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NASCAR Driver Capsules, Oct. 17

The SportsXchange

By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore

Capsules for all drivers competing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Matt Kenseth remains atop the Sprint Cup standings after the first five races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He leads former points leader Jimmie Johnson by four points, and is 29 points ahead of third-ranked Kevin Harvick.

TALLADEGA RECORD: 27 career starts, 1 wins, 5 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in fall 2012. Finished first in this race last year and was eighth in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth is still looking to widen the gap between himself and Jimmie Johnson in the standings. Kenseth gained just one point over Johnson Saturday night at Charlotte, from a three- to four-point edge, the smallest edge Kenseth has had over another driver thus far in the Chase. Given the unpredictability at Talladega, we could see a big shakeup in the standings if Kenseth or Johnson (or both) have a bad day and potentially wreck out. Here's Kenseth's thoughts on Sunday's race: "Most people if they have a legitimate shot and they are still in the (Chase) mix go there really tentative and make plans and try to hang in the back and try to do all this stuff and try to minimize the damage. I think that's good because I really try to approach it the opposite -- I try to approach it as an opportunity. If the guys we're racing and are trying to beat are being real careful and want to ride in the back and all that, then I look at that as an opportunity to try to hopefully lead some laps, get some bonus points and be in the mix and if you do come out unscathed maybe have a shot to win. That's kind of how we'll go there is just go there and approach it like another race. Go race hard and hopefully thing work out for us."

LOOKING BACK: Kenseth led just one lap but still held on to finish third at Charlotte on Saturday night.

ETC.: Kenseth has completed 94.3 percent (4,823) of the 5,116 total laps contested in 27 career starts at Talladega. His average start is 20.9, while his average finish is 17.6. He has four DNFs there.

48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson remained in second place in the standings for the third straight week after Saturday's race at Charlotte. He lost one point to series leader Matt Kenseth, going from three to four points back, and leads third-ranked Kevin Harvick by 25 points.

TALLADEGA RECORD: 23 career starts, 2 wins, 6 top-5s, 10 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2006 and spring 2011. Finished 17th in this race last year and was fifth in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson returns to Talladega, a track where he has had some of the worst luck of his racing career, with a virtually unheard of eight DNFs (more than 33 percent of his 23 career starts). He knows what can happen Sunday and is cautious. Here's his thoughts: "Honestly, I'll be anxious to get out of there. 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 I think the other was in the top 5. So, I hope this trend of top 5 finishes stays alive in Talladega. That's what we're going to need. After Talladega, at that point, you can really race individuals. I think up until Talladega, you're still racing the field and anything can happen and anybody has a chance. But leaving Talladega, you can really narrow-in on who is left and what that spread is in points."

LOOKING BACK: Johnson led the second-most number of laps at Charlotte on Saturday (130), but couldn't catch winner Brad Keselowski, ultimately finishing fourth.

ETC.: Johnson has completed 93.9 percent (4,098) of the 4,364 total laps contested in 23 career starts at Talladega. His average start there is 10.1 and his average finish is 17.1. He has eight DNFs there, the most of any track on the circuit.

29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick remained in third place in the Sprint Cup standings for the second consecutive week. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to close in on either points leader Matt Kenseth, who he trails by 29 points, or second-ranked Jimmie Johnson, who Harvick follows by 25 points. Harvick leads fourth-ranked Jeff Gordon by seven points.

TALLADEGA RECORD: 25 career starts, 1 wins, 6 top-fives, 10 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2010. Was 11th in this race last year and a career-worst 40th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick crashed out after just 47 laps in the spring race, finishing a career-worst 40th at Talladega. He's looking to change things up this Sunday, knowing time is running out for him to close the gap on points leaders Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson. Here's his thoughts on the No. 1 key for Sunday's race: "Don't wreck. That's the perfect strategy. How you do that I don't know, but I'm hoping we have the luck we need to make sure that we don't have any major issues this weekend."

LOOKING BACK: Harvick followed up his win at Kansas with a solid sixth-place finish at Charlotte.

ETC.: Harvick has completed 94.8 percent (4,493) of the 4,740 total laps contested in 25 career starts at Talladega. His average start is 22.0 and average finish is 16.4. He has two DNFs there.

