Chase gets wild at Talladega

Talladega, AL ( - The one track on the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup that concerns the championship contenders the most is Talladega Superspeedway.

Talladega, a 2.66-mile racetrack, is known as the wild card event in the Chase, and it could shake up the point standings in a big way. Next week, the series will run at Martinsville, which is another unpredictable race since its the only short track in the playoffs.

"Talladega and Martinsville, they keep me up at night," said Carl Edwards, who is one of the drivers in this year's Chase. "You don't know what's going to happen at those places. Those are the wild cards in the Chase."

Heading into Talladega, the sixth race in the Chase, Matt Kenseth holds just a four-point lead over Jimmie Johnson. Kevin Harvick is third in the points standings (-29), followed by Jeff Gordon (-36), Kyle Busch (-37), Greg Biffle (-58) and Kurt Busch (-59).

Eighth through 13th are: Clint Bowyer (-63), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-66), Edwards (-67), Joey Logano (-75), Ryan Newman (-78) and Kasey Kahne (-81).

When the series most recently competed at Talladega in May, Kenseth had the dominant car, leading a total of 142 laps. A major crash involving a dozen drivers occurred on the backstretch in the closing laps, which set up a green- white-checkered finish. Kenseth led the way for the final restart, but Edwards moved ahead of him to take the top spot heading into the final lap.

With pushing help from his Front Row Motorsports teammate, David Gilliland, David Ragan passed Edwards for the lead in turn 4 on the last lap. Ragan went on to win the race, while Gilliland crossed the line in second and Edwards third. Kenseth ended up finishing eighth.

"If we have the speed that we had the first time (this year) at Talladega, I look forward to that because we led pretty much all day," Kenseth said. "But I ended up figuring out how to mess it up on that last green-white-checkered there. We were leading on the last lap and got beat. I wasn't in the right spot."

Kenseth has performed well at Talladega and Daytona -- the two restrictor- plate tracks -- in the past. He won last year's Chase race at Talladega, in his final season with Roush Fenway Racing. Kenseth also won the 2012 Daytona 500.

Johnson has been very impressive in the restrictor-plate races this year. He scored a season-sweep at Daytona and finished fifth at Talladega in the spring.

"Honestly, I'll be anxious to get out of (Talladega)," Johnson said. "I'm just ready for it to happen, and go on and race from there. Last year, I don't think we finished a restrictor-plate race, and this year, we've had two wins and the other was in the top-five. So, I hope this trend of top-five finishes stays alive in Talladega. That's what we're going to need."

Johnson finished 17th at Talladega one year ago. The five-time Sprint Cup champion entered that race five points behind leader Brad Keselowski, but after he was involved in a 25-car accident that happened on the final lap, he trailed Keselowski by 14 points.

Keselowski finished seventh at Talladega and later won the series championship. Johnson finished third in points (-40).

The winner at Talladega has grabbed the lead on the last lap in six of the previous seven Sprint Cup races here.

Tony Stewart led the way during the final lap of last year's Chase event at Talladega, but Stewart triggered the big one when he made contact with Michael Waltrip. Earnhardt, who was caught up in the wreck, suffered his second concussion within a six-week period. He missed the next two races in the Chase -- Charlotte and Kansas.

"The one track that I probably look forward to the least is Talladega," Earnhardt said. "The track can be a bit of a lottery on how you finish and how that affects your points. I really like racing at Talladega, but that track being a part of the Chase, it's really a guessing game on what's going to happen to you there."

Earnhardt has five wins at Talladega, including four in a row from October 2001 to April 2003. He has not won a race here since the fall of 2004. His late-father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., holds the record for most victories at this track with 10.

Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six wins at Talladega, including a season-sweep in 2007. Gordon has 12 career restrictor-plate race victories, which is more than any other driver. He finished second at this track last fall.

"With the big-pack racing, there is always the chance of the big one," Gordon said. "You have to approach this race with a positive attitude, fight to avoid whatever may occur and hope that you come out of it with a race car. It doesn't even need to be in one piece. It just needs to get across the (finish) line with a decent finish."

Forty-four teams are on the entry list for the Camping World RV Sales 500.

Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, Oct. 20. Race: Camping World RV Sales 500. Site: Talladega Superspeedway. Track: 2.66-mile oval. Start time: 2 p.m. ET. Laps: 188. Miles: 500. 2012 Winner: Matt Kenseth. Television: ESPN. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.