Talladega turned things upside down

October, 25, 2011

You knew we were going to have some hot topics coming out of Talladega. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Several Chasers wrecked, Kevin Harvick and the Amazing Flying Busch Brothers among them. That's the hard luck that's par for the course at Talladega.

Carl Edwards widened his points lead by hanging back. To sum up his day, he started ninth, was 24th by the end of the first lap and 39th by the end of the second lap. He then didn't run a green-flag lap in the top 15 until the next-to-last lap, then finished 11th.

A good points day, especially given what happened to some of his closest pursuers.

On the flip side, we had some late-race controversy between Trevor Bayne and Jeff Gordon.

To summarize: Bayne and Gordon lost their drafting partners and decided to hook up at the end of the race. From there it gets murky, as Bayne may have had team orders to draft with Matt Kenseth, who lost his partner, David Ragan, to engine troubles.

More summaries: Gordon was mad at being dumped, Bayne was mad at perceived team orders and tweeted such. Then people denied there were team orders. End summary.

That's the complicated stuff. Now, I'll just give the fun stat side of the race.

The Century Mark

Lost in the madness was Clint Bowyer's win, the 100th Sprint Cup Series win for Richard Childress Racing. RCR is the fifth team to reach that mark, the other active teams being Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing.

Bowyer's won the Talladega Chase race, a race that has a reputation of being a crapshoot in which anyone can win in back-to-back years, so he's figured something out. Also, four of his five career wins have come in Chase races; two at Talladega, two at New Hampshire.

Trivia break: Where did Bowyer's non-Chase win come?

Competition Reigns

We didn't get to see Talladega pay out that $100,000 bonus that came with 100 lead changes, but it was an unrealistic goal.

Before Sunday, the previous three Talladega races all featured at least 87 lead changes, the three most in a race in series history.

Sunday's race featured "only" 72 lead changes, still the sixth-most in series history. The 26 separate leaders was on par for the past two races there and tied for the third-highest total in series history.

Also, the winner made yet another last-lap pass, the fifth time in the past six Talladega races that's happened, including four in a row.

Trivia break: Who did Bowyer pass on the last lap in last year's fall Talladega race?

Pacing The Chase

What do we need to know about the title picture after Talladega?

Well, no driver has won the Talladega Chase race and then gone on to win the title, but six of the seven Chase-era champions finished no worse than ninth in that race.

Johnson finished 26th in 2006, but then rattled off five straight top-two finishes to win the title.

Now, history shows it's a three-man race. No driver has come from outside the top three with four races remaining to win the Chase. Five of the seven held the lead at this point.

Trivia break: Who is the only other non-Chaser to win a Chase race over the past four seasons?

Power Rankings

I wanted to come up with something to rank the strength of the Chase drivers on a race-by-race basis. So I came up with a nerdy formula, using recent performance, along with recent performance at the track, to predict who'll be strong in the next race.

Here are my Chase power rankings for Martinsville.

1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Denny Hamlin
3. Kyle Busch
4. Matt Kenseth
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Jeff Gordon
7. Tony Stewart
8. Carl Edwards
9. Ryan Newman
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
11. Kurt Busch
12. Brad Keselowski

Trivia Break Answers

1. Bowyer's non-Chase win came at Richmond.

2. Bowyer passed teammate Kevin Harvick on the last lap last year.

3. Jamie McMurray won a Chase race in 2009 and 2010.

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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