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NASCAR driver capsules: Oct. 4, 2012

By By The Sports Xchange
Published On: Oct 04 2012 09:33:18 AM CDT
Racing generic, winners flag

Caren Firouz/Reuters

2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Dodge

Team: Penske Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: After taking the early lead in the standings by winning the first race in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup, Keselowski fell to second place after the second Chase race at New Hampshire, only to rally back with a win at Dover on Sunday to regain the points lead. He leads second-ranked Jimmie Johnson by five points and third-ranked Denny Hamlin by 16 points.

TALLADEGA RECORD: 7 career starts, 2 wins, 3 top-5s, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: 1st in spring 2009 and spring 2012. Finished fourth in this race last year; won this spring's race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski is making a concerted effort to steal the championship away from defending champ Tony Stewart, five-time champ Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin (also seeking his first Cup career title, like Keselowski). Now we head to Talladega, where Keselowski has been outstanding. Here are his thoughts on Sunday's race: "I really don't feel like we have any weaknesses on our team. In our two Chase wins, we've won on pure speed and we won on fuel mileage. To me, that's covering all of your bases. Now we get to the part of the schedule where I think our strengths will shine. I love racing at Talladega. We have a lot of confidence going back there as the winner of the spring race. There is still a lot of racing left to go in this Chase, but I like our position in the standings, for sure."

LOOKING BACK: Keselowski led just 14 laps at Dover and held off Jeff Gordon to win for the second time in the first three Chase races.

ETC.: Keselowski has completed 96.6 percent (1,291) of the 1,337 laps contested in his seven career Cup starts at Talladega. His average start is 18.4 and average finish is 13.0. He has 1 DNF there.

48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: After climbing to the top spot of the Sprint Cup standings following New Hampshire, Johnson fell back one spot to second place after Dover. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by five points and leads third-ranked Denny Hamlin by 11 points.

TALLADEGA RECORD: 21 career starts, 2 wins, 5 top-5s, 9 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: 1st in spring 2006 and spring 2011. Finished 26th in this race last year and was 35th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson is in a perfect place at this point in the Chase. Unless he suffers catastrophic mechanical failure or gets caught up in wrecks in the next few races, the five-time champ has made it very clear he's on track to win title No. 6 this season. Here are his thoughts about Sunday's race: "Well, as you can probably see from our finishes this year, we haven't had a lot of luck at the restrictor-plate tracks. It definitely is the one track in the Chase I've kind of been a little concerned about. There are a lot of great tracks for the 48 coming up in the Chase, but this one is definitely one where anything can happen. There are so many things that are out of your control. There is a lot of room on this track to move around, though, obviously, and try things. I think the odds are in our favor to be able to finish one of these restrictor-plate races this year. At least I hope so."

LOOKING BACK: Johnson led 43 laps at Dover, but his car tailed off near the end, resulting in a still strong fourth-place finish. Unfortunately, he lost his one-week hold on the top spot in the overall Chase for the Sprint Cup standings.

ETC.: Johnson has completed 93.3 percent (3,717) of the 3,983 laps contested in his 21 career starts at Talladega. His average start is an outstanding 9.5 and average finish is 17.7. He also has a career-high 8 DNFs there.

11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: After entering the Chase No. 1, then falling into a three-way tie for fourth after the Chase opener at Chicago, Hamlin moved up to third place after winning at New Hampshire and remained there after Dover. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 16 points and second-ranked Jimmie Johnson by 11 points and leads fourth-ranked Clint Bowyer by nine points.

TALLADEGA RECORD: 13 career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-5s, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: third in spring 2008. Finished eighth in this race last year, fell to 23rd in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin made a big statement by winning at Loudon, but much of what he gained was lost with his less than sterling finish at Dover on Sunday. Still, Hamlin is very much in the championship battle. Here are his thoughts heading into Talladega: "We can handle (being just 16 points out of first place), no problem. There's nothing we can't handle on the race track. I think our performance (at Dover) is a testament to where we're heading. (Talladega) is an absolute crapshoot, but it's going to be for everyone. We have to know who we're racing. We have to make smart decisions and keep all the fenders on it. Typically, most superspeedways I'm right in it until the very end and get caught up in a wreck. My job (this) week is to make sure to concentrate on that weekend, not look forward and focus on getting the most points possible."

