Talladega jinx: No fall winner has won the Chase for the Championship
by Al Muskewitz
Oct 17, 2013 | 7517 views |  0 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Points leader Matt Kenseth shares a moment with a crew member in the garage area before a practice session Friday at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Points leader Matt Kenseth shares a moment with a crew member in the garage area before a practice session Friday at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Don’t look for Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 500 race at Talladega Superspeedway to be your barometer for the season’s Sprint Cup championship.

It will be wildly exciting for the team that takes the checkered flag, of course, but there's no guarantee the victory in the mid-point race of the Chase for the Championship will carry it to the big prize at the end of the year.

It might just be the kiss of death for their chances if one of the Chasers do win the race.

No eventual season champion has ever won Talladega’s fall race in the nine years of the Chase for the Championship.

“Certainly, we’ll know a lot more about the standings after this week, and a little bit more after Martinsville as we head to the final three (races),” said Kyle Busch, who enters the weekend fifth in the standings, 37 points behind leader Matt Kenseth. “You’ve got to be able to pull through in all of these races and you’ve got to have a little bit of luck go your way. … You can’t count on this weekend to be able to tighten the points.”

The best champion’s finish at Talladega in the fall during the Chase era is second, by Jimmy Johnson in 2007 and Tony Stewart in 2011.

Only six drivers since 1969 won at Talladega at all and gone on to win the championship – Richard Petty (August 1974); Cale Yarborough (May 1978); Darrell Waltrip (both races in 1982); Dale Earnhardt (both 1990 races, July 1991, July 1993 and May 1994); Johnson (May 2006) and Brad Keselowski (May 2012).

Hanging around the lead is almost more beneficial than winning. Eight times the series champion finished in the top 10 and led at least one lap seven times. The champion’s averaged a fall Talladega finish of 7.7 – with only one DNF (Did Not Finish) -- as opposed to 18.8 by the season’s runner-up.

Then-No. 1 Carl Edwards finished 11th here in 2010 and lost the championship to Tony Stewart on a tie-breaker.

Heck, three times in the era of the Chase the points leader heading into the fall Talladega race didn’t remain there at race end. In 2004, Jeff Gordon finished 19th and lost to the lead to Kurt Busch. The next year, Johnson finished 31st and lost the lead to Tony Stewart, and in 2007, Johnson gave up the lead to Gordon.

In six of the nine chase years, the points leader after the fall Talladega race has gone on to win the championship.

“It’s certainly a track where you either get through it or you don’t,” said Clint Bowyer, currently eighth, 63 points back. “And if you don’t, it can cost you a championship.”

The key, then, is finding a way to hang around when all race long they know through history some major incident is going to impact a good portion of the field.

“You can sit and be nervous and think about crashing and losing points or you can look at it as an opportunity,” Kenseth said. “That’s the way I’m going to approach it.

“You never know what’s going to happen. You might be disappointed when the day is over, but to be nervous about it and disappointed about it and all that before you even go is probably a waste of time, so I’m just going to look at it as an opportunity and hopefully we can be up front like we were in April and hopefully we can figure out how to do the right things at the end.”

Al Muskewitz is a sports writer for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577
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