us it’s not about racing for points, it’s about racing for a win and being aggressive. I feel like at the end it’s just finding somebody you can connect with to get into victory lane.

“I feel like from our team, the homework they’ve done and the research they are doing and improvements they’ve made to the car as well as just looking at video, and talking to my spotter, I’m excited about the fact that we can come in here and not be looking at a conservative approach. I think that can get you in just as much trouble as being aggressive.”

Matt Kenseth is still mathematically in the Chase race although he faces a 72 point deficit after only three races.

The Roush Fenway Racing driver understands the volatile nature of Talladega racing and the ramifications of such close quarter racing.

“At all the plate races there is always a risk of getting in a wreck because all the cars run so close together,” he said. “A lot of times we’re three or four-wide and you have one little problem and it collects a lot more cars than most race tracks, but so far this year the plate tracks have been good to us. If you have a fast enough car and you can stay up front, you’ve got a better chance of not being in the wrecks.”

Kenseth is well aware of his place in the standings but is not ready to throw in the towel with more than half the Chase left to run.

“No, I’m just glad you can’t fall back worse than 12th with the way our first three races have been,” he laughed. “You’re not out of it until you’re mathematically out of it. Seven races is still a lot, obviously."

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