24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Jeff Gordon remained in fourth place for the second straight week. Gordon trails series leader Matt Kenseth by 36 points, is seven points behind third-ranked Harvick and leads fifth-ranked Kyle Busch by just one point.

TALLADEGA RECORD: 41 career starts, 6 wins, 15 top-fives, 19 top-10s, 3 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 1996, spring 2000, spring 2004, spring 2005, spring and fall 2007. Was runner-up in this race last year and was 11th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon knows he needs another strong finish like his runner-up showing in this race last year if he is to have any chance of still winning a fifth career Sprint Cup championship. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "You have to go into this race with a positive attitude. With the big-pack racing, there is always the chance of the 'big one.' But 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."

LOOKING BACK: Gordon led 26 laps but faded near the end, yet still finished with a respectable seventh-place showing at Charlotte on Saturday night.

ETC.: Gordon has completed 91.6 percent (7,041) of 7,689 total laps contested in 41 career starts at Talladega. His average start is 11.4 and average finish is 16.2. He has nine DNFs there.

18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch remained in fifth place in the standings for the second straight week after Charlotte. He trails points leader and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth by 37 points (down from 12 prior to Kansas), is one point behind fourth-place Jeff Gordon and leads sixth-ranked Greg Biffle by 21 points.

TALLADEGA RECORD: 17 career starts, 1 wins, 3 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2008. Finished third in this race last year and was 37th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Busch needs to bounce back from his disappointing 37th-place finish at Talladega in the spring. Unfortunately, Busch's hyper-aggressive driving style doesn't mesh well with 'Dega's restrictor plate racing, evidenced by just four top-10 finishes and five DNFs in 17 career starts. Here's Busch's thoughts on Sunday's race: "I think many of us have said that from the very beginning: you just have no idea how Talladega will turn out. All you can do is focus on what you can control, get your car driving as well as you can in practice, go out there and hope you can stay out of the big wreck and bring home a decent finish. (Being a former winner there) doesn't matter at all. It's such a crapshoot there in the last 20, 30 or 40 laps that you never really know who is going to win, what's going to happen, and where the wreck is going to come from."

LOOKING BACK: Busch had a good run at Charlotte, leading four laps en route to a fifth-place finish on Saturday night.

ETC.: Busch has completed just 88.8 percent (2,874) of the 3,236 total laps contested in 17 career starts at Talladega. His average start is 20.4, while his average finish is 22.9, one of his worst at any Cup track. He also has five DNFs there.

16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle remained in sixth place for the third consecutive week after Saturday's race at Charlotte. He trails points leader Matt Kenseth by 58 points (down from 44 points prior to Charlotte), is 21 points behind fifth-ranked Kyle Busch, and leads seventh-ranked Kurt Busch by one point.

TALLADEGA RECORD: 21 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Fourth in fall 2009. Was sixth in this race last year and 36th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Time is running out on Biffle's hopes for his first Cup championship. He can only hope he avoids the inevitable wrecks Sunday and that points leaders Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson don't. That would close the points gap pretty quickly. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "I'm really looking forward to Talladega this weekend. Nobody knows what's going to happen, it could be our chance to make up some points, or it could go the other way. We'll have to wait and see what happens."

LOOKING BACK: Biffle finished 16th at Charlotte, which cost him dearly in the points. He needs to make up what he lost Saturday this Sunday at Talladega, lest his championship chances could likely be over after the race.

ETC.: Biffle has completed 92.4 percent (3,683) of 3,988 total laps contested in 21 career starts at Talladega. His average start is 16.3 and average finish is 19.9. He has five DNFs there.

78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet

Team: Furniture Row Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Kurt Busch remained in seventh place for the second straight race after Charlotte. He trails series leader Matt Kenseth by 59 points (down from 47 before Charlotte), is one point behind sixth-ranked Greg Biffle and leads eighth-ranked Clint Bowyer by four points.

