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Driver Reports: Previewing the Talladega race

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Editor's note: The following drivers are ranked according to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. Driver Reports includes the top 16 in the points standings and drivers currently in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field.

1. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Standing: Gordon leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 341 points.
Past five races: 2nd at Richmond, 7th at Darlington, 2nd at Texas, 12th at Martinsville, 13th at Auto Club.
Season stats: 4 top-fives, 7 top-10s.
Track history: At Talladega, Gordon's average finish is 18.1 and his average running position is 18.6 over the past nine years. In 42 career starts at Talladega, he has six wins, 15 top-fives, 19 top-10s and three poles.
Quick hit: Gordon's average running position and average finish over the past nine years are nearly identical, an indicator that he has recently avoided the "Big One" at the 2.66-mile track. In 42 career starts, he has not finished due to a wreck in just five instances.

2. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Kenseth is second in the standings with 336 points.
Past five races: 5th at Richmond, 4th at Darlington, 7th at Texas, 6th at Martinsville, 4th at Auto Club.
Season stats: 3 top-fives, 7 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Talladega, Kenseth's average finish is 16.8 and his average running position is 13.9 over the past nine years. In 28 career starts at Talladega, he has one win, five top-fives and nine top-10s.
Quick hit: This could be the race in which a Toyota wins at Talladega for the first time since 2008. In the past five races, Kenseth has three top-fives and five top-10s. Only one other figure in Driver Reports can compete with those numbers -- Kenseth's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch.

3. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Standing: Edwards is third in the standings with 313 points.
Past five races: 9th at Richmond, 13th at Darlington, 14th at Texas, 13th at Martinsville, 10th at Auto Club.
Season stats: 1 win, 2 top-fives, 5 top-10s.
Track history: At Talladega, Edwards' average finish is 19.4 and his average running position is 23.6 over the past nine years. In 19 career starts at Talladega, he has two top-fives and five top-10s.
Quick hit: Edwards' average running position over the past nine years is 35th out of 49 drivers, which ranks worst among the 18 drivers in Driver Reports. Maybe it's time to reverse that history, though. He finished third and 17th in the two races last season, and he's started in the top 10 for five consecutive races at the track.

4. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Busch is fourth in the standings with 310 points.
Past five races: 3rd at Richmond, 6th at Darlington, 3rd at Texas, 14th at Martinsville, 1st at Auto Club.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Talladega, Busch's average finish is 21.9 and his average running position is 19.2 over the past nine years. In 18 career starts at Talladega, he has one win, four top-fives and five top-10s.
Quick hit: Busch is driving as well as anybody on the circuit right now, with his rise to fourth in the standings serving as evidence. Busch has started in the top 10 in only five of 18 career starts here -- he's also started outside the top 30 six times -- but no one can match his recent run of success with three top-fives in the past four races at the track.

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Earnhardt Jr. is fifth in the standings with 309 points.
Past five races: 7th at Richmond, 2nd at Darlington, 43rd at Texas, 3rd at Martinsville, 12th at Auto Club.
Season stats: 1 win, 5 top-fives, 6 top-10s.
Track history: At Talladega, Earnhardt Jr.'s average finish is 18.7 and his average running position is 14.6 over the past nine years. In 28 career starts at Talladega, he has five wins, 10 top-fives and 14 top-10s.
Quick hit: The loop data shows that only Matt Kenseth runs his car toward the front at Talladega as consistently as Earnhardt, and Junior's five career wins here are the second-most among active drivers. Those five wins came long ago with Dale Earnhardt Inc., though. Earnhardt has been hard-pressed to match his success at 'Dega with Hendrick Motorsports, although he was runner-up in the fall.

6. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Logano is sixth in the standings with 292 points.
Past five races: 1st at Richmond, 35th at Darlington, 1st at Texas, 4th at Martinsville, 39th at Auto Club.
Season stats: 2 wins, 5 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Talladega, Logano's average finish is 19.6 and his average running position is 17.0 over the past nine years. In 10 career starts at Talladega, he has two top-fives and four top-10s.
Quick hit: Logano practically guaranteed himself a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with his victory last weekend. Good thing, too, because his Talladega history is spotty. He has two top-fives in 10 starts, but also three DNFs.

7. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Keselowski is seventh in the standings with 287 points.
Past five races: 4th at Richmond, 17th at Darlington, 15th at Texas, 38th at Martinsville, 26th at Auto Club.
Season stats: 1 win, 4 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Talladega, Keselowski's average finish is 14.2 and his average running position is 18.1 over the past nine years. In 10 career starts at Talladega, he has two wins, three top-fives and six top-10s.
Quick hit: Keselowski's aggression always makes him one of the favorites here. The 2012 Cup champion won his first career race at the famed track in 2009, and his average finish in the loop data era is second to only Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who has two career starts at the track.

8. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Johnson is eighth in the standings with 282 points.
Past five races: 32nd at Richmond, 3rd at Darlington, 25th at Texas, 2nd at Martinsville, 24th at Auto Club.
Season stats: 3 top-fives, 5 top-10s.
Track history: At Talladega, Johnson's average finish is 15.2 and his average running position is 16.9 over the past nine years. In 24 career starts at Talladega, he has two wins, six top-fives, 10 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Johnson's career average finish at Talladega is among his worst at any track -- which makes sense, given the nature of the 2.66-mile beast -- at 17.0. Take away his eight DNFs, and it drops to 9.9. If Six-Time stays out of trouble, he's among the favorites.

9. Ryan Newman (No. 31)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Newman is ninth in the standings with 272 points.
Past five races: 8th at Richmond, 10th at Darlington, 16th at Texas, 20th at Martinsville, 20th at Auto Club.
Season stats: 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Talladega, Newman's average finish is 22.2 and his average running position is 21.8 over the past nine years. In 24 career starts at Talladega, he has four top-fives and nine top-10s.
Quick hit: Talladega is one of three ovals in which Newman does not have a career victory or pole. (Homestead and Kentucky are the others.) It's been a perplexing track for the veteran since his first start in 2002, where he finished 43rd.

10. Brian Vickers (No. 55)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Vickers is 10th in the standings with 256 points.
Past five races: 12th at Richmond, 26th at Darlington, 4th at Texas, 16th at Martinsville, 7th at Auto Club.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Talladega, Vickers' average finish is 18.3 and his average running position is 17.0 over the past nine years. In 14 career starts at Talladega, he has one win, four top-fives and six top-10s.
Quick hit: Vickers has nearly as many finishes of 35th or worse (five) here than he does single-digit showings (six). Those 11 races nearly comprise his entire Talladega history, indicating it's often boom-or-bust for the Michael Waltrip Racing driver.

11. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford

Standing: Biffle is 11th in the standings with 256 points.
Past five races: 15th at Richmond, 5th at Darlington, 6th at Texas, 18th at Martinsville, 40th at Auto Club.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Talladega, Biffle's average finish is 18.8 and his average running position is 20.9 over the past nine years. In 22 career starts at Talladega, he has two top-fives and five top-10s.
Quick hit: Biffle is in the midst of perhaps his best five-year run at the high-banked Alabama track. He finished 11th in the fall, and has one top-five and top two-10s in the past five races. Save for a 36th-place run in last year's spring race in which he was involved in a 16-car wreck, he hasn't finished outside the top 20 since 2008.

12. Austin Dillon (No. 3)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet  

Standing: Dillon is 12th in the standings with 252 points.
Past five races: 27th at Richmond, 11th at Darlington, 21st at Texas, 15th at Martinsville, 11th at Auto Club.
Season stats: 1 top-10, 1 pole.
Track history: At Talladega, Dillon's average finish is 26.0 and his average running position is 11.5 over the past nine years. In one career start at Talladega, he finished 26th in 2013.
Quick hit: Dillon only has one career start here, but it was impressive enough that he now leads the series in average running position over the past nine years. Driving the No. 14 for the injured Tony Stewart, Dillon was running third last fall when he was claimed in a last-lap wreck. Considering the Richard Childress Racing cars were powerful at Daytona, don't be surprised to see Dillon near the front late again.