LOOKING BACK: Hamlin led 39 laps at Dover, but like Johnson, his car tailed off near the end because he had to stop late for fuel, lest he run out of gas. That hurt him greatly, leaving him with an eighth-place finish rather than what likely would have been a top-three showing.

ETC.: Hamlin has completed just 94.0 percent (2,322) of the 2,471 laps contested in his 13 career starts at Talladega. His average start there is 18.7 and average finish is 18.2. He also has 2 DNFs there.

15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Bowyer climbed one spot, from fifth to fourth, after Dover. He's 25 points behind points leader Brad Keselowski, nine points behind third-ranked Denny Hamlin and leads Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart, who are tied for fifth place, by seven points.

TALLADEGA RECORD: 13 career starts, 2 wins, 4 top-5, 7 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: first in fall 2010 and fall 2011. Finished first in this race last year; ended up sixth in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer has mastered Talladega in recent races, or so it seems, with wins in the last two fall races as well as a sixth-place finish this spring there. He's not overly thrilled with his ninth-place finish at Dover, but as crew chief Brian Pattie said, Dover is in the rearview mirror and it's full steam ahead into 'Dega: "This team wants to run top-five every week, and ninth-place (at Dover) isn't good enough. We'll go to Talladega and hopefully shake them up there."

LOOKING BACK: Bowyer didn't have a great car, fighting handling issues much of the race, yet still managed to bring home a ninth-place finish at Dover. That was huge for the No. 15 team because it allowed Bowyer to climb into fourth in the standings.

ETC.: Bowyer has completed just 83.2 percent (2,057) of the 2,471 laps contested in his 13 career starts at Talladega. His average start is 19.9; his average finish is 15.6. He has 2 DNFs there.

5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Kahne remained in fifth place after Dover although now he's tied with Tony Stewart. The duo trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 32 points and fourth-ranked Clint Bowyer by seven points and leads seventh-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by seven points.

TALLADEGA RECORD: 17 career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-5s, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best finish: second in fall 2006 and fall 2009. Finished sixth in this race last year and was fourth in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne's 15th-place finish at Dover knocked him down in the points from 15 back to 32 back. He needs to recoup those lost points at Talladega to have any chance of becoming a serious contender in the remaining six Chase races. Here are his thoughts on Sunday's race: "Talladega is really the biggest wild card in the Chase. Almost everyone has a shot at the win, but you can be out of running early, too. We're going into the weekend with a couple of good superspeedway finishes this year, and the guys at the shop put together awesome restrictor-plate cars. If we can stay out of trouble, we should have a solid day."

LOOKING BACK: Kahne had a very strong race car at Dover and, even though he didn't lead a lap there, he could have contended for the win had it not been for mechanical issues about 50 laps from the end of the race, leaving him in 15th place, three laps down.

ETC.: Kahne has completed only 87.2 percent (2,817) of the 3,231 laps contested in his 17 career starts at Talladega. His average start is a mediocre 24.9; his average finish not much better at 20.8. He also has 2 DNFs there.

14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart Haas Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Stewart came into the Chase in a three-way tie for second. He dropped to third place after Chicago, fourth after New Hampshire and is now in a tie for fifth place with Kasey Kahne after Dover. The duo trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 32 points and fourth-ranked Clint Bowyer by seven points and leads seventh-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by seven points.

