Talladega Story Lines

Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth

Jeff Gordon (24) has scored seven top-10 finishes in the last eight races entering Sunday's race at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo: Getty Images)

TALLADEGA, Ala. - Jeff Gordon is a new man. Not to himself but to others. 

A hot streak will change perceptions.

Gordon couldn’t put back-to-back top-10 finishes together earlier this season. He enters today’s Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway having scored seven top-10s in the last eight races.

“Earlier in the year, people wrote me off and said, “When are you going to retire?’ ‘’ Gordon said. “Now, everybody is like, “Wow, look at this guy. Where did he come from? He’s back.’’

He’ll need more to win the title. Gordon is fourth in the standings, trailing series leader Matt Kenseth by 36 points. 

Gordon, the last driver to make the Chase, is among the hottest in recent weeks. He credits his team for the turnaround, giving him better cars.

“Unfortunately, we just didn’t seem to have it earlier in the year, but we certainly do now and that’s just a sign of a good team that works hard,’’ Gordon said.

Asked how much it would mean to win another title, Gordon laughs and likes that he’s even being asked the question as the second half of the 10-race Chase begins.

“It’s been a while since I’ve had that question asked, probably since ’07,’’ said Gordon, who finished second to teammate Jimmie Johnson that season. “I don’t even know if I have the words to describe how much it would mean.’’

Talladega could determine his title hopes. That’s just among the various stories to be aware of Sunday. Here are others:

GIVING 100 PERCENT

There have been a lot of fan questions about if drivers who ride at the back of the pack violate the 100 percent mandate NASCAR issued after the shenanigans at Richmond last month.

NASCAR has repeatedly stated that running at the back in a restrictor-plate race does not violate the stipulation because that is part of the race strategy some teams will use.

There also have been questions if many teams would ride at the back because some drivers say that it’s more challenging to come through the field. 

Jeff Burton, who starts second, doesn’t see it that way.

“I think that you can sandbag,’’ Burton said. “I don’t think there is any reason you can’t. I think we even saw it (Friday in practice). I fell back just to kind of see how far you could get back and sucked right back up to the front pack. I think you will see some of the guys in the Chase ride around. I think you will see some of them trying to lead as many laps as you can. I think you will see a typical Talladega race where some people just aren’t comfortable running every lap in the front and some people are. 

“If you ride around, when you go is what is important. If it’s a 188-lap race and you take it easy for 100, there is no reason why you couldn’t get back to the front in 88 laps. There is no reason in the world. I think you will see a mixture of stuff. These races are crazy.”

CHAOS AT THE END

Six of the last seven Talladega races have featured multi-car crashes within eighth laps of the scheduled finish, including last fall’s race where 25 cars crashed on the last lap.

Don’t be surprised if that trend continues.

“When it is 10 to go, you can hear the excitement in your spotter’s voice, your crew chief’s voice,’’ said David Ragan, who won the spring Talladega race. “When they throw the white flag, you are going to be aggressive. I am not a big betting guy, but I would bet for (an accident late) to happen again. Hopefully, you are in front of that accident or enough behind it where you clear it. You just never know where it is going to be or when it is going to happen.’’

CHASE IMPLICATIONS

The expectation is that the Chase standings can change dramatically because of the likelihood of an incident that collects the contenders. Matt Kenseth leads Jimmie Johnson by four points and Kevin Harvick by 29 points.

Yet, the past five years the points leader entering Talladega retained that spot after the race. Will that trend continue?

SURPRISE WINNER

David Ragan shocked many by leading teammate David Gilliland to a one-two finish in the spring at Talladega. This track has a history for surprise winners and first-time winners. Brian Vickers (2006) and Brad Keselowski (2009) are among the recent first-time winners at this track. Will someone else join the list?

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