13. Kyle Larson (No. 42)

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Chevrolet  

Standing: Larson is 13th in the standings with 251 points.
Past five races: 16th at Richmond, 8th at Darlington, 5th at Texas, 27th at Martinsville, 2nd at Auto Club.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: Larson has zero Sprint Cup Series starts at Talladega. In one Nationwide Series start, he finished 38th in 2013.
Quick hit: Larson's been involved in his share of big wrecks on the restrictor-plate tracks in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. His Cup performance so far in 2014 has been above expectations, although there's only so much he can control at Talladega.

14. Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Hamlin is 14th in the standings with 245 points.
Past five races: 22nd at Richmond, 19th at Darlington, 13th at Texas, 19th at Martinsville, DNS at Auto Club.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 2 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Talladega, Hamlin's average finish is 20.2 and his average running position is 18.3 over the past nine years. In 16 career starts at Talladega, he has three top-fives and five top-10s.
Quick hit: Hamlin's not nearly as successful at 'Dega when compared to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates -- although Matt Kenseth's strong history is mainly with Jack Roush. Still, the No. 11 finished outside the top 30 in both races last year and hasn't recorded a top 10 since the fourth race of the year.

15. Tony Stewart (No. 14)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet  

Standing: Stewart is 15th in the standings with 243 points.
Past five races: 25th at Richmond, 9th at Darlington, 10th at Texas, 17th at Martinsville, 5th at Auto Club.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Talladega, Stewart's average finish is 17.9 and his average running position is 17.7 over the past nine years. In 29 career starts at Talladega, he has one win, nine top-fives and 13 top-10s.
Quick hit: Stewart once finished second here in three consecutive races (from 2005-06), but his most recent three-race stretch consists of results outside the top 20. One thing we know for sure -- don't attempt to block 'Smoke' here.

16. Marcos Ambrose (No. 9)

Richard Petty Motorsports, Ford 

Standing: Ambrose is 16th in the standings with 242 points.
Past five races: 18th at Richmond, 14th at Darlington, 20th at Texas, 5th at Martinsville, 30th at Auto Club.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Talladega, Ambrose's average finish is 25.4 and his average running position is 18.4 over the past nine years. In 10 career starts at Talladega, he has one top-five and one top-10.
Quick hit: Ambrose finished fourth in his first start here in 2009, and hasn't cracked the top 10 since. In fact, in the ensuing nine races, he has five finishes of 32nd or worse. Despite his strong qualifying runs under the old system (he's started third in three of the past four races), play him with caution in your Fantasy Live lineup this week.

20. Kevin Harvick (No. 4)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Harvick is 20th in the standings with 220 points.
Past five races: 11th at Richmond, 1st at Darlington, 42nd at Texas, 7th at Martinsville, 36th at Auto Club.
Season stats: 2 wins, 2 top-fives, 3 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Talladega, Harvick's average finish is 17.1 and his average running position is 19.5 over the past nine years. In 26 career starts at Talladega, he has one win, six top-fives, 10 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Harvick hasn't logged a top-10 here since the 2011 spring race. His success comes in spurts, though. He had four consecutive top-10s (three of which were top-fives) from 2003-04, two consecutive sixth-place finishes in 2006 and 2007 and a three-race stretch of top-fives from 2010 and into 2011. If he breaks through Sunday, expect it to carry over into the fall.

25. Kurt Busch (No. 41)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Standing: Busch is 25th in the standings with 185 points.
Past five races: 23rd at Richmond, 31st at Darlington, 39th at Texas, 1st at Martinsville, 3rd at Auto Club.
Season stats: 1 win, 2 top-fives, 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Talladega, Busch's average finish is 18.3 and his average running position is 14.9 over the past nine years. In 26 career starts at Talladega, he has six top-fives and 13 top-10s.
Quick hit: From the fall of 2004 to the fall of 2007, Busch rattled off three top-fives and seven top-10s during a seven-race stretch at Talladega. Since 2008, his best finish is sixth (in the spring of 2009) and his average finishing position is 24.6 during that span (with six finishes of 30th or worse). Perhaps joining a team with the firepower of Stewart-Haas Racing will lead to another streak in the positive.

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