TALLADEGA RECORD: 27 career starts, 1 win, 9 top-5s, 13 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: first in fall 2008. Finished seventh in this race last year and was 24th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart needs a huge bounceback at Talladega after finishing 20th at Dover and dropping into a tie for fifth place with Kasey Kahne. If the defending Sprint Cup champion has anything short of an outstanding run at 'Dega, he might want to start discounting his chances of repeating as Cup champ. Here are his thoughts on Sunday's race: "We're looking at it as an opportunity to gain some points and positions. Every time you're at Talladega you try to take care of yourself and your equipment by not getting yourself in compromising positions that are going to take you out of an opportunity to get you to the end of the race. For me, it's no different whether the race is in April during the regular season or in October when I'm in the Chase."

LOOKING BACK: Stewart definitely did not have the kind of outing he hoped for at Dover, finishing 20th, three laps down. He cannot afford another outing like this the rest of the way, lest he lose any hope of winning his fourth career Cup title and second crown in as many seasons.

ETC.: Stewart has completed 97.7 percent (4,991) of the 5,111 laps contested in his 27 career starts at Talladega. His average start is 17.0; his average finish is 15.5. He also has 5 DNFs there.

88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Earnhardt essentially stayed where he was in the standings, going from a tie for seventh heading into the Chase to sole possession of seventh after the Chase opener at Chicago, and he remained in seventh after Loudon and now Dover. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 39 points and fifth-place (tied) Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart by seven points, and leads eighth-ranked Martin Truex Jr. by three points.

TALLADEGA RECORD: 25 career starts, 5 wins, 9 top-5s, 13 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: first five times in fall 2001, spring and fall 2002, spring 2003 and fall 2004. Finished 25th in this race last year, rallied back to finish ninth in this year's spring event.

LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt turns 39 on Oct. 10. What a great birthday present it would be for him to break out of the funk he's been in through the first three races of the Chase, essentially being stuck in seventh place the entire time. And it's been a long time since he won a race at Talladega, which he used to all but own. If he doesn't make any forward progress in the standings Sunday, it soon might be time to forget about hopes of his rebounding to win his first career Cup title. Here are his thoughts on Sunday's race: "We've rode around and played it pretty conservative before. That hasn't really worked out. Last couple times we've been racing just as hard as we can race, and I think that's just about what we'll do this time."

LOOKING BACK: Like most other drivers, Earnhardt got behind the 8-ball at Dover and finished two laps down from race winner Brad Keselowski. But there was some consolation: Earnhardt still finished a decent 11th place.

ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 92.0 percent (4,357) of the 4,735 laps he's contested during his 25 career starts at Talladega. His average start is 15.7; average finish is 14.8. He also has 5 DNFs there.

56 MARTIN TRUEX JR., Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Truex dropped from ninth to 10th in the standings after New Hampshire, only to climb two spots after Dover. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 42 points, is three points behind seventh-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. and leads ninth-ranked Kevin Harvick by four points.

TALLADEGA RECORD: 15 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: fifth in fall 2006. Finished 10th in this race last year. Was 28th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: If he could, Truex would probably just skip Talladega, given it's the worst track for him on the Sprint Cup circuit. In 15 career starts at the 2.66-mile, high-banked superspeedway, Truex has an embarrassing nine DNFs. But sooner or later, his luck has to change, right? Here are his thoughts on Sunday's race: "Our top-10 finish at Dover moved us up two spots in the standings to eighth, but we lost some ground to the leaders. We are now 42 points out. It just shows you how tough it is to win this year's Chase. But anything can happen. Talladega is next and it really is the wild card of all the Chase races. I think the points race will be interesting after Talladega."

LOOKING BACK: Truex had an outstanding sixth-place finish at Dover, the closest track to his New Jersey home. He was part of a pack of five Toyota drivers who finished sixth through 10th, as well as third-place finisher and Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Mark Martin.

ETC.: Truex has completed 87.1 percent (2,486) of the 2,855 laps contested over his 15 career starts at Talladega. He has an average start of 21.1 and average finish of 23.5. But he also has nine DNFs there.

29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Harvick fell one spot in the standings, from eighth to ninth, after Dover. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 46 points and eighth-ranked Martin Truex Jr. by four points and leads 10th-ranked Jeff Gordon by two points.

