With all the lead changes and pack racing that occur on at Talladega, it is easy to assume that qualifying doesn't matter all that much. Yes, drivers can move from the back to the front in a matter of laps, making track position less important than at any other track. However, there has been a correlation to starting up front and getting Victory Lane, especially in recent years. Four straight winners have started in the first two rows, and seven of the last 10 Talladega winners have started inside the top 10. Go back 20 years, and only three winners have started outside the top 20. Still think qualifying doesn't matter?
The trend is great news for Jeff Gordon, who grabbed the pole for Sunday's Aaron's 499. He finished third at Talladega last spring, and he is a six-time winner at the track in his career. Gordon has won four times at Talladega since 2004, and for the record, he is the last driver to win at the track from the pole. He could desperately use a win to jumpstart his lackluster 2012 campaign, and the numbers certainly seem to be on his side.
While Gordon looks like one of the more attractive fantasy options, Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola are two of the more intriguing drivers. The duo has been inconsistent all season, but both qualified in the top five for Sunday's race. If they can stay hooked up and put of trouble, RPM could be in for its best showing of the year. Other drivers starting in the top 10 worth consideration include all three Roush Fenway racing drivers, along with Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne.
Outside of the RPM drivers, the sleeper pick could be Michael Waltrip. The former Talladega winner qualified ninth, which happens to be where he finished the fall race at the track last season. With all four of his career Cup wins coming at plate tracks, the semi-retired driver is more than capable of one more solid showing at NASCAR's biggest track.
In general, fantasy owners should be prepared for a rough afternoon at Talladega. In addition to the constant threat of the Big One, the high temperatures that are expected are poised to wreak havoc. Overheating and engine issues are a big concern, and if drivers continue to use the tandem draft technique, the problem is only going to get worse. Between engine failures and multi-car wrecks, fantasy owners are going to be lucky if their entire lineup survives.
About Brian Polking
Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.
Don't miss these great reports....