Commentary

Good, Bad and Ugly: Amp Energy "500"

Updated: October 3, 2008, 11:13 AM ET
By Mark Garrow | Jayski.com

• Almirola has two starts here, with finishes of 30th and 33rd, respectively.

• Biffle has 11 starts here with an average finish of 25.3, the worst of the 12 Chasers. He's driving the same car he finished 43rd with at Daytona in July.
• The way Greg Biffle is going now I think you can throw away past stats. Still, I have him 15th in my rankings because I don't necessarily think he's going to set the world on fire. If you already have him like I do, take a chance and keep him because when we get to Charlotte next week he'll be bad to the bone again. Talladega is a crapshoot and anything can happen. This time around, good things will happen for Biffle.

• Blaney has made 14 Cup Series starts here during his career. He scored his best finish at the track (third) last fall.
• Too inconsistent for me to jump on the Blaney bandwagon, and he missed the first Alabama race earlier this year.

• In five Cup races here, Bowyer has one top-10 finish and an average finish of 26.0. He placed eighth here earlier this season and 11th in this race last year.
• I went out on a limb and ranked Bowyer sixth going into this event. One of the reasons is he has been reasonably consistent on the plate tracks this year and is ninth in points scored at Daytona and Talladega in 2008. Has been solid and stayed out of trouble the past two races here on new asphalt and with the new Car of Tomorrow.

• In 29 Cup Series starts at Talladega, Burton owns two top-5s and 10 top-10s. Burton leads all drivers with the most green-flag passes here with 2,720.
• He was 12th earlier this year at Talladega and is rolling with four straight top-10s -- Burton has the right kind of mojo going into the "Big One." If he does that he could finish as high as seventh or as low as 15th.

• Busch is the highest-average finisher among all active drivers here with an 11.9. He has 11 top-10s and six top-5s.
• Prior to crashing at Talladega earlier this year, Kurt had rung up seven straight top-10 runs on NASCAR's biggest track. Hard to say how he'll fair this weekend, because this team is missing something. I ranked him 20th but suspect he'll do better.

• Busch won the most recent race here this spring. In his six previous Cup starts at Talladega prior to 2008, however, Busch's best finish was 11th in the Fall 2006 event while the other five weighed in no better than 30th.
• Under normal circumstances this year, Kyle would be a pre-race favorite. He won here in April and has scored the most points on the plate tracks this year, but after struggling in the opening three Chase races no one knows what to expect from him. I ranked him fourth, figuring the bad luck can't follow him forever. If the car stays underneath him, Kyle will try to drive it like he stole it. Problem as I see it with Busch, there are safer picks.

• Carpentier's best finish of the season was 14th at Daytona this summer, another restrictor-plate track. He's driving that same car.

• In 17 Cup Series starts at Talladega, Earnhardt Jr. has recorded five wins, seven top-5s and 10 top-10s. He is driving the same car he drove to a win at the Budweiser Shootout.
• I rank Junior second and he should finish strong. This is one of his favorite tracks, one that his dad showed him a few tricks on, and he has scored the second most restrictor-plate points so far this year.

• Edwards' average finish at Talladega Speedway is 24.0. In his previous eight starts, he has one top-5 and three top-10s.
• Talladega and Edwards have not gotten along in the past. Plus, he's 14th in points scored on plate tracks in 2008, which indicates he won't perform like he has recently. Then again, he's feeling it and past record here might not mean anything. Edwards will try to play it cool and like Biffle, if you have him you might want to still keep him and hope for the best because he'll be one of the cars to beat at Charlotte.

• Gilliland has an average finish of 15.2 at Talladega.
• I ranked him 24th going in, but he isn't even in the top 25 in points scored on the plate tracks this year.

• Along with his six victories at the track, Gordon has 13 top-5s and 16 top-10s in 31 starts. He has led 25 races for a total of 802 laps  more than any other active driver.
• Gordon's guile will be on display Sunday. I think he runs up front and makes a bid for the win. On the negative side, Gordon has finished 39th, 19th and 30th in the plate races this year. I just think Gordon knows this is one of the places where he can be a force. I think the worst he does this Sunday is 10th.

• Gordon has 15 starts here with four top-10s, a top-5 and an average finish of 20.6. He finished 29th here last year and 11th earlier this year.
• There is a Gordon ranked third in restrictor plate points scored this year, but it isn't Jeff; it's Robby. I think he's got the potential to be a top "budget" pick this week.