TALLADEGA RECORD: 23 career starts, 1 win, 6 top-5s, 10 top-10s, 1 pole. Best finish: first in spring 2010. Finished 32nd in this race last year and was 25th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick could be down to one of his final chances to make serious progress upward in the Chase standings at Talladega. If he has another off day, or at the very least another mediocre finish, he can start forgetting hopes for his first career Cup championship for yet another year. Here are his thoughts on Sunday's race: "I go to Talladega with the approach that you have a 50-50 chance when you get there. You're either going to have a great day because you finished or you're going to have a torn-up race car. I've gone with that mentality since my first race at Talladega. It's just one of those race tracks where you really don't have any expectations and you just go out and run as hard as you can because there are so many things out of your control. I love this style of racing. I love the strategy and the pushing and the shoving and all of the things that come with it. With that comes a lot of risk as far as getting torn up. Kind of like the rest of our year, we haven't gotten the finishes that we've been accustomed to in the past at the superspeedways. Hopefully we've been saving all of that luck up and can get through this weekend and put ourselves up front when it counts. It'll be fun to see how it all shakes out."

LOOKING BACK: Harvick struggled with handling at Dover, the second straight week he's had that issue, and came home with an 13th-place finish, three laps behind winner Brad Keselowski.

ETC.: Harvick has completed 97.7 percent (4,257) of the 4,359 laps contested in his 23 career starts at Talladega. His average start is 22.0 and average finish is 15.6. He also has 1 DNF there.

24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: After wallowing at the bottom of the Cup standings for the first two Chase races, Gordon finally climbed up two spots and into 10th place after Dover. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 48 points and ninth-ranked Kevin Harvick by two points and leads 11th-ranked Greg Biffle by three points.

TALLADEGA RECORD: 39 career starts, 6 wins, 14 top-5s, 18 top-10s, 3 poles. Best finish: first six times in spring 1996, spring 2000, spring 2004, spring 2005, spring 2007 and fall 2007. Finished 27th in this race last year and was 33rd in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon makes his 40th career start at Talladega on Sunday. He's been attacking its high-banked walls for 20 straight years. If he is to have any chance of winning his fifth career Cup title this season, he needs to make a big move Sunday at 'Dega and hope that the leaders all have disappointing races. Here's his take on Sunday's race: "There is no set strategy that works best. If there was, we all would be doing it. Drafting can be fun and the finish is usually exciting, but you don't know when, where or if you're going to be caught up in the 'big one.' I've raced up front and been caught up in a wreck. I've also been involved while running in the middle of the pack and also while running what I thought was a conservative distance back of the main pack, but I've also won using each of those strategies. If we're going to have any shot at moving up the standings or having any shot at the championship, then things need to go our way this weekend. Everybody knows they can win here, and we believe we can win as well. We always seem to have fast cars here. We look at this race as an opportunity."

LOOKING BACK: Gordon had nothing short of an outstanding run at Dover. Although he led just one lap, he still managed to come home with a second-place showing. It also helped him climb two spots in the standings, from 12th to 10th. But if he's to have any chance of winning his fifth career Cup championship, he has to continue racing the same way like he did at Dover at places like Talladega, Charlotte, Martinsville and the other remaining tracks in the Chase. He can't let up, lest the gains he made at Dover go for naught and he misses out on the Cup title for the 11th straight season.

ETC.: Gordon has completed 91.1 percent (6,660) of the 7,308 laps contested in his 39 career starts at Talladega. His average start is 11.6 and average finish is 16.8. He also has 9 DNFs there.

16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, 51 points out of first place. Lost two spots last week.

TALLADEGA RECORD: Finished fifth in the spring race for his fourth top-seven finish in the last seven races.

LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle said, "I'm definitely looking forward to Talladega because our restrictor-plate program has been on fire for the last 2 1/2 years. It's unbelievable how good our engines have been. I know it's going to be a wild race and there is a lot on the line. It takes a lot of luck to win at Talladega, but I feel like we can do it this weekend."

