By Don Coble
Morris News Service
TALLADEGA, Ala. – Drivers believe the Good Sam Club 500 is a lot like throwing 43 socks in the dryer. A few will get lost in the process and one will fall out when the door opens.
Everyone in the Chase for the Championship wants to be that lone sock that emerges from the others Sunday afternoon at the Talladega Superspeedway.
While the field in the playoffs have started to separate, everyone knows Talladega is the one race in the playoffs that usually shakes things up.
If history has anything to do with today’s race (2 p.m., ESPN) more than half of the Chase field will end up in a crash. Bigger yet, the winner probably won’t emerge until the final 10 yards.
"You have no clue what’s going to happen," said points leader Carl Edwards. You could see the checkered flag and be leading this race and still feel that way. There is no telling what is going to happen, and I would be lying to you if I said I enjoyed it."
Edwards was involved in a crash at Talladega during the 2008 Chase. Since the Chase started for the 2004 season, there have been accidents involving 46 of the 78 combined Chase contenders at Talladega. Roush Fenway Racing hopes to avoid that crash by working together.
Edwards and Greg Biffle now have a deal to work in tandem during today’s main event. Edwards is trying to win the championship; Biffle failed to qualify for the playoffs.
"When we sat down and looked at it from a team perspective it made more sense to have Matt (Kenseth) and David (Ragan) work together, and Greg and I to work together," Edwards said.
The four-car organization at Hendrick Motorsports won’t have to look far to find teammates. Mark Martin won the pole Saturday afternoon with a fast lap of 181.367 mph. Jimmie Johnson was second, followed by Clint Bowyer in third, Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne in fourth, Jeff Gordon in fifth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in sixth. Bowyer and Bayne will be the only non-Hendrick drivers among the top-six starters today.
The rest of the top-10 starters include: Paul Menard in seventh, Ragan in eighth, Edwards in ninth and Ryan Newman in 10th.
Biffle will start 18th.
Restrictor plates to reduce speeds by 35 mph for safety reasons, the way the front and rear bumpers line up and tires that don’t wear out easily have created two-by-two packs. Two drivers working together with one pushing the other is the fastest way around the 2.66-mile track.
That forces everyone to find a dancing partner.
"I expect my drivers to work together," car owner Jack Roush said. "I like Carl and Greg to work together because they have a lot of history working together. They have the freedom to do what they want, but won’t do it unless one of them has problems."
Biffle and Edwards exchanged text messages during the week to set up their strategy. They will start today’s race with a "handshake" agreement to work together.
"We trust each other," Biffle said.
Kenseth is third in the standings, while Ragan is out of playoff contention. Biffle and Ragan have one role today: Push their teammates to a victory.
"This style of racing, when you take the green flag you better know who you’re going to work with," Ragan said.
If anything happens to any of the four, Bayne or Front Row Motorsport’s David Gilliland could fill-in as partners since they get equipment, engines and engineering from Roush.
Even with so much pre-race planning, things change rapidly when there are 20 groups of two trying to lead the race at the same time. It could be so wild the track has offered a $100,000 bonus to the driver who leads the most times today if there are at least 100 lead changes. The track already holds the NASCAR record for the most lead changes with 88. There were 87 changes in 188 laps in last year’s race.
That means there will be a lot of commotion at the front of the pack, which magnifies the chances for a big crash.
"There is no point in dreading it or dwelling on the things you wish it could be like," Edwards said. "You just have to go out and do it."
Kyle Busch agrees.
"It’s all circumstantial, that’s all it boils down to," he said. "And whether that’s luck or whether that’s putting you in the right position with the right people at the right time, it’s opportunity.
"For us, it’s just a matter of coming in here with the best mindset, the best attitude we can to try to look forward to the race."
And hope you don’t end up as one of the missing socks in the dryer.