Trying to find something positive in the three restrictor-plate races run this season by Jimmie Johnson is like getting pocket aces while playing Texas Hold ’em – difficult. The one positive is the havoc that took place on the track at each of those events hasn’t been entirely of Johnson’s making. But anything can happen at what Johnson and many on the circuit have dubbed the “wild card” race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship when the series travels to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway for Sunday’s Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500, the final plate race of the season and the fourth in the 10-race Chase.
While the stats were in Johnson’s favor when he scored a fourth-place finish last weekend at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, this weekend’s numbers don’t necessarily show a winning hand. Talladega is Johnson’s worst track on the circuit for driver rating. He also has only five top-five finishes in 21 starts. However, the “wild card” aspect of this race means anything can happen. Johnson does have two wins (May 2006 and April 2011) and has earned four poles (April and October 2002, October 2009 and April 2010) at Talladega.
His three plate-race results this year aren’t necessarily indicative of his previous seasons on NASCAR’s longest and fastest racetracks. He was caught up in an incident before completing two laps in February’s Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. He suffered an engine issue in April at Talladega. And he was caught up in another on-track incident at Daytona in July. However, he has never failed to finish at least one plate race in a season. He came close in 2010 after having a problem in all three early season races. He went on to finish seventh in the one that mattered most, Talladega’s October Chase race, a stat he hopes to equal or better this weekend.
So while the 43 competitors on Sunday may not have much say in the cards they are dealt at the 2.66-mile Talladega oval, Johnson and the Lowe’s team hope their draw turns out to be no joke, and they are able to ace the notoriously fickle Alabama superspeedway.