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Matt McLaughlin’s Driver Handicaps: 2007 Talladega Fall Race Edition

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson has been on a roll at Talladega as of late: he won here last spring and finished second in April. He almost won last fall’s Talladega event, as well; that is, before former teammate Brian Vickers crashed the little party Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson were staging on the final lap of the race. Johnson was miffed for a long time after that, but don’t expect it to be a problem this year – Vickers is in a Toyota and might not even qualify for the race.

Jeff Gordon – Gordon’s win here this spring was his fifth at Talladega, stopping a string of recent bad luck at the track. The career stats say otherwise; he’s got top-10 finishes in 15 of his 29 Talladega Cup races. But the last two years have ended with him crashing out of the event before the end of the race each time.

Clint Bowyer – After three Talladega Cup starts, Bowyer is averaging a 37th-place finish. It’s been so bad, this spring was the first time he actually finished a Talladega race – albeit 47 laps off the pace. At that rate, you might as well bet on a three-legged mule to win the Kentucky Derby.

Tony Stewart – While he still hasn’t won here, Stewart has finished second in six of his 17 Talladega Cup starts. But he has finished poorly the last two times out at this track.

Kevin Harvick – Lest we forget, Harvick won this year’s Daytona 500 at the series’ “other” restrictor-plate facility. Not only that, but he has two second-place finishes here, along with top-10 results the last two times out. Think he’s getting the hang of this pileup plate racing stuff? I think so.

Kyle Busch – After five Talladega Cup starts, Busch is averaging a lowly 32nd-place finish; he’s failed to finish three of those five events in the process.

Carl Edwards – Edwards has three top 10s in six Cup starts here, offset by three finishes of 32nd or worse to make Sunday a total crapshoot – which it usually is at Talladega, anyway.

NEFF: FANTASY PICKS ‘N’ PANS ENTERING TALLADEGA

Martin Truex Jr. – After failing to complete his first three Cup races at this track, Truex has top-10 results his last two times out at this facility. He also won three consecutive Busch Series races here, showing he’s no slouch on superspeedways.

Kurt Busch – Busch has top-10 finishes in the last six Talladega Cup races, and has finished third in the last two. His average finish here after 13 starts is a very respectable 10th.

Jeff Burton – Burton has just two top-five finishes in 25 Cup starts at Talladega, with an average finish of 19th.

Matt Kenseth – Kenseth has top-10 finishes in three of the last four Talladega Cup races. Those results include two of his three top-five finishes scored here in 15 career starts.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin has finished 21st or 22nd in all three of his Talladega Cup starts. Oh, well; at least he’s consistent.

Earnhardt Jr. – When you think Talladega, you immediately flash back to Dale Earnhardt Sr.; but Junior has put up records that may one day challenge his father, as well. He’s already won five races here during his career, including four in a row from 2001-03. More recently, the No. 8 has fallen on hard times out in Alabama, but the switch to the Car of Tomorrow here should benefit a team that’s run far better with that part of their program as of late.

Greg Biffle – Biffle is still looking for a win after nine Talladega Cup starts. His best finish so far here? Just 13th; he’s actually failed to finish the last three Talladega Cup races, too. Quick; what’s the world’s shortest book? My Winning Strategies at Talladega by Gregory Biffle.

Casey Mears – Mears has finished 30th or worse in five of his nine Talladega Cup starts, with his best results here a pair of eighth-place finishes. Here’s a tip for him: Follow Johnson and Gordon, but for the love of God, don’t run into them on the last lap.

Ryan Newman – Newman hasn’t fared well here, with a couple of spectacular crashes and an average finish of 20th dotting the landscape of 11 Talladega Cup starts.

Jamie McMurray – McMurray finished fifth at Talladega for the third time in 10 starts here this spring. His average finish is just 16th; however, where I live, if there’s a 30% of snow, everyone panics and heads for the grocery store to get milk, eggs, and toilet paper.

Bobby Labonte – Few folks seem to recall that Labonte actually won a race here back in 1998; maybe that’s because he has just one top-10 finish in the last 12 Talladega Cup events. More folks recall Labonte’s somewhat acidic comments after he went airborne in a wreck not long afterwards, begun while running third and ending while landing on the roof of his then-teammate Stewart. The gist of that soliloquy that ensued was he didn’t care much for plate racing, and he didn’t think much of the mental acuity of the sanctioning body officials who staged them.

JJ Yeley – Yeley is averaging a 23rd-place finish at Talladega after four Cup starts.

Juan Pablo Montoya – Montoya finished 31st here this spring, but seventh in Saturday’s Busch Series race. At least he can take solace in the fact that with four rookies attempting to make their first-ever plate race, chances are people won’t be looking to “him” to cause the “Big One.”

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