LOOKING BACK: Biffle was livid after having to make an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel. His language got salty as he vented his frustration over the radio to his crew. "We were off a little bit, but we were definitely a top-10 car, probably a top-eight, especially with the way it ended up," Biffle said after calming down. "To finish where we did (16th) that really kind of takes us out of the title hunt."

ETC.: Biffle knows he needs a lot of luck to get back in the Chase for the Championship. "We would have to have a lot of help at Talladega and a few other tracks for us to leap-frog back in," said Biffle. "The difficult thing is that there are so many guys ahead of us. It's not like there are two or three we need to catch up to. That's a pretty tall order to beat all of those guys by six or eight positions seven races in a row. That's going to be pretty hard."

17 MATT KENSETH, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 72 points out of first place. Lost one spot last week.

TALLADEGA RECORD: Led a race-high 73 laps before finishing third in the spring race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth said, "For the first time in my career, I'm really looking forward to going to Talladega. "Our (restrictor) plate stuff has been extremely strong this year. We've led a lot of laps and were leading (late) at all three plate races. They all ended on a green-white-checker. The 16 (Greg Biffle) and my car have been really fast. We've been able to work together, stay up front the whole time in a plate race. Hopefully we can do that again."

LOOKING BACK: A broken track bar ended Kenseth's day at Dover and probably ended his hopes of a second Cup championship as he finished 35th. "In two of the three Chase races something either fell off or broke," he said. "Obviously, that's not good. Our performance hasn't been very good, either. Today was a struggle."

ETC.: Kenseth will drive a pink Ford Fusion this weekend at Talladega. The pink ride came about through a partnership of Roush Fenway Racing, Talladega Superspeedway and the National Breast Cancer Foundation. "We felt it was important to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness month," said track chairman Grant Lynch. "We reached out through our NASCAR channels to spread the word, and Matt's team jumped at the opportunity to help out."

CUT-OFF FOR "CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP"

18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 13th.

TALLADEGA RECORD: Finished second in the spring race. Has one win and three top-10 finishes in 15 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "Talladega is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical, while most other non-restrictor-plate races are 80 percent physical and 20 percent mental. Once you get down into the nitty gritty of the race (at Talladega) and try to play the chess game at the end of the race, you've got to really pick and choose your spots and think all the time if you go here and team up with this guy. It really wears on you a little bit mentally."

LOOKING BACK: Busch must be wondering when his run of bad luck will end. He dominated the Dover race, leading four times for 302 laps. But he was forced to pit for fuel in the final 10 laps and ended the day in seventh place. "It's frustrating," said crew chief Dave Rogers. "There was no doubt that we had the fastest car today. But I knew if it came down to a fuel-mileage race (which it did) that we were going to be in trouble."

ETC.: Busch is signed through 2013, but the team hopes to sign him a new contract extension this winter. "We need to have it done sooner than later," said JGR President J.D. Gibbs. "I feel like he wants to stay, but he said he is no hurry to discuss (a new contract). Missing the Chase was a heartbreaker across the board for all of us."

99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 34 points out of 13th place. Gained one spot last week.

TALLADEGA RECORD: Four top-10 finishes in 16 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards' winless streak has reached 62 races, but he believes this might be the weekend he returns to victory lane because of "how well Roush Fenway has run at the restrictor-plate races the last couple of years. Matt (Kenseth) won Daytona (in February) and almost won the first Talladega race. If we can get to the end without any trouble, we have as good a shot at winning as anybody."

LOOKING BACK: Edwards was all smiles after finishing fifth at Dover for only his third top-five finish of the season. "We didn't deserve to finish that far forward, but we had some lucky breaks and my guys did a good job on pit road," said Edwards. "We've run so well at Dover in the past, but I'd say today we should be very happy with a fifth-place finish. It seemed like a lot of us from Roush Fenway struggled."

