TALLADEGA, Ala. – The scrambling for position started long before the start of Saturday's Good Sam's Roadside Assistance 500. For most, especially the 12 in the Chase for the Championship, game plans were set long before they got to the Talladega Superspeedway.
Some will try to run up front to stay in front of the big crash that's common at the 2.66-mile speedway. Others will drop to the back to keep trouble well ahead.
When it gets down to the final 20 laps, everyone will make a jailbreak to the finish line.
The key, however, is to survive the first 168 laps. And everyone has their own plan to do it.
"I think you'll see everything," Jeff Gordon said. "I don't think anybody likes going into a race and says, 'Boy I'm so excited about hanging in the back.' They look at it as what is going to get us the finish that we really want. You never know."
A big part of the strategy was determined Saturday with pole qualifying. Those close to the front of the starting lineup probably will try to stay there. Everyone else will get in the slow lane.
"You've got to remember this is a chess match and I'm a checkers player," Tony Stewart said.
Six of the top nine qualifiers, including pole winner Kasey Kahne, are in the Chase. Kahne ran 191.455 mph Saturday afternoon, and he will lead 42 other drivers to the green flag at 2 p.m. on ESPN.
Ryan Newman will start second, followed by Clint Bowyer, Stewart, Greg Biffle, Gordon, Carl Edwards, Trevor Bayne and Martin Truex Jr. Newman, Edwards and Bayne are the drivers among the top nine who aren't in the playoffs.
Other Chase drivers Dale Earnhardt (starting 12th), Matt Kenseth (15th), Jimmie Johnson (17th), Kevin Harvick (21st), Brad Keselowski (22nd) and Denny Hamlin (23rd) probably will wait things out from the back because the last thing anyone wants is to be in center of the mayhem.
"That's absolutely where I don't want to be," Bowyer said. "If I'm in the middle of this thing before halfway I'm going to the back. I'll pull over on the apron and go to the back or do something."
Cars run with a restrictor plate to reduce speeds by as much as 35 mph for safety reasons. That means nobody has enough power to pull away from traffic. And with everyone running in a pack, little mistakes often end up as multi-car accidents.
"Now that we've got this pack racing back the wrecks will be a lot more carnage this time around," Hamlin said. "You just hope that you're not in it."
There were two nine-car accidents during the May 6 race at Talladega. A year ago at Talladega there was a six-car crash.
The fact everyone is so close also means it's easy to quickly move from the back to the front. In May there were 33 lead changes among 17 drivers. A year ago there were 72 changes among 17 drivers.
That's why nobody's too concerned about dropping to the back for the first 450 miles.
"I really don't know what people are going to do," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "I haven't really talked to many of the drivers or heard much about anybody's opinion on that. But I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of different strategies in the race. It will work out.
"It really comes down to luck. Some guys can make all the strategies work in their favor. There's not really a right or wrong in this situation.
"I know my fans want me up front, so that's where I'm going to try to go."