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Editor's note: For an explanation of the Rule of 72, click here.
With his 18th-place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway this past weekend, Joey Logano becomes our third competitor in the Chase for the Sprint Cup to be eliminated by the Rule of 72.
A late-season surge propelled Logano into his first career Chase appearance, but poor finishes of 37th, 14th and 18th bring his Rule of 72 point total to 73. He joins Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne as drivers out of contention for the 2013 Sprint Cup.
Logano may have been the lowest-finishing Chaser at Charlotte, but he was not the only driver failing to gain on leader Matt Kenseth. Solid finishes for fellow Chasers Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon, fourth through seventh respectively, maintained their respective spots in the Chase. But their results did not allow them to gain on Kenseth, who rallied late to a third-place finish.
Finishing 10th or worse at Charlotte were Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle, leaving all of them precariously close to elimination by the Rule of 72. If they are destined to stay in the Chase, these five drivers need to claim top spots in Talladega this Sunday in order to stay below 72 points.
But if there's a track that doesn't allow a driver to control his own destiny, it's Talladega.
The high-banked, 2.66-mile track is the wild card in the Chase, the one place where a driver can be in second on one lap and 22nd the next lap with a perfectly running car. The Alabama track has a way of leveling the playing field like no other place NASCAR races.
Talladega is where drivers who do not ordinarily contend for wins find themselves in Victory Lane. David Ragan's upset win earlier this year is an example of a smaller- budget team and driver waiting for things to settle down in the closing laps, choosing the right lane, and then seizing the opportunity.
It's as though no one is at a deficit in Talladega, which is another way of saying that no one has an advantage, either. It's not the track you head into confident in your lead, so even points leaders Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson will not be in comfortable positions this weekend.
Johnson is our most recent restrictor-plate winner, having dominated Daytona in July, and Kenseth is a solid restrictor-plate racer. But with only five races to go and so much on the line, how will their approach differ from those in third through 10th?
I suggest that Harvick, Gordon and Kyle Busch can enter the track in Alabama with a more carefree, what-do-I-have-to-lose attitude than that of the leaders.
It's just that kind of place anyway. With all of the risks associated with Talladega, where the possibility of the "big one" is always just around the next turn, it can be a psychological advantage to be the one chasing, not the one looking over his shoulder.
Being the chaser this weekend perhaps carries a certain advantage.