• Hamlin has five starts here with two top-5s and an average finish of 14.2. He's driving the same car he finished third with here in the spring.
• Like his teammate Kyle Busch, you've got to believe sooner or later he's going to come out of his Chase funk and for Hamlin, this would be a good place to do it. In the two COT races run here he's finished fourth and third.

• In 15 starts at Talladega, Harvick has three top-5s and seven top-10s. Additionally, he has a 14.3 finishing average and has completed an impressive 2,821 of the 2,832 laps (99.6 percent).
• In the two COT races at Talladega, Harvick has basically been a top-20 type car. I believe that changes Sunday. I have him ranked ninth, because he's just been so solid lately I have a hard time seeing him finish outside the top-10, which he hasn't done for more than two months. Plus, RCR plate program is once again beginning to assert itself.

• Hornish will make his second start at Talladega. Earlier this season, Hornish started 37th and secured a 35th-place finish.

• Johnson has made 13 starts at Talladega, notching one win, four top-5s and five top-10s. Johnson has an average finish of 17.5.
• He's the man right now and I don't really care what size track he's on. Put a saddle on this pony and let it ride all the way to Homestead. I picked him up again last week and he won't be going anywhere. I can see him and Junior linking up and running strong.

• In nine starts at Talladega, Kahne has one top-5 and one top-10. He scored a career-best second at Talladega in the fall of 2006 and has led 13 laps here. He has an average finish of 20th at Talladega.
• I didn't give much respect to Kahne with a ranking of 19th, but he's averaged 132 points a race in the three plate races this year, which ranks him fifth in that category. His performance was weakest at Talladega, where he finished 23rd in April with two sevenths at Daytona.

• In 17 starts, Kenseth has achieved three top-5s and six top-10s. All three of Kenseth's top-5s have been achieved in the fall race at Talladega. He's driving the same car he drove to a third-place finish at Daytona this summer.
• I may have ranked Kenseth 21st for this race, but since this event is a total shot in the dark, you hold on and pray for a strong performance Sunday, because like Edwards and Biffle, he will be very, very good at Charlotte. I also have Kenseth and I might say a Hail Mary and let it fly with him again Sunday.

• Kvapil has an average finish of 14.8 at Talladega. He has completed 754 of 760 career laps at Talladega and has led one lap. Kvapil's best finish at Talladega is sixth, which he achieved earlier this season.
• He drove a pretty good race here in April, but the biggest thing he did was miss the "Big One" and a number of top guys got dragged into it. I don't see that happening again.

• In 31 starts here, Labonte has 11 top-10s, six top-5s, a win and an average finish of 17.8 with eight DNFs. He finished 35th in this race last year.
• Bobby is a great plate racer but doesn't have the car to be competitive. His performance has been terrible in the first two COT races here.

• Labonte has 52 starts here with 23 top-10s, 14 top-5s, two wins and an average finish of 17.8 with 17 DNFs. Labonte's most recent start here was the fall race in 2004, where he finished 21st.

• Sterling Marlin has 49 starts here with 17 top-10s, ten top-5s, two wins and an average finish of 19.4 with 15 DNFs. He finished 22nd here earlier this year.
• If he makes the race, Sterlin's value is so low he might be worth a thought or two. He's a great plate racer and, unlike some of the other semi-retired guys, is still willing to stick his nose in there and try to make something happen.

• In 12 visits here, McMurray has posted four top-10s. On average, McMurray runs better in the spring race, where he averages an 11.3 finish in five races. In the fall races, he averages a 24.1 finish.
• McMurray is a sneaky good plate racer that is off most people's radar. He ranks between the top and bottom for me with a 17th spot for a pre-race ranking.

• Mears led all Hendrick Motorsports drivers last April at Talladega when he finished seventh. Last October, he posted a sixth-place finish. In 11 starts at the track, Mears has recorded four top-10 finishes -- including back-to-back eighth-place efforts in 2004.
• I gave Mears some love with a pre-race ranking of 14th. Like last week, I can see him finishing 15th or better. This team has turned the corner and I like him a lot this race.

• After leading laps in the most recent event at Talladega, Menard turned in a superspeedway best 14th in April. He's driving that car this weekend.
• Menard is actually 11th in points scored on the plate tracks in 2008, but he's too up and down to take a run at.

• Montoya has three starts here and was the runner-up in the spring.
• I think Montoya has really adapted well to racing at Talladega. He's been 15th and second in the past two races and is someone you definitely have to think about when you look at the budget picks this week. I like his aggressive style.

• Nemechek has 25 starts here with five top-10s, a top-5 and an average finish of 23.9. He started on the pole at the spring race and finished 25th.

