Drivers differ on how to race at Talladega
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There's debate as to where a driver wants to be in the race to the Sprint Cup title.
Brad Keselowski likes the view out front.
Keselowski takes a five-point lead over Jimmie Johnson into Sunday's race at Talladega Superspeedway, the fourth of 10 races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Keselowski doesn't care if the rest of the field is gunning for him because he wants to be the hunted.
"I don't know why you wouldn't want to be leading. I don't understand that theory at all," Keselowski said. "If you have a chance to be in the lead, take it and run."
That makes for an interesting discussion for Talladega, where drivers have varying strategy. Some sit back and wait until late in the race to make a push toward the front, while others aren't shy about mixing it up.
It's something Keselowski had thought long and hard about before the May race at Talladega, where he defied conventional wisdom to beat Kyle Busch. In doing so, he became the first driver in five races at Talladega to be leading on the last lap and hold on for the win.
No driver has wanted to be out front in the closing laps because it sets them up to have the win snatched away by the second-place driver. Because drafting is so important at restrictor-plate races, drivers have mastered the strategy of pushing a car around the track before pulling off the bumper at the last second and using a sling-shot pass to gain position.
Keselowski said after the win he had dreamed about the scenario, and he executed it with perfection to create a strategy he's not sure would work again Sunday.
"That was probably a one-time thing," Keselowski said, "there's way of beating that."
Figuring out where to be and when to make a move is half the battle this weekend, particularly for the Chase drivers.
Two-time defending race winner Clint Bowyer said his strategy will depend on how he qualifies, and at fourth in the standings, he's going hard Sunday after Keselowski, Johnson and Denny Hamlin.
But Kasey Kahne, who is sixth in points, said he hasn't yet figured out what he'll do beyond chasing points.
"You definitely need to think about it and try to figure out what you feel is best for yourself, for the team, and just trying to get all the points that we can," Kahne said. "What I've done the past two, three years is just tried to race and stay out front, as close to the front as possible. It's hard to sit in the back and just kind of sit back there, relax and wait until 10 laps to go."
Johnson has yet to finish a plate race this season. The five-time champion was collected in an accident on the second lap of the Daytona 500, suffered an engine failure at Talladega in the spring and was in yet another accident at Daytona in July. So he hast no idea what's going to be the best strategy Sunday, or where he wants to be in the field for the bulk of the race.
"It definitely is the one track in the Chase I've kind of been a little concerned about," he said. "There are so many things that are out of your control. I think the odds are in our favor to be able to finish one of these restrictor-plate races this year. At least I hope so."
Johnson was only half-kidding when he said he wanted NASCAR to drop Talladega from the Chase, but Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth said he's looking forward to the race for the first time in his career.
Kenseth has been strong in plate races this year, won the 500 and had a shot at winning both Talladega in May and Daytona in July. He's looking for some redemption at Talladega, where he was the leader on the final restart.
But he got too far ahead of drafting partner Greg Biffle, and it allowed Keselowski and Busch to pass him as those two drivers battled for the win without Kenseth.
"I messed up and didn't do the right things," said Kenseth, who is trying to salvage his championship race after three disappointing races to open the Chase.
Kenseth thinks it can be a big day for Roush Fenway Racing, which is trying to make up ground in the Chase after a rough start for both Kenseth and Biffle. And Biffle is still trying to win a plate race this year -- he's blamed driver error on costing him a chance to win the season-opening Daytona 500.
"The No. 16 (Biffle) and us have been really fast. We've been able to work together and stayed up front the whole time," Kenseth said. "Hopefully we can do that again and, if there is some trouble, take advantage of that for Greg and I to gain some points."
Keselowski cautioned against putting too much planning into strategy for Sunday.
"I'm trying really hard not to overthink it, the thing is we just have to go out and do it," he said.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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