ETC.: Roush Fenway Racing will hold its annual Fan Day on Oct. 11 at its Concord, N.C., complex. The event will kick off at 8 a.m., when tickets will be handed out for the two autograph sessions. The first autograph session will begin at 10:30 a.m. with Matt Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Trevor Bayne and team owner Jack Roush signing. Edwards and Greg Biffle will sign for fans at noon.

39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 40 points out of 13th place. Lost one spot last week.

TALLADEGA RECORD: Seven top-10 finishes in 21 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Newman said, "This U.S. Army Racing team has really been on the short end of the stick at Talladega for the past few years. Despite our rotten luck, this team has not given up on succeeding at this track. If you think about the law of averages, sooner or later we're not only going to finish a race at Talladega, we're going to get a good finish -- maybe even a win."

LOOKING BACK: Newman struggled with the handling of his car all afternoon as he finished 21st at Dover. "Today just wasn't our day," said Newman. "We got a lap down early and we never could get that lap back. Then we battled with our car all day long. But the guys kept making changes and refused to quit on getting the car to where I could drive it."

ETC.: Newman and the team got some good news Tuesday when Quicken Loans announced they would be the primary sponsor on the 39 car for 18 races in 2013. The team has been trying to find new sponsorship ever since Army said it would not return next year.

27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 56 points out of 13th place.

TALLADEGA RECORD: Only one top-10 finish in 12 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Menard said, "When you go to Talladega, it is really anyone's game. I think the guys at ECR (engines) are building even better motors for us. The cars have been good, too. It's just a matter of dodging the wrecks and finishing the races."

LOOKING BACK: Menard struggled with an extremely tight race car all afternoon as he finished 22nd at Dover. "This was definitely not the finish we had hoped for," said Menard. "We just couldn't catch a break today. Bad timing with cautions coming out while we were on pit road just put us further behind. We made good adjustments and the pit crew did a great job on pit road, but with the long green-flag runs, it is difficult to make up ground."

ETC.: Car owner Richard Childress is the first to admit that his teams haven't performed as well in 2012 as he expected. And that is why he is quick to say, "We know we've got a lot of work ahead of us. We've got to get our cars better, we've got to get our handling better, got to get to running better."

9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford

Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 72 points out of 13th place.

TALLADEGA RECORD: One top-10 finish in seven starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose said, "Talladega is a really cool track to race on. It's got so much history associated with it. It's the biggest and fastest track we go to all season, and it's a race that's completely unpredictable. Anything can happen at these superspeedway races. We've just got to be in the right place at the right time and stay out of trouble."

LOOKING BACK: Ambrose finished 18th at Dover. "It was hard work today," said Ambrose. "We were behind the 8-ball to start with (as he battled a tight race car), and even though we improved throughout the day, it was difficult to make up the lost ground."

ETC.: Ambrose believes he is close to signing a contract extension with Richard Petty Motorsports. "We're all good," Ambrose said when he was asked about his contract negotiations with the team. He believes things will be wrapped up shortly after the team finalizes its new deal with Ford.

20 JOEY LOGANO, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 85 points out of 13th place.

TALLADEGA RECORD: Four top-10 finishes in seven races.

LOOKING AHEAD: Logano said, "Over the last couple of years, I've really felt like I've become a pretty good superspeedway and restrictor-plate driver. When I first started, I didn't think I was very good at restrictor-plate races. But the more I've done them, both in the Cup Series and in the Nationwide Series, I've got a knack for it. I've been able to win a couple of them in the Nationwide Series, and I feel like I've been pretty close in the Cup Series."

LOOKING BACK: Despite running out of gas on the last lap, Logano was able to coast across the finish line in 10th place. It was his third top-10 finish in the three Chase races. "The most frustrating part about the whole day was that our car was fast," said Logano. "We just all got caught by that first caution. It trapped a lot of really good cars a lap down. It wasn't like it was just us. I think we had a top-five car for sure."

