Final 20 laps worth the price of admission at Talladega Superspeedway

Updated: October 4, 2008, 5:55 PM ET

AP Photo/Dave Martin

Travis Kvapil will start on the pole at a Sprint Cup race for the first time in his career Sunday.

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Is the Amp Energy 500 really the Amp Energy 50?

Most of the action usually happens in the last 20 laps at Talladega Superspeedway. Playing possum has become an art form for some drivers racing on the giant 2.66-mile oval. Just bide your time at the back of the pack and make your move at the end.

Jimmie Johnson admits he does it. Carl Edwards said he may do the same thing to try to stay out of trouble early in the race.

So do the fans get their money's worth if most of the 188-lap event is a waiting game?

"Not to be disrespectful of the fans, but the only thing I'm worried about is collecting points," Johnson said. "And I don't care how I do it or how I get there."

Edwards said the typical wild ending at Talladega easily makes up for any lack of action before things get crazy.

"There's nothing more exciting from a fan's perspective than the last few laps here," Edwards said. "I don't think it diminishes the value of a ticket, because even if you're holding back for the first 90 percent of the race, that last 10 percent is what fills these seats. There won't be one guy out there holding back at that point."

Clint Bowyer sees the race a little like a marathon, except most of the competitors still are running together at the end.

"It's all building up and there's a storm brewing out there," Bowyer said. "You can just feel it. It becomes more and more intense. I'd say the last 50 laps you're starting to think about it. The last 20 you are really inside the storm.

"It's exciting. Everything that you see on TV and in the grandstands, we're feeling it inside the car. It's three and four wide. You're digging and it's wild."

Johnson said his ideal plan is to take it easy for 168 laps before it's go time.

"It seems like 20 [laps] to go is a decent time," he said. "What's weird is that something might happen and there's going to be a pileup. So at 20 to go, all of a sudden everybody takes off and now you have the worlds colliding at once and everybody is fighting for position.

"That can be dangerous. And again, I don't think there is a clear strategy because in the draft there are so many other pieces to the puzzle to make it work out. You just need to be smart and evaluate your risk at that point in time."

Johnson said the strategy of hanging back has become more difficult the past couple of years.

"The problem is more guys are hanging back than are up front," Johnson said. "So up front can be safer than being in the back. That's what we have to monitor inside the car. The goal is to not be in the eye of the storm."

Edwards said he'll check things out early in the race before deciding where he wants to run and how he wants to play it.

"You have to race smart," he said. "At times I've thought, 'Man, it kind of takes something away from the racing.' But really it's just another part of the strategy. You've got to do what you can to be there at the end."

Terry Blount covers motorsports for He can be reached at



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Mears on front row -- maybe

Casey Mears


Casey Mears will start on the front row Sunday, assuming he's still here.

Nationwide Series driver Brad Keselowski will make his Sprint Cup debut and replace Mears in the No. 5 Chevrolet if Mears' girlfriend, Trisha Grablander, goes into labor.

Grablander is due at any moment. Mears, who qualified No. 2, will fly home to North Carolina if Grablander goes into labor this weekend.

"It's a very important time in my life," Mears said. "I don't want to miss the birth of my child. Hendrick Motorsports has set it up for me to get back if it comes to that."

Banner day for DEI

All four Dale Earnhardt Inc. drivers qualified in the top 10 Saturday, which was a much-needed morale boost to an organization looking for sponsorship.

DEI driver Paul Menard announced Tuesday that he is going to Yates Racing next season, along with the primary sponsorship money of his father's home improvement company.

DEI, which started the year with four cars, now has three drivers and one primary sponsor at the moment for the 2009 season.

"I don't get paid to speculate," said DEI driver Aric Almirola, who qualified third. "I get paid to drive race cars. It's business as usual for me. Part of me worries about it, but it's not my job."

Newman vs. the lawn mower

Ryan Newman


Ryan Newman has four stitches on his forehead, courtesy of a bout this week with his lawn mower.

Newman was down on the ground putting a belt on his mower when it snapped off and caused him to knock his head on the crossbar of the handle.

It left a nasty cut at the hairline of his forehead. His helmet rubs up against the stitching, but Newman doesn't think it will cause any problems in Sunday's race.