AP Photo/Glenn Smith
High banks, high danger at Talladega highlights late-season points chaseJohnny Benson and Ron Hornaday Jr., practically glued together atop the Craftsman Truck Series standings, have earned every inch of that real estate. Both have been dialed in for months, combining to win eight of the Past 11 races and each only finishing out of the top 10 twice over that span. Matters have advanced to the point that it's shocking not to see the Bill Davis Racing No. 23 Toyota and Kevin Harvick Inc. No. 33 Chevrolet running at the front late in a race -- like last time out at Las Vegas when Benson blew a tire and crashed out in 27th place. But this Saturday is different. At Talladega, the only thing that's predictable is unpredictability. The usual factors count -- fast truck, sharp driving, some luck -- yet they can be rendered moot in a flash in NASCAR's biggest pressure-cooker, the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway. "It's the unknown when you come here," said Hornaday, one point behind Benson in his quest for back-to-back championships with six races remaining. "This is definitely a wild-card race. You don't know what you have until you get out there and who you're drafting with, and then you're always along for the ride. You can have the best truck out there, and the way these things draft up, you can go across the line leading the race on the white flag and come back to the checkered flag and be 15th, and vice versa." Or your day can end well before that, caught in a "big one" that could start with one driver's poor decision and end with a dozen wrecked trucks. "Anything can happen, and [it] happens fast," Benson said. "We just have to keep out of the big wreck and be there at the end of the race." Superspeedway racing in the Truck Series is still a relatively new concept, with Daytona arriving on the schedule in 2000, five years after the series' birth, and Talladega coming aboard in 2006 as a replacement for .75-mile Richmond. Compare that to Sprint Cup, which has raced twice a year at both venues for decades. "I remember when the Truck Series didn't race at large venues. When [NASCAR president] Bill France Jr. said it was time for the Trucks to come to Daytona and run at the world center of racing, not only did the fans get excited but the Truck guys got excited and the Truck drivers got excited," said Rick Crawford, the 2003 Daytona winner and runner-up last year at Talladega, his home-state track. "[Talladega] is big and bold, probably the most exciting race of our year after Daytona." Some drivers have adapted to the big tracks better than others, none better than Germain Racing's Todd Bodine. The 2006 series champion won at Talladega last year and Daytona in February, and has never finished outside the top five in four other Truck starts on the big ovals. "Really? I didn't know that," marveled Bodine after hearing about his run of top-5s. "It's dangerous, for sure, you get guys that don't know what they're doing, and going that fast it's easy to make a mistake." Bodine shuns the approach many take, that you have to find allies in the draft. Crawford said his search for partners begins in practice and that Talladega is like running a successful business -- "you've got to surround yourself with great drivers" -- while Bodine says the deal-brokering is a myth. "You don't worry about making friends -- it's not going to happen," Bodine said. "You hear guys talking about making deals with this guy or that guy, you drop the green flag and it's every man for themselves, no matter what they tell you. It's way overplayed -- actually, it's a joke. Your teammates will hang you out to dry." Maybe the truth is in the middle, Hornaday figures: "You have no friends, but you try to, and you try to do the best you can without running into the back of them." Then, hopefully, you're around at the end for what is almost certain to be a great finish. The CTS has had a penchant for that in these races, including last year at Talladega where Bodine edged an outside-charging Crawford by .014 seconds and Benson was right there for third on the inside. This year at Daytona, Bodine again held down a lead in the stretch, with Kyle Busch and Benson running out of room to work together in an attempt to run down the No. 30 Toyota. "You have to be patient all day, I mean all day. Then you have to pick your times when it's time to race, when it's time to not, and you have to put yourself in position to win the race at the end," Crawford said. "Just give yourself a chance, you don't want to take that chance away, because it can be taken away really quick." Definitely a wild-card race -- that's Talladega. John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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