ETC.: Logano continues to dominate the Nationwide Series. He led 184 of the 200 laps Saturday to win his second straight Nationwide race at Dover and his seventh of the 2012 season. Logano has competed in 16 Nationwide races this season. "I told Adam (Stevens, his crew chief) that my monster trophy from last time was lonely and needed a friend -- so I'm glad I was able to get one for him," Logano said, laughing. "Adam's amazing. He's given me some great race pieces seven times this year."

31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 157 points out of 13th place.

TALLADEGA RECORD: Finished second in the fall race a year ago. Will be shooting for his third straight top-10 finish. Overall has 15 top-10 finishes in 37 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Burton said, "Every superspeedway event we've run over the past few years, we were in position to win the race. We have been at a disadvantage lately and not been able to race as hard as we liked to due to engine-temperature concerns. Richard Childress Racing and ECR Engines have worked diligently on that, and I feel like we are going back to Talladega with a better cooling package. Hopefully we will be in the middle of the action all day."

LOOKING BACK: Burton finished 27th at Dover. "This was a tough day for the 31 Caterpillar team," said Burton. "We struggled to find the right setup all weekend to get the speed we needed and then couldn't catch a break during the race. I have to give this Caterpillar team credit; they never gave up and kept working hard through all of the challenges. We'll regroup this week and see what we can make happen at Talladega."

ETC.: Despite having a contract to drive the 31 car in 2013, Burton has been part of the infamous Cup rumor mill the last few months. There have been various reports that he was going to be replaced by either Kurt Busch or Ryan Newman, but both Busch and Newman have recently signed new deals for 2013. Burton said he has never been "worried about being replaced. But the fact that I was in the conversation bothered me. We know we have been the weaker of the (three) teams (at RCR). We have to find ways to be better."

1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet

Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 168 points out of 13th place.

TALLADEGA RECORD: One win and six top-10 finishes, including five top-fives in 20 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray said, "This (Talladega) is the place where the adage "it's better to be lucky than good" really applies. You obviously need to have a fast car that drafts good, but this is all about being in the right place at the right time in the closing laps. We have had good cars at the speedway races in the past, and I don't expect this race to be any different."

LOOKING BACK: McMurray finished 24th at Dover. "We really had a struggle with the handling of our car in the early going," said McMurray. "We made some adjustments and got it better, but with the long green-flag runs we weren't able to get back on the lead lap. It was just a long, long day."

ETC.: McMurray points out, "You can be in first place when the white flag comes out (at Talladega), and the next time by for the checkered flag you can be in 20th place. I have been lucky enough to win at Talladega, and it is just a matter of being patient all day and put yourself in position to be up front near the end."

OTHERS

42 JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, Chevrolet

Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 201 points out of 13th place.

TALLADEGA RECORD: One second-place finish and two third-place finishes in 11 starts. Has won two poles.

LOOKING AHEAD: Montoya said, "I love racing there (Talladega), and it's a lot of fun as long as you don't get involved in someone else's mess. It's really anyone's race, and the last 25 laps is really what it come down to. We've tried different strategies in the past, and the last time we got right up in the mix of things and our day was cut short due to an accident in front of us."

LOOKING BACK: Montoya finished 26th at Dover. "It was a disappointing day for our Target team," said Montoya. "Those long green-flag runs really hurt us, so we messed around with fuel mileage at the end hoping to catch a break. I keep hoping that one of these days we'll catch a break. It was just a rough day."

ETC.: Montoya believes Talladega -- the last restrictor-plate race of the season -- might be the race where his luck changes. "The Target team just hasn't had much luck on the superspeedways this year, and hopefully that luck will change this weekend," said Montoya.

43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford

Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 209 points out of 13th place.

TALLADEGA RECORD: His best finish in five starts is 12th.

LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola said, "Talladega is a great opportunity to more or less go for broke. All these guys in the Chase really do have to be careful they don't get caught up in the Big One and ruin their title chases. That just gives us more of an opportunity to run up front, lead some laps and possibly come home with our first win of the season."

