What’s the bigger story this weekend: How Talladega will affect the Chase or A.J. Allmendinger’s arrest and charge for drunk driving?
Let’s start with Talladega. In the six-year history of the Chase, the Talladega race has cost the top driver his lead three times. The other three times, the leader in the Chase heading into Talladega went on to win the championship.
In that regard, the Talledega race is a wash.
Jimmie Johnson has a comfortable 118-point lead in the Chase standings heading into Talladega. It’s more than likely, barring any sort of disaster, that Johnson will maintain his lead in the Chase standings.
However, Talladega is designed for disaster. Johnson’s record at Talladega isn’t all that great either. His chances of winning the race are not the best. But Johnson doesn’t have to win. He just has to finish ahead of the other Chase drivers, in particular Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya.
At this point in the season, the winners of races are pretty inconsequential compared to how the Chase leaders finish in races. Johnson can finish fifth and have a great day if the other Chase drivers finish behind him.
In all likelihood, the winner of the Talladega race will probably be someone who has little to do with the Chase.
There have been two Talladega winners who were not in the Chase field. This could be the year a third is added.
Matt Kenseth and David Ragan will have new engines for the Talladega race. Both have found success at Talladega and both should be considered favorites to win the race.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is another driver who knows how to race at Talladega and should be considered a threat to win.
As for Chase drivers who should have good races, Gordon has been able to tame Talladega in the past, much to the chagrin of the Talladega faithful who have lobbed beer cans and bottles at him and his car after his winning runs.
Brian Vickers is one of those non-Chase drivers who has won at Talladega in the past. He is part of the Chase this year. Perhaps a win at Talladega could make up for what has turned into a lousy Chase debut.
Allmendinger’s situation has overshadowed the race at Talladega in some ways. He was put on probation by NASCAR for the incident. Some are saying probation is too light of a punishment. Some want to see him suspended for a race. That seems a little drastic for a sport rooted in bootlegging and moonshining.
Besides, Richard Petty, the namesake on Allmendinger’s Richard Petty Motorsports team, will most likely hand down a harsher punishment on Allmendinger than NASCAR ever could.
Remember, Petty would not enter a car or team in NASCAR’s second-tier series when it was sponsored by Busch beer. His feelings on mixing alcohol and driving cars are pretty clear.
It’s a shame Allmendinger is getting so much attention. Blame Johnson again for this. His lead in the Chase standings is so strong, he has made Talladega almost an afterthought to police reports, arrests and drinking and driving.