TALLADEGA RECORD: 25 career starts, 0 wins, 6 top-fives, 13 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in spring 2001, spring 2002, fall 2006 and spring 2007. Finished 39th in this race last year and was 30th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Busch needs a miracle to get back into contention for the Chase. Unfortunately, he's likely not going to find it at Talladega, where he has struggled greatly in recent years. In fact, of his last 11 starts at 'Dega, Busch has finished 18th or lower in nine of those races. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "It's shake and bake time. It's so difficult to predict Talladega. You can ride around in the back, charge up front all day and either way your day can end with your car on the hook, like we did in the spring race. You just hope to have Lady Luck guide you to a top-10 finish. Restrictor plate races have turned into this pattern that it is hard to have any type of strength over any other team. It just comes down to being in the right place at the right time."

LOOKING BACK: After an impressive runner-up finish at Kansas the week before, Busch struggled at Charlotte, ultimately finishing 14th, far lower than he hoped for or needed to get back into Chase contention.

ETC.: Busch has completed 94.6 percent (4,484) of the 4,740 total laps contested in 25 career starts at Talladega. His average start is 21.2, while his average finish is 16.7. He has six DNFs there.

15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 8th, 63 points out of first place. Gained one spot last week.

TALLADEGA RECORD: Two wins and five top-seven finishes in the last seven races.

LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer believes "Talladega is the race that can win or lose you the Chase in a fraction of a second. It's a traffic jam at 200 miles per hour. You have to survive until the end, which is easier said than done, all the while putting yourself in the right position to win and get as many points as you can. You have to drive aggressive and be defensive all at the same time. If you make a mistake, chances are you'll end up with a wrecked car. You just have to race and hope it all works out in the end."

LOOKING BACK: Bowyer finished 11th at Charlotte. "Man, when it isn't your day it just isn't your day," said Bowyer. "We should have had a top five, but something happened under the hood with about 30 (laps) to go and it just killed us. We were looking so good. Brian (Pattie, crew chief) told me he really wants to race this car in Texas (on Nov. 3) so we did all we could not to wreck the car. If it's as good at Texas as it was tonight then Texas could be a lot of fun."

ETC.: The organization announced Monday that it will have only two full-time teams in 2014, Bowyer and Brian Vickers in the 55 car. Martin Truex, Jr., and the 56 team were told they should look for other employment in the coming months. Co-owner Rob Kauffman said Michael Waltrip will compete in the Daytona 500 as part of a third team that will run a very limited schedule. MWR also plans on bolstering its research and development effort away from the track.

88 DALE EARNHARDT, JR., Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 9th, 66 points out of first place. Lost one spot last week.

TALLADEGA RECORD: Five wins and 13 top-10 finishes including nine top-five's in 27 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt said, "I've really have had a lot of success at Talladega, a lot of great races. I feel confident when we go there that we are going to have a good car. Hendrick Motorsports has done a great job with this car at Daytona and Talladega. Our confidence level is real good, real high. Hopefully, we can get the opportunity to go to victory lane. We really feel like we have a good shot at it and feel like it is about time for us to win one at Talladega."

LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt ran in the top five for the first 200 laps, leading twice for 19 laps. But he ran into mechanical problems in the final 134 laps as he ended the night in 15th place. "Something in the set-up moved, but the car was real quick at the start of the race," said a dejected Earnhardt. "Thought we had a top-five car and I don't know what happened. It just would not turn at all the last half of the race. We've got to take it back (to the race shop) and see what happened."

ETC.: A few hours before the start of the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Earnhardt spent some time with his fans at the NASCAR Hall of Fame Pit Party. In addition to signing autographs, Earnhardt talked about his collection of Washington Redskins game programs and restored cars. He also joked with Brad Keselowski about a house Keselowski brought "as-is" from Earnhardt. It seems the ceiling just recently collapsed.

99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 10th, 67 points out of first place. Gained one spot last week.

TALLADEGA RECORD: Won the pole and finished third in the May race. It was his best finish in 18 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards said, "We ran really well at Talladega in the spring. We were leading when it started raining and we were leading at the white flag, and we feel like we've made huge gains with our restrictor-plate program. This is a race that we can go win and climb up some positions in the standings."

LOOKING BACK: Edwards finished 10th at Charlotte. "It was a long night," said Edwards. "We just struggled all night. We're fortunate to finish 10th. I hate to say that, but we just weren't very good. It was really hard to pass, but not for everybody. Some people could make it happen, so I have to say that as far as how the tire drove and all that stuff, I'd say this was better and more fun to drive. This is my kind of race track. But we just couldn't make anything happen."

