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Jimmie Johnson has NASCAR Sprint Cup title within reach, but Talladega can change that very quickly

Jimmie Johnson

Leader

Highlight: His lone win was in the 2006 spring race, when he led just three laps.

Lowlight: His average finish of 17.7 is his worst at any Chase track. In fall 2006, he and Dale Earnhardt Jr., battling for the lead on the final lap, were wrecked by Johnson's then-teammate Brian Vickers. Johnson finished 24th and fell to eighth in points, 156 out, before rallying for his first title.

Thoughts on racing at Talladega: "I'm so tired of answering this question. I think you guys can all figure it out. Talladega, there's no telling."

Mark Martin

Second place, 118 points back

Highlight: Led 47 laps, including the final 31, in the spring 1997 race that was — honestly, this really happened — a caution-free Talladega race.

Lowlight: Where to start? Martin has had 11 finishes of 30th or worse in 43 starts and was last in April, wrecking out after six laps.

Thoughts on racing at Talladega: "Somehow or another, I just feel lucky about this one. If you can wreck on Lap 5 of the last one there, something tells me I ought to be able to miss it this time. That's about as bad of luck as you can have."

Jeff Gordon

Third place, 150 points back

Highlight: The active victory leader at Talladega with six, Gordon's most dominant day was in spring 2005, when he led 139 of 194 laps to win.

Lowlight: He was 38th in fall 2008 and 37th this spring — he never has had worse finishes back-to-back at the track.

Thoughts on racing at Talladega: "You can be aggressive, or you can be conservative … and I don't believe one approach works better than the other. The 'Big One' is going to happen; it's just whether you get caught up in the crash or not, or whether it comes early or late in the race."

Tony Stewart

Fourth place, 192 points back

Highlight: After six runnerup finishes, he finally broke through to Victory Lane at the track in fall 2008, leading the final 17 laps.

Lowlight: He led 61 laps in spring 2008 but was caught in an accident in Turn 2 late and wound up 38th, his worst Talladega finish.

Thoughts on racing at Talladega: "Everybody kind of crosses their fingers when we go to Talladega because one mistake — or not even a mistake, just two different guys going two different directions — can make (an accident) a big deal, so it can shuffle everything up in one wreck."

Juan Montoya

Fifth place, 200 points back

Highlight: In just his third Sprint Cup race at Talladega, he was second in spring 2008, his best finish of the season.

Lowlight: His only crash in five starts was in fall 2008; seconds after losing the lead, he was in a multicar incident in Turn 3 on Lap 174.

Thoughts on racing at Talladega: "For a fan, it doesn't get much better than (Talladega), I'll tell you the truth. I get a kick out of it. … It's always a challenge, especially with the side-by-side restarts. It's going to be pretty wild. I think it's kind of cool."

It's down to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in the Chase for the Championship, which has hardly resembled a title race during the past four weeks. Three-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is in command in his bid for a record fourth straight championship. But his challengers have one last desperate hope at the series' fastest, longest and most unpredictable track.

Talladega is Johnson's worst track in the 10-race Chase. There was a win in 2006 and two runnerup finishes the next season, but he has had three engine failures and three wrecks, including a late accident in April that led to a 30th-place finish.

"Man, it (stinks) racing here," Johnson said after wrecking in April.

Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Juan Montoya have a shot at making a big move in Sunday's Amp Energy 500. But if Johnson runs well — considering his 118-point lead, a top-10 finish will probably do — at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, the title chase will be all but over.

We look at the five drivers who have realistic title shots, with Talladega highlights and lowlights and their thoughts heading into the weekend.

Jimmie Johnson has NASCAR Sprint Cup title within reach, but Talladega can change that very quickly 10/30/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 30, 2009 10:53pm]
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