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NASCAR: Talladega Preview

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It's been labelled the “wildcard” of the Chase, Mark Martin calls it “the lotto” and Jimmie Johnson is “tired” of answering questions about it.

It's Talladega, or just plain 'Dega, and it's the longest and (at least previously) fastest track in NASCAR.

If you are even vaguely familiar with NASCAR you will be familiar with the Restrictor Plate racing that takes place at Talladega and Daytona. Closely packed fields with inches to spare between the cars – a style of racing that is often criticised for being dangerous, yet the media continue to push as every fans chance to see “The Big One”.

It's these accidents that are praying on drivers minds. One slice of bad luck, getting caught in an accident of someone else's making and any of the title contenders could suffer a drop in the points standings they will struggle to recover from (or in Jimmie Johnson's case a points drop that might give everyone else a chance).

Tony Stewart describes how one wreck can “shuffle everything up”, and how you want the deck to deal depends on where you are in the Chase standings.  “I'm welcoming the race,” says Carl Edwards who sits tenth, 413 points off the pace. “I know the potential for Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin to lose points, so greedily I'm hoping to go there and have things get mixed up.”

This “lotto” aspect of the race makes an accurate prediction almost impossible, or educated guesswork at best. While some drivers such as Tony Stewart stand out on 'Plate tracks and others, like Denny Hamlin believe they have strong packages succeeding will remain a case of being in the right place at the right time, to both avoid an accident and take advantage of the crucial moves late in the race.

On top of that qualifying can be surprisingly important, as a start back in the field can put a driver in the line of fire, and those drivers who have to qualify on speed may sacrifice race speed in favour of qualifying pace to guarantee themselves a starting spot, and the money that comes with it.

“There'll be times when we single file out and there'll be times when we're four wide, four deep for the whole pack,” describes Ryan Newman. “I didn't expect the last race to be two groups of two cars pushing each other.”

That last race, that saw Carl Edwards somersaulting onto the fence (now extended upwards by 8 feet to 22 feet for this weekend) off Newman's bonnet, has only added more variables to the Talladega mix, in the shape of a smaller, more restrictive Restrictor Plate.

The move sees the plate shrink for 15/16ths of an inch to 59/64ths with Brett Bodine, the former driver now employed as NASCAR's Director of Cost and Research estimating that it will cause a drop in engine power of 12bhp, with early guesses saying speeds will be just under 190mph.

However, NASCAR are quick to allay fears that the change the racing the track has become famous for.  “It'll be just as exciting as ever, the closeness of the racing at Talladega will not be affected at all,” describes Bodine.

That means there will be the same pack racing, the same surprises and probably the same big crashes.

Perhaps aptly for a race that could be so be crazy, Talladega also marks the first tangible signs of silly season, with Elliott Sadler moving to a Ford with his no.19 team in preparation of his RPM team's move to the marque next year.

You can watch the drivers of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series take their places at the table and buy a ticket to the lottery, with the start expected soon after 12pm local time on Sunday.

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James is our Diet-Coke fuelled writer and has been with TCF pretty much since day 1, he can be found frequenting twitter at @_JBroomhead
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