LOOKING BACK: Almirola finished 19th at Dover. "That first caution (which came out just after he pitted) really killed us," said Almirola. "Luck was just not on our side today. We kept having to come back from crazy things like that, so that was disappointing. I passed a lot of cars today. We weren't a 19th-place car. We were probably closer to a top-10 car."

ETC: Crew chief Todd Parrott knows "handling isn't much of an issue" at Talladega. "The superspeedways are just about getting as much speed out of the car as possible," said Parrott. "We'll be approaching the weekend much like we did earlier in the year, and that's to use the draft to our advantage, stay out of trouble and try to be up front in the closing laps so you're in position to make a move."

78 REGAN SMITH, Chevrolet

Team: Furniture Row Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 239 points out of 13th place.

TALLADEGA RECORD: Still looking for his first top-10 finish. His best finish in 10 starts is 12th.

LOOKING AHEAD: Smith will be making his last start in the 78 car this weekend, and he believes he has a chance to go out a winner. "We have a great superspeedway program," said Smith. "The odds favor us of having a clean race on Sunday and if that's the case, then look out for the Furniture Row/Farm American Chevy."

LOOKING BACK: Smith finished 17th at Dover. "When you go three laps down early, it doesn't give you much hope for the remainder of the race," said Smith. "But we hung in there, stayed patient and pulled off a decent finish under difficult circumstances."

ETC.: The team announced late last week that Kurt Busch will take over the driving duties of the 78 car beginning next week at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "In order to get a jump on developing a driver/team chemistry for the 2013 season, both Kurt and Furniture Row Racing felt that this was an important move to make happen," said general manager Joe Garone. Busch said, "Driving the Furniture Row Chevrolet in the final six races of this season will obviously give us a big advantage in our preparations for 2013."

55 MARK MARTIN, Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 307 points out of 13th place.

TALLADEGA RECORD: Martin will not drive the car this weekend; car owner Michael Waltrip will be behind the wheel. Waltrip has one win and 15 top-10 finishes in 52 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Waltrip loves racing at the superspeedways, and he has high hopes for this weekend. "Anytime we go to a restrictor plate I feel like I've got a chance to win," said Waltrip. "We had a real good car in May, and I know we will have another potential winning car this weekend."

LOOKING BACK: Martin was wearing a huge smile as he climbed out of his car after finishing third at Dover. "I don't know if everybody really noticed or not, but we had a rocket ship, super-fast car," said Martin. "Start of the race, we were passing cars left and right. It was awesome. That (early) caution got us two laps down. So we had to continue to fight from being buried and passed a lot of cars, eventually got ourselves into the hunt. But the race was just about over. We are just having a blast."

ETC.: Martin is one of four drivers featured on the limited-edition collectible ticket for next week's race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The other three are Jimmie Johnson and Hall of Fame drivers Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough. All four are three-time winners of the fall race at CMS. "Man, it would mean a lot to become the only driver to win four times in the 500," said Martin. "For right now, though, that's pretty good company to keep with two Hall of Famers and (five-time champion) Jimmie Johnson."

51 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet

Team: Phoenix Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 26th, 319 points out of 13th place.

TALLADEGA RECORD: 13 top-10 finishes, including four third-place finishes, in 23 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "We always get excited when talking about racing at Talladega, especially all of the guys on the Phoenix Racing team. Obviously, this place is special for the team because it's where it got a win in 2009 (with Brad Keselowski as the driver). Finch (James, the car owner) is all in when it comes to the races at Daytona and Talladega, so we definitely go into this race with little higher expectations because anything can happen."

LOOKING BACK: Busch finished 23rd at Dover. "It was not a good day, but at least we ran the whole day without anything really bad happening," said Busch. "We just couldn't get the handle on the car. We tried a lot of different things, but nothing seemed to work."

ETC.: Talladega will be the last race for Busch in the 51 car, but Finch said the team plans to finish the season. "James is talking to several drivers, including Regan Smith (who Busch is replacing in the 78 car)," said crew chief Nick Harrison. "We still need a sponsor, but we are going to finish the season out."

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