Martin on Talladega: ‘It could be a great equalizer’

Martin looks for a better finish than in April at Talladega

Mark Martin and the other Chase contenders will have to avoid the "Big One" at Talladega. Martin was not able to avoid this accident at Talladega in April (photo courtesy: John Harrelson, Getty Images Sport)

Rain washed out qualifying at Talladega so Chase contenders Mark Martin and South Florida's Juan Pablo Montoya will start up front in a critical race at Talladega (Nov. 1, 1:19 PM ABC).  One way to avoid the "Big One" at Talladega is to stay out in front.  Drivers realize that in order to win at Talladega, first they must finish.  Starting positions are not that important in a restrictor-plate race but Chase drivers will be within striking distance of the other drivers contending for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship to be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22. 

Restrictor-plate racing is not a popular concept to most of the drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage. Daytona and Talladega are the only two tracks on the circuit where the engines are “restricted” in order to reduce the speeds, but they also keep cars bunched in one or more tight packs.

History shows that running so closely together tends to breed multicar crashes, and drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship—to be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22—will need a sound strategy and a bit of luck to score maximum points and tighten the race for the Championship that will be awarded following the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22. Great seats for the Championship finales are still available by calling (866) 409-RACE or clicking here.

Driver success at Talladega usually comes down to timing more than anything else, and there are aspects of Talladega that can be a real guessing game. Interestingly, Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one driver who is thrilled to race at Talladega, where he has collected the most wins (five) in his career. That Junior usually races well at restrictor-plate tracks gives his team confidence entering the weekend.

“It can be dangerous, but we've got a safe race car, and they get safer every year,” he said. “We always run good here, and the fans are always great to us so I enjoy coming here."

Jimmie Johnson enters the race at Talladega as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship points leader, but his lead could disappear if he is caught up in the almost-inevitable Talladega melee—especially if his closest points pursuers, teammates Martin and Jeff Gordon, are not.

Another close pursuer, Juan Pablo Montoya, finished third at Martinsville last week to sit fifth in the points standings for the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, to be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22. In just his third full-time year of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing—after achieving international success in the open-wheel world—the South Florida resident is making a bid to run for the Championship on his “home track” of Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 22. In his five previous starts at Talladega, Montoya has one pole and one Top 5 finish.

“It will be interesting to see what kind of strategy you play during the race because there is always two ways of looking at it,” Montoya said. “‘Do you need points and you want to try and lead as many laps [as possible]? Or do [you] play conservative and play it at the end? It is always a challenge, especially with the side-by-side restarts. It is going to be, whew, pretty wild.”

“But it's not over,” Montoya added of the 2009 Chase. “You've got to be honest, you go to Talladega and [points leader Johnson] might have a bad race, or even the race after. He might blow a motor or have a bad pit stop. There's still a lot of racing to go, so anything can happen. We've just got to keep running hard and hope for the best.”

Fan favorite Martin, meanwhile, finished eighth in Chase Race 6 at Martinsville and has two pole position starts at Talladega along with two wins, 10 Top 5 finishes and 22 Top 10 results.

“I’m going to go there and race, and I am going to race like I am not concerned about getting in an accident,” said Martin. "And sometimes accidents are all around you and you don’t get tangled up, and I am going to race like I am expecting it to happen around me and not catch me. I’ve thought about it, and that is how I feel.

"I have a feeling that I’m going to have a great Talladega race," Martin added. "I don’t know if our competition will or not, but I wrecked on Lap 5 last time there; I’ve got a feeling that just isn’t going to happen this time. The law of averages is going to get you sooner or later, and I think I’ve got some good karma going in there. I’m very optimistic.

“It could be a great equalizer."

Just three races remain before the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship culminates Nov. 22 at Montoya’s “home track” of Homestead-Miami Speedway. Tickets for the Sprint Cup Championship start at just $55 and are available by clicking here or by calling (866) 409-RACE.

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