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Race Day: Everybody Needs Somebody At Talladega

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 23 2011

Hendrick Motorsports crew chiefs Steve Letarte, Chad Knaus, Lance McGrew and Alan Gustafson talk strategy at Talladega. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

It’s never fun to be a non-Chase driver at this time of the year. It must really be a bummer when the Chase moves to Talladega Superspeedway and the top teams and drivers start making out their dance cards for the Sprint Car Samba.

It usually leaves the group of drivers that resides on the second page of the series standings in full-beg-for-company mode.

Here is what a couple of the invisible men had to say about finding dance partners in today’s Good Sam 500 pairs-racing event at Talladega:

Travis Kvapil, driver of the No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford when asked if he has found a pusher/puller for the race: “I think so. It all can go out the window but myself and David Gilliland are planning to work together and be there for each other all day long. We are looking for a good solid day tomorrow because that can go a long way for our fight to get back into the top-35. We want to keep chipping away at it. That is the plan.”

David Gilliland, driver of the No. 34 World Hunger Relief Ford when asked if he planned to work with Chase driver Tony Stewart again: “Yeah, we aren’t. It is such a tight points battle right now and we are

Jeff Gordon and dance partner Mark Martin. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

going to try to help the Ford guys out all we can. We are going to go that route. Tony was great to work with those last couple of races and you never know what will happen.”

JJ Yeley, driver of the No. 55 Front Row Motorsports Ford when asked his strategy today: “I think you almost have to shoot from the hip. You can sit there and plan but as soon as the green flag drops there are 40 other guys out there to disturb your plan. It is tough because there are 43 cars starting this race so there will be one guy left out, as long as you aren’t that guy you will be OK.”

Fast facts

What: Good Sam Club 500

Where: Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway

When: Sunday, 2 p.m. ET

Carl Edwards has the points lead. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 90

Race distance: 188 laps/500.1 miles

Track layout: 2.66-mile oval

2010 winner: Clint Bowyer

2010 polesitter: Juan Pablo Montoya

Today’s polesitter: Mark Martin

Points leaders: 1. Carl Edwards, 2,203; 2. Kevin Harvick, 2,198; 3. Matt Kenseth, 2,196; 4. Kyle Busch, 2,185; 5. Tony Stewart, 2,179; 6. Brad Keselowski, 2,178; 7. Kurt Busch, 2,176; 8. Jimmie Johnson, 2,168; 9. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2,143; 10. Ryan Newman, 2,142; 11. Jeff Gordon, 2,137; 12. Denny Hamlin, 2,117.

Return of radio

Radio days are back this weekend at Talladega. Teams will not just be in touch with their spotters and crew chiefs during the race.

They will also be talking with prospective dance partners and that can cause problems. Mark Martin, for example, may need a translator when he talks to his partner, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“It’s good,” Martin said of inter-car chatting. “I’m still trying to learn his voice and some of his sayings from time to time. Kannapolis, North Carolina has some different sayings, to say the least. But we’re having a great time and he’s a ton of fun to work with and he had all of us laughing a lot yesterday. So I’m looking forward to it; it will be a lot of fun.”

Trivia time

They say starting position means very little in plate racing. However, Talladega races have been won 18 times from the pole. Who was the last driver to win at Talladega from P1?

Mr. Popularity

Tony Stewart seems to have the tandem thing nailed. He was asked this weekend that if, because of that,

Tony Stewart is a popular guy at plate tracks. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

he just sits back and waits for suiters to call him.

“Oh no,” Stewart said. “I definitely want to be more proactive than reactive with it for sure. So if I can go out and pick somebody I want I rather do that than wait for them to come. There is no benefit to waiting on somebody to come to you, you are better off going and trying to get the guy you want.”

Breaking up hard to do?

Stewart was also asked about ending relationships. Does he get on the radio and say, “It’s not you, it’s me”? Is ending it all hard on everybody?

“I don’t know,” Stewart said. “I don’t think they signed contracts for pairing up so I think everybody is fair game at this point. It’s just who you can get and there’s going to be times in the race where you don’t necessarily get with the guys you want to be with anyway. You’ve always got to do the Peyton Manning; you’ve always got to be ready to call an audible at any point so just wait and see what you can get.”

Track tidbits

Most victories: 10, by Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Most top fives: 23, by Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Most lead-lap finishes: 29, by Bill Elliott

Most DNFs : 23, by Darrell Waltrip

Last five winners: Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray and Brad Keselowski.

Closest finish: .002 seconds, by Jimmie Johnson last spring

Best average finisher in today’s field: Joey Logano, 12.6 in five races

Best average finisher among Chasers: Kurt Busch, 13.9 in 21 races

Preferential treatment?

Rumor is that Roush Fenway Racing drivers, and other Ford drivers, have been told that Job One is to

Are Jack Roush's drivers out to help Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle today? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

get the Carl Edwards/Greg Biffle duo to the checkered flag first today.

Edwards was asked about that.

“I wasn’t in that meeting if there was one,” the points leader said. “From what I heard, I called into the meeting this week on Tuesday and we didn’t talk about specifically that. I did hear that there was a meeting where everybody kind of spit on their hands, shook and agreed to what we were going to do for one another but I wasn’t given the details of that meeting. I just heard that it maybe happened. I don’t think there was anything different this week than any other week. When I asked Greg what he wanted to do and how we wanted to work together, that is something we have done over the last few race and it wasn’t like someone told him this is what you have to do. We agreed on what would be the best for us to do and I think we made that decision independently and without someone telling us.”

By the numbers

0 – fewest cautions for a Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (three times, most recent 10/6/02)

1 – fewest laps led by race winner (twice, most recent 4/26/09 – Brad Keselowski)

1 – fewest cars on the lead lap at finish (twice, most recent 5/6/79)

8 – cautions in last year’s spring race

11 – number of jet dryers available for track drying this weekend

Joey Logano and Kyle Busch talk about dancing at Talladega. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

11 – most cautions (4/25/04)

14 – fewest running at finish (7/27/86)

23 – races won from a starting spot outside the top 10

29 – most leaders (5/25/11)

35 – different pole winners

40 – most cars running at finish (4/22/01)

41 – drivers have posted wins in the 84 races

62 – most caution laps (5/7/72)

88 – most lead changes (twice, most recent 4/17/11)

153 – most laps led by race winner (Pete Hamilton, 8/23/70)

120 minutes – approximate amount of time it takes to dry the 2.66-mile track after a significant rainfall

2011 Caution Update

7 – number of races extended beyond scheduled distance in 2011

3 – fewest cautions this season (New Hampshire, 9/25/11)

16 – most cautions this season (Daytona 500)

230 – number of cautions in the first 31 races of 2011; includes 110 for accidents, 54 for debris and 29 for spins

1,107 of 8,949 – number of laps under caution in 2011

1,513.119 of 12,260.158 – miles under caution in the first 31 races

BONUS: In addition to Talladega Superspeedway (84 races), six other Alabama tracks hosted 19 Sprint Cup events from 1951 to 1969.

Trivia answer

Jeff Gordon won the Talladega race from the pole in the spring of 2007. He was last to win a Talladega race from P1.

Up next

Martinsville Speedway for the Tums Fast Relief 500. Denny Hamlin won the race in 2010. He also won the pole. It will be the 33rd of 36 races.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 23 2011
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