• Newman has three top-5s and six top-10s in 13 starts here. In the past three races at Talladega, he has not finished outside of the top 10.
• I rank Newman 10th. He "gets it" at Talladega and really moves around always looking for a spot to move up.

• His best finish in three starts came in the spring, where he finished fourth.

• As a "newbie," Ragan has been really careful to stay in line here and keep his nose clean. It has paid off nicely, and I rank him 13th. I have difficulty recommending him for Stock Car Challenge with his 19.7 value, which is a little high in my opinion to what you'll probably get in return even if he has a trouble-free race. He's not cheap enough to use him to get some other top guns on your team.

• Raines has seven starts here with one top-10 and an average finish of 19.6. He finished ninth in this race last year.

• Reutimann has three Cup starts here with an average finish of 24.7.
• I can see Reutimann continuing to improve and maybe be a top-20 car. Although in SCC, he has the same value as Casey Mears and if I had to pick between the two, Mears would get the nod.

• Riggs has eight starts here with a top-10 and an average finish of 20.4.
• Riggs stayed out of trouble and finished 16th here in April. If he could do that again, with a SCC value of 13.7, that would be sweet. Do I see that happening? No.

• In 18 previous starts, Sadler has one top-5 and two top-10s. He has led 101 laps in his career at Talladega.
• This team is off balance again. Sadler is a good plate racer, but I don't see him having the car to contend. He might be able to run top-20 but is not worth the risk.

• Said has two starts here with finishes of 35th and 27th, respectively. His last start here was the spring race of 2007.

• In 46 starts here, Schrader has 12 top-10s, six top-5s, a win and an average finish of 22.0.
• Schrader is back in the Hall of Fame Racing Toyota after Joe Gibbs pulled the plug on their experiment with teenage driver Joey Logano. In his past 17 races here, Schrader has just one finish better than 20th.

• Skinner has 15 starts here with three top-10s, a top-5 and an average finish of 23.5. His most recent race was this event in 2005, where he finished 43rd.
• Skinner is driving the Red Bull Toyota that used to be AJ Allmendinger's ride. At 11.7 for SCC, with a fast car and lots of experience as a plate racer, Skinner could sneak a top-20. You pick him and you could put four heavyweights in your lineup, too. It is definitely something to think about, in my opinion.

• Smith has two Cup Series starts here with finishes of 24th and 21st.
• Don't immediately dismiss him. If Smith finishes top-25 at a SCC value of 13.7, that might be a Hail Mary pass to look at.

• Reed Sorenson has five starts at Talladega, averaging a 28th-place finish. He earned his best finish last October when he crossed the finish line in 10th.
• He might get lucky, but that's what it would take for him to finish anywhere near the top 10 like a year ago.

• Stewart has 19 starts here with 11 top-10s, eight top-5s and an average finish of 13.9. He has six runner-ups, tying Mark Martin at Pocono for having the most second-place finishes at a single track without a win there.
• I've ranked Tony 11th and feel he'll run top-10. But will he shoot himself in the foot again as he did at New Hampshire and Kansas?

• Truex has seven starts here with two top-10s, a top-5 and an average finish of 25.6.
• Truex has had a miserable year on the plate tracks and I don't see a big turnaround this weekend.

• In eight starts here, Vickers has four top-10s, three top-5s, a win and an average finish of 19.2. He finished fifth here in the spring.
• I like Vickers so much this week I ranked him seventh. I think the North Carolina driver can get a top-10 again.

• Wallace has 23 starts here with six top-10s, two top-5s and an average finish of 21.9. His last start here was the spring race of 2007 where he finished 26th.
• He loves to plate race, so don't automatically dismiss him this weekend. He's driving 00 for Michael Waltrip Racing and should have plenty of ponys under the hood with the Toyota powerplant.

• In 16 starts at Talladega, Wallace owns two top-10s and has led six laps.
• If he gets into the race, he's another guy who could be a budget pick. He's in the fourth RCR entry and is an outstanding plate racer in anything he drives.

Michael Waltrip

• Waltrip has 44 starts here with 13 top-10s, seven top-5s, a win and an average finish of 19.6. He started this race from the pole last year, finishing 25th.
• Waltrip is one of the better plate racers we have, but does he have a car that can hang with the gang? If he does, he could run top-20 or better.

• Wood has one previous Cup Series start here, finishing 36th.

Mark Garrow

Fantasy Racing
Mark Garrow covers fantasy racing for ESPN.com.