ETC.: Edwards calls Talladega "a wildcard race in the Chase where anything can happen and I believe after this race you're going to see who the championship contenders are. Hopefully, we can get up there and get close enough to still have a shot at it (the Sprint Cup title)."

22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford

Team: Penske Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, 75 points out of first place. Lost one spot last week.

TALLADEGA RECORD: Four top-10 finishes in nine starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Logano said, "Our restrictor-plate results haven't really shown how well we have been run at Daytona and Talladega this year. We were good at the first Talladega race before we lost an engine and were looking good at Daytona (in July) before our tire issue. We've been strong. A top-10 car for sure. We just need to finish the race this weekend. We are good enough to win for sure."

LOOKING BACK: After finishing 18th at Charlotte, Logano said, "It seems like you end up saying this a lot sometimes, but we really had a car that was better than where we finished. I think we had about an eighth to tenth-place car tonight and we finished 18th with it. We were just too far off at the start of the race and by the time we were able to get the car to my liking, we were already a couple of laps down. Then you get no cautions and you just don't have the chance to make those laps up."

ETC.: Logano helped present three retrofitted Toyota vehicles to three deserving veterans last week as part of the continued relationship between team sponsor Pennzoil and Paralyzed Veterans of America. Each veteran recipient received a vehicle of their choosing, retrofitted to their specific needs. "This was one of the best things I've ever done," said Logano.

39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 78 points out of first place.

TALLADEGA RECORD: Eight top-10 finishes in 23 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Newman wishes he knew the answer to the question "what does it take to have a good, clean finish at Talladega?" And that is not surprising as he points out "We've been on the short end of the stick at Talladega for the past few years. To be successful at Talladega, you've got to keep yourself in the hunt so you can be there at the end. If you have a good car, you can stay toward the front all day. If you don't, you have to put yourself in position that will allow you to be in the best possible position at the end. It's as simple, or as complex, as that."

LOOKING BACK: Newman finished eighth at Charlotte. "We struggled all night on the short run," said Newman. "Our Quicken Loans Chevrolet was really good as the run went on; it would come to life 20 to 25 laps into the run. But by then, we'd lost track position and couldn't get it back. We weren't able to capitalize on the speed we had in the car. All in all, it's good to complain about a top-10 finish, but we expected a little more than that tonight."

ETC.: Newman's record at Talladega in recent years has not been very good. But he is quick to say "I wouldn't say I dread going to Talladega. It's not my favorite race track, but I don't say I dread it. I love doing what I do. I love driving a race car, even at Talladega. I think the difference is there's more potential to get involved in something not of your making there, and that's frustrating to me."

5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 81 points out of first place.

TALLADEGA RECORD: Four top-10 finishes including two runner-up finishes in 19 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne knows "we will have a good restrictor-plate car" this weekend. "We just need some luck to go with a fast car," adds Kahne. "If we can get to the end without running into trouble, we should have a shot at it (the win). I feel confident the car will be fast enough. We just need to avoid all the trouble that usually happens at Talladega."

LOOKING BACK: Kahne dominated the first 177 laps as he led 121 of them before teammate Jimmie Johnson took command of the race. But Kahne was the leader following the fourth caution flag of the night after crew chief Kenny Francis decided to change only two tires. And Kahne led the next 17 laps before losing the lead to Brad Keselowski with only nine laps to go. "I was on two (tires) and he was on four and he could just move around a little bit better," said Kahne, who finished second for the second straight time at Charlotte. It was his fifth consecutive top-eight finish at CMS. "I was doing all I could (to hold onto the lead) and felt pretty good, but he made some nice moves and was able to get by me," added Kahne.

ETC.: Kahne hopes his good run at Charlotte is the momentum booster his team needs to finish the 2013 season on a high note. "It was nice having a great car at Charlotte," said Kahne. "That track always gives us a good boost, and we always leave there with confidence. Hopefully, we can run pretty strong the rest of the year because I don't want to finish last (in the Chase point standings)." Kahne is only 18 points out of eighth place.
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