Jeff Gordon has won six times at Talladega Superspeedway, best among active NASCAR Sprint Cup competitors.
But the four-time champion knows first-hand why Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 500 (2 p.m. ET ESPN, MRN, SiriusXM Satellite Radio) is called a wild card event in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™.
Gordon has celebrated in the 2.66-mile track’s Victory Lane. But more often – nine times in 42 starts to be exact – the 42-year-old Californian has failed to finish a Talladega race.
He arrives in Alabama this week fourth in the Chase standings, 36 points behind leader Matt Kenseth. A seventh win would be nice; a solid finish will keep his hopes for a fifth title intact.
“You’ve got to go in there with a positive attitude and fight and do your best and try to avoid whatever may occur there or what’s going to occur there and hope that you come out with a race car,” said Gordon, who continues to pursue his first victory of the 2013 season. “It doesn’t even have to be in one piece, it just needs to get across the line with a decent finish.”
Talladega has been a defining race during the Chase era. 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 Johnson didn’t recover. Jeff Burton saw a 69-point advantage slip to six after finishing 27th in 2006. He also failed to win the championship.
No. 1 ranked drivers have fared better in subsequent years with just one – Johnson in 2007 – losing a points lead at Talladega. Only Carl Edwards, 11th in 2010, has finished outside the top 10 in the track’s Chase event. Interestingly, Edwards ended up losing the championship to Tony Stewart on a tie-breaker.
No NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has won Talladega’s Chase race during a title season. Stewart’s and Johnson’s second-place finish 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 7.7.
Talladega has punished the driver that ultimately holds the season’s runner-up position. Five of the nine have finished 23rd or worse with an average finish of 18.8.
The points leader after five Chase races has won the championship five times and in four of the past five seasons.