The 2.66-mile, high-banked Talladega Superspeedway, carved from pine-covered hills, has a reputation for scrambling nerves and points standings, but it has really done a much better job settling things since the Chase for the Championship format was instituted in 2004. Consider:
In 2004, eventual champion Kurt Busch finished fifth and took the points lead later in the week when race-winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was penalized 25 points for using profanity on live television.
• In 2005, Tony Stewart finished second to take the points lead en route to his second championship.
2006 provided the exception to the rule, though with a caveat. Jimmie Johnson was challenging for the race lead on the final lap when then-teammate Brian Vickers wrecked him passing for victory. Johnson left the campfire smoky valley in eighth place, 156 points out, but came back to win his first Sprint Cup championship.
• Proving again he makes his own rules, Johnson finished second in the fall and left Talladega second in the standings — by just nine points — before rallying to win a consecutive championship.
Helio Castroneves' indictment on federal tax evasion charges is a blow for the Indy Racing League, which wielded the effervescent Brazilian like a public relations wand even before he won the Dancing With the Stars competition last season. Fans who followed the IRL before are unlikely to turn away because of Castroneves' situation, no matter its legal resolution. But those fickle new ones that Castroneves lured in are likely to feel betrayed by the broad-smiling man they thought they knew, if he is found guilty. Bad week for the IRL.
Indy Racing League 2009 TV schedule
April 5 St. Petersburg Versus 2-5 p.m.
April 19 Streets of Long Beach Versus 3:30-6:30 p.m.
April 26 Kansas Speedway Versus 4-7 p.m.
May 24 Indianapolis Motor Speedway Ch. 28 Noon-4:30 p.m.
May 31 Milwaukee Mile Ch. 28 3:30-6 p.m.
June 6 Texas Motor Speedway Versus 9 p.m. – Midnight
June 21 Iowa Speedway Ch. 28 1-3:30 p.m.
June 27 Richmond International Raceway Versus 8-11 p.m.
July 5 Watkins Glen International Ch. 28 1-3:30 p.m.
July 12 Streets of Toronto Ch. 28 1-3:30 p.m.
July 26 Edmonton City Centre Airport Versus 5-8 p.m.
Aug. 1 Kentucky Speedway Versus 8-11 p.m.
Aug. 9 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course Versus 1-4 p.m.
Aug. 23 Infineon Raceway Versus 5-8 p.m.
Aug. 29 Chicagoland Speedway Versus 9 p.m.–midnight
Sept. 6 Raceway at Belle Isle Park Versus 3-6 p.m.
Sept. 19 Twin Ring Motegi Versus 10:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m.
Oct. 10 Homestead-Miami Speedway Versus 4-7 p.m.