The Frontstretch: Race Trax: Aaron's 312 by Amy Henderson -- Thursday April 27, 2006

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Race Trax: Aaron's 312

Amy Henderson · Thursday April 27, 2006


On Track
The Aaron’s 312 is the tenth race on the 35-race NASCAR Busch Series Schedule. The Busch Series will visit the 2.66 mile Talladega Superspeedway just once in 2006; they run one less restrictor plate race than their Nextel Cup counterparts. Talladega has hosted the Busch Series each year since 1992, when Ernie Irvan was the first NBS winner at the track. The track is a very fast and high-banked tri-oval track with a whopping 33 degrees of banking in the turns and eighteen through the tri-oval. The field will include 2005 polesitter Paul Menard and race winner Martin Truex, Jr.

43 teams will “compete” for 43 starting spots for Sunday (everyone should make it in), with the Top 30 in car owner points guaranteed a starting position. Qualifying runs consist of two laps, with the fastest lap setting a team’s time. The entry list includes fifteen full time Nextel Cup drivers. The Busch Series qualifying record at Talladega is 193.517 mph, set by Joe Nemechek in 1997; the Busch Series never raced unrestricted at the track.

The points battle in the Busch Series still resembles the Nextel Cup leaderboard, with the top five positions still being held by full-time Cup drivers. Leader Kevin Harvick holds a gigantic 289-point advantage over Clint Bowyer; he could miss the race entirely and still retain the top spot by almost 100 points. Bowyer took over second in the points at Phoenix from third place Denny Hamlin. J.J. Yeley and Carl Edwards fill out the Top 5. This week’s top Busch regular in points is sixth-place Paul Menard. Busch competitors Jon Wood and Burney Lamar also hold top-ten positions, sitting seventh and ninth.

What To Expect
Fans attending or watching a race at Talladega find themselves waiting for the Big One: the multi-car crash that is a product of restrictor plates and the current aerodynamic package. The aerodynamic package for the Busch cars, however, differs drastically from the Nextel Cup Series. Cars must have a roof spoiler and "wicker bill" on the rear spoiler. These measures increase drag and keep the pack in close quarters; it’s possible for all the lead lap cars to be within about three seconds of the leader, while a pack of cars can draft by in a slower line, with cars coming from back of the pack to the front in just a few laps.

All of this close racing produces exciting, close finishes and multi-car crashes. At speed, the cars are unstable in the air, meaning a light tap that might loosen the car elsewhere will send it spinning; and with the whole field running bunched together, it’s a rare thing for only one or two cars to be involved. One Talladega race saw a crash that involved a total of 27 cars with varying degrees of damage. There have been races without this type of incident-but don’t count on it.

Who to Watch
While Daytona is as much about handling as horsepower, Talladega is a horsepower track. A solid engine program and a gutsy driver mean more than a great handling car. That said, the teams that have ties with strong Nextel Cup engine programs will run up front. Kyle Busch has Hendrick power and Kevin Harvick benefits from the technical prowess of Richard Childress Racing, as does Clint Bowyer. Toss in the Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated machines of two-time defending race winner Martin Truex, Jr. and Busch Series regular Paul Menard, last year’s winner and polesitter, and those look like solid contenders.

Don’t count out savvy and experience at Talladega, either, though. Mike Wallace is an outstanding plate racer, and his little brother Kenny Wallace has a new crew chief and a solid Talladega record in both Busch and Cup. Jon Wood had good power and a couple of years of experience, including a second-place run last year. Finally, the Gibbs-powered Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley driven cars could also pose a real threat this week, as could Tony Stewart, in Kevin Harvick’s No. 33, who won the last Busch race at a plate track back at Daytona.

Did You Know:

  • Only once has a Talladega winner in the Busch Series started on the pole. Nobody has pulled off the feat since Joe Nemechek in 1998.

  • Speaking of Nemechek, he and Martin Truex Jr. are the only repeat winners in NBS history at the big track.
  • The last Busch-only winner at Talladega was Jason Keller, who won for ppc Racing in 2002.

You Don’t Say"¦
"The characteristics of the track at Talladega allow for packs to run three-to-four wide on a consistent basis. That makes it every bit as nervewracking as Daytona, but still a lot of fun when your car is good and you can go up and bumpdraft the guy in front of you. With a good car, you can really “play the game,” meaning that you can move around and try different lanes to find that partner you need to help you stay up front. You still have to make sure you keep the fenders on the car for the first two-thirds of the race, and then let it all hang out for the last 20 laps." Busch regular David Green on his Talladega strategy

"This should be a good weekend for us. Kenny is great on superspeedways. We had a really good car in Daytona and cut a tire three laps into the race. The key is staying out of trouble. Schrader’s a smart racecar driver. If we can avoid the cautions, I think you’ll see the Yard-Man Ford Fusion fighting for the win in the end." *Newt Moore*, crew chief for Ken Schrader, who was second overall and the fastest of the Nextel Cup drivers in the Busch Series final practice

"Luckily, I have made about eight starts where we ran both the Busch and Cup races in the same weekend. It’s a lot of driving, but when it comes to a track like Talladega that’s fine with me. I love drafting and the speeds that go with it on the restrictor-plate tracks. D.E.I. has won the last three Busch races and the Bass Pro team has won the last two there, so it would be great to get that third one. No driver has won three Busch races at Talladega, and it would be great to do that on Dale Earnhardt Day and keep the D.E.I. streak going at the same time." ""driver Martin Truex, Jr. on pulling double duty this weekend

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