The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series goes to Talladega’s Super Speedway for the Aaron 499 on Sunday at Noon ET (Fox). The race for the Cup, currently in the early second quarter of the racing schedule, has gotten tight. Greg Biffle is still on top, but you have now three other drivers all within ten points of the lead. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is just five back, closely followed by Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth.
Kenseth got this season off to a rousing start when he won the Daytona 500 back in February and Sunday’s race at Talladega is the first race since then that has been on a Super Speedway. Regular readers know that TheSportsNotebook’s NASCAR consultant is my brother Bill, but he’s currently on a trucking run that has him indisposed. But while I wasn’t able to complete insights, he had told me in a previous conversation that a super speedway track is a “great equalizer” in that it renders pole position all but meaningless.
Here at Talladega, Clint Bowyer has equalized more than most, winning two races over the past two years (a second race is held in October). The only other driver to have multiple wins here over the last five years is Jeff Gordon and that came off a 2007 sweep. So Bowyer has demonstrated that he and his crew know what they’re doing on this track. Last week’s race at Richmond was won by Kyle Busch, who had a similarly strong record at that particular track.
After the top four in the standings, there’s a dropoff to the next group of Martin Truex, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick, who range from 20-25 points off the pace. And the ultimate dividing line right now is the Top 10, the cutoff point for the drivers that qualify for The Sprint For The Cup in September, and the Top 10 is rounded out by Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Ryan Neuman. Although, all three are far off the pace and the Sprint isn’t like a playoff tournament where everyone goes back to even. It’s more like if a baseball season recalibrated its standings on September 1 to increase the chances of an exciting finish. It will help those like Stewart, Edwards and Neuman, but they’d still have more work to do than anyone else.
Fortunately for them and the rest of the drivers, the time is still there to make a move up the standings and those moves need to start on Sunday afternoon in Alabama.