Last season, Matt Kenseth headed to Talladega Superspeedway with a four-point standings lead.
He left the Alabama track trailing Jimmie Johnson by the same margin following a 20th-place finish.
Kenseth was never able to regain sole possession of first place and saw Johnson go on to win the 2013 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Tales of championship-leading drivers suffering their demise at Talladega have been commonplace in recent memory. The fall showdown at the 2.66-mile restrictor plate track has been the defining race throughout the Chase era.
Stories of title hopes slipping away at Talladega are endless:
Jeff Gordon lost the points lead with a 19th-place finish in 2004. A year later, Jimmie Johnson finished 31st and fell from first to fourth – a stumble from which he could not recover. Jeff Burton saw a 69-point advantage slip to six after finishing 27th in 2006. He also failed to win the championship.
Until last season, No. 1-ranked drivers had fared better in subsequent years with just one – Johnson in 2007 – losing a points lead at Talladega.
Under the new Chase format, the two drivers with Chase Contender Round wins, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick, are safe to advance no matter what happens in Sunday’s GEICO 500 (2 p.m. ET on ESPN) at Talladega. Still, current non-winning drivers who seem safely above the cut, such as Kyle Busch (+25 points) and Ryan Newman (+20), must be able to successfully navigate the track unscathed or else run the risk of elimination.
No NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has won Talladega’s Chase race during a title season. Stewart and Johnson’s second-place finishes in 2005 and 2007, respectively, are best. The eventual champion has recorded three top-five and eight top-10 finishes. Their average finish, with just a single DNF, is 8.2.
Talladega has punished the driver that ultimately holds the season’s runner-up position. Six of the 10 have finished 20th or worse with an average finish of 18.9.