Predicting the unpredictable at Talladega

October, 20, 2011

Ah, Talladega. It's called the ultimate Chase wild card, but in reality, in the past three years of the Chase, the top three drivers in the standings left Talladega ranked the same way they went in.

Still, it's going to be wild. In the spring, Jimmie Johnson beat Clint Bowyer by .002 seconds -- no, that's not a typo. If Bowyer had won that race, who knows what that might've done for his Chase hopes. Maybe he'd still be driving for Richard Childress Racing next season.

The top eight at Talladega in the spring were separated by under two-tenths of a second, and although Talladega means anyone can run up front (see Dave Blaney's strong run in the spring race), at the end of the April race we had four Hendrick cars, two Roush Fenway cars and two Childress cars racing for the win.

That's what makes this humble blogger's job so difficult. How am I supposed to predict what's going to happen at Talladega? I might as well just tell you to sit back, relax and enjoy it. But then that'd make a pretty boring blog.

But let's look at the facts. Put on your reading spectacles.

Dating to 2005, do you know who has run the most fastest laps at Talladega? It's Michael Waltrip! He'll be running this week, and I'm not going to say he's a favorite, but I think he'll find a way to be a factor.

The driver with the fastest average speed going back to 2005? Trevor Bayne. The driver with the most green-flag passes inside the top 15 per race? Joey Logano. The young guns could be up front.

Or how about we just look at the spring race? Twenty-seven drivers finished on the lead lap in that one, and just one of those 27 didn't run the fastest lap at some point, and that was Andy Lally. And no driver ran more than eight fastest laps in the entire race.

OK, I have to give you some sort of prediction, and that is Bowyer again will be a factor. He has finished seventh or better in the past three Talladega races and had excellent driver ratings (123.4 and 123.2) in the past two.

In the spring race, he was one of four drivers with an average running position inside the top 10, along with Jeff Burton, Paul Menard and Kurt Busch.

I still don't know what's going to happen, though. My advice? Just sit back, relax and enjoy it.

The Eliminator: Talladega

Most people just pick winners -- some by hunches, some by stats, and some by just picking names off the top of their heads. I don't pick winners; I pick losers. I'll make my race pick by telling you why all but one driver in the field just can't win.

1. Seventeen of the past 19 Talladega winners had a previous top-5 finish at the track (11 eliminated, 35 remaining).

2. Seven of the past eight fall Talladega winners had a top-15 finish in that year's Daytona 500 (24 eliminated, 11 remaining).

3. Eight of the past 11 Talladega winners came off a top-10 finish the previous week (eight eliminated, three remaining).

4. We've had eight different winners in the past eight Talladega races (two eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Carl Edwards.

Matt Willis | email

ESPN Staff Writer
Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.



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