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Talladega Is Extra Spooky This Weekend

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 30 2010

Talladega is always a spooky place for teams and drivers. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer

Halloween is going to be a whole lot scarier for a lot of folks Sunday.

Talladega Superspeedway, a 2.6-mile asphalt House of Horrors, is a known for lots of tricks and very few treats.

It’s a spooky place even with the lights on.

Things often go bump in the daytime – big, loud bumps.

Talladega has always been a nerve-jangling, white-knuckle track, and that tension is sure to be compounded in Sunday’s race. Some drivers will see their championship hopes go up in smoke – perhaps literally – while the survivors will be able to exhale.

Only four races remain heading into the ‘Dega showdown, and only four drivers are in serious title contention: Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.

It’s unlikely that any one from fifth on back – starting with my Chase choice Jeff Gordon – can mount a miracle rally. But if, by some slim chance they do, it has to start Sunday. Anyone still buried in fifth or worse won’t have time to dig out.

There’s a chance that the Chase could be a two-man affair exiting Talladega unless Harvick or Busch chops a substantial chunk out of the lead of Johnson and Hamlin.

Johnson is hanging onto the lead by his fingernails, nursing a 6-point advantage over Hamlin who won last week at Martinsville.

Harvick is within striking distance, 62 points back in third.

Busch is fourth, 172 points out of first, and needs to make a move Sunday if he’s going to hang with the big dogs. If Busch comes out of Talladega still mired in fourth it’s unlikely he’ll be able to hurdle three drivers in three races.

It’s possible that Johnson could falter, that Hamlin might stumble, that Harvick might trip. It’s even possible that two of the three might have problems. But it’s highly unlikely that all three will backslide in the final three races.

So if Busch is to have any realistic hope of keeping the frontrunners in sight he needs a good finish Sunday.

And if the pressure is on the first four, imagine what it must be like in positions 5-6-7 – Gordon, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart.

Gordon, grinding his way through a goose-egg season – part of a career-record losing streak – knows that Talladega represents his last long-shot gasp at making a run for the title.

Edwards has even less hope, but would like to salvage something from a sour season.

And Stewart has had just enough of taste of success this year to make him determined to  go down swinging.

And the pressure doesn’t stop there. The other Chase drivers won’t be in a good mood, having worked all season to make the playoffs only to see their hopes fizzle. They can’t win the championship but they can still make a statement.

And the non-Chasers, as we’ve seen in recent weeks, aren’t going to turn on their blinkers, pull over, and give the title contenders a free pass. Time’s running out on a disappointing season, and they’d like to finish on a high note.

There’ll be a lot of Talladega candy up for grabs Sunday, and the goblins will be prowling.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 30 2010
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