NASCAR & Auto Racing

It’s NASCAR Elimination Day at Talladega

The Chase gets interesting Sunday.

Everybody knows the unpredictable racing that takes place at Talladega Superspeedway, which makes any Chase scenario realistic.

Could Dale Earnhardt Jr., on the brink of championship elimination, surface as the winner? Sure.

So could a non-Chase driver such as Tony Stewart.

Or maybe even someone such as Joey Logano, who has already clinched one of the eight spots in the Eliminator Round.

The possibilities are endless, and this has to be the type of drama NASCAR envisioned when it went to a knockout-style format for the Chase. Only eight of the 12 remaining Chase drivers will keep their championship dreams alive.

Earnhardt Jr., of course, is the biggest name who could drop from it, but so could six-time champ Jimmie Johnson and 2012 champ Brad Keselowski.

There’s no secret formula for any of them, either. Prayer might be just as effective as engineering at this track.

“I’ve put a lot of time and thought into my approach for this weekend. There really isn’t a clear vision for how to make it work,” Johnson said. “Racing for it can get you in trouble. Riding [in the back] can get you in trouble. … So I don’t know … I really don’t. Maybe being cautious early will buy us some time and keep us on the road. From the halfway point of the race on, you have to fight for track position if you want to win.”

Added Denny Hamlin, who is seventh in points standings: “We’ll have to play it by ear. We’ll just kind of see how it all plays out, but obviously we want to move on to the next round.”

Two favorites

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: The pressure is on the most popular driver out there, but at least he’s racing at a place he’s enjoyed success. He has five career wins at Talladega, although his last came a decade ago in 2004. Still, what a story it would be for Junior to win and advance.

Jeff Gordon: He has more wins at Talladega than anyone in the field — six. He’s a veteran driver who has as good of a résumé as anyone. And, with him sitting sixth in the standings, Gordon is surely eying a win to guarantee his spot in the next round.

Two dark horses

Kasey Kahne: He’s become the Cinderella story in the Chase. How he continually sneaks in and advances has been impressive, so why not do it for another week? Kahne has never won at Talladega, but has three top-fives and five top-10 runs in his career.

Matt Kenseth: He has not won this season, but it would seem like it’s just a matter of time. He’s run well enough to keep himself in the Chase mix and has had some success at Talladega. He has one win, back in the fall of 2012, and nine top-10s.

Quotable

“I know what could happen here. I’ve been on every part of it. I’ve had a car lying on top of me and finished third; I’ve landed on top of a car and not finished. I’ve had a little bit of everything happen to me. And I’m not saying I’ve had everything because something else will happen. But in the end, we just need to have a good, uneventful day and get our good finish, and that will lock us into that next round.” – Ryan Newman, who sits fourth in the points standings

Telling number

5 Drivers who control their own Chase destiny only by winning — Kahne, Kenseth, Keselowski, Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson.

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