While the pack racing produced by restrictor plates makes qualifying somewhat obsolete, recent history says that winning at Talladega starts with a decent effort in qualifying. Five straight races at the track have been won by drivers starting in the top 15, and four races during the stretch have been won by drivers starting on the first two rows. That's not to say a driver starting back in the pack can't get toward the front, but a driver's chances of getting to Victory Lane are definitely helped by a strong qualifying effort.
The trend is good news for pole-sitter Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer and Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart. These four drivers will make up the first two rows when the field takes the green Sunday, and of the four, Bowyer and Kahne should be the two drivers that fantasy owners target. Bowyer has been an absolute stud at Talladega. He has won the last two fall races at the track and has finished in 12th or better in nine of his last 10 starts at the track, including six straight. Meanwhile, Kahne has back-to-back top-10s at Talladega and has finished as high as second on two different occasions.
Other drivers starting near the front that deserve consideration from fantasy owners this weekend include Greg Biffle and Jeff Gordon. Biffle will roll off fifth, and he has finished in the top five in two of the three plate races in 2012. The only plate race he didn't finish in the top five was the July race at Daytona when he was wrecked while running second on the final lap. Gordon, on the other hand, has momentum on his side. He has finished third or better in five of the last six races leading up to Talladega, and at an unpredictable track, there is nothing wrong with playing the hot hand.
Owners looking for some sleeper starting up front should take a chance on Trevor Bayne and Michael Waltrip. The two will start eighth and 11th, respectively, and both have finished in the top 20 in their last two starts at the Talladega. Waltrip actually finished in the top 10 at Talladega last fall, and Bayne did the same earlier this year. Both drivers are former plate tracks winner, as well, and could deliver some big time results on Sunday.
Last but not least, fantasy owners need to remember not to write off any drivers with a history of success at Talladega that might have struggled in qualifying. Yes, recent history says the eventual winner will probably start up front, but the top 10 will be filled with drivers that started up front, toward the back and everywhere in between. As long as your lineup of drivers avoids the big wrecks, you are going to be in good shape.
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.
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