Last year, ESPN came up with a new slogan for their NASCAR Nationwide Series campaign. I wonder if they had Talladega in mind when they came up with “It’s anyone’s race”.
Ever since NASCAR mandated teams to put the restrictor plate in their cars, Talladega has been known as the most competitive track on the circuit.
Talladega has always been known for exciting racing and “The Big One”. NASCAR on Fox commentator, Mike Joy said, “Every lap at Talladega could be the one you remember most for the rest of your life.” If you look in the record books, you will see Talladega pop up. In 2007, Talladega Superspeedway set records for most lead changes and highest number of leaders in a NASCAR Nationwide Series race with 36 lead changes among 20 different leaders. Last year, the Sprint Cup series broke the old record of 75 lead changes (also held at Talladega) in the Aaron’s 499 by swapping the lead 88 times. Twenty-nine different drivers led in last year’s Aaron’s 499 which also set a record. Talladega has produced some exciting finishes. Last year, every race held there was decided on the final lap. The Aaron’s 499 has been decided on the final lap the last two years.
In 2009, Brad Keselowki was pushing Carl Edwards towards the checkered flag, until he decided to dart low with half a straightaway left. Edwards went to block, but he was a little too late and spun himself out. Then, Ryan Newman hit Edwards and launched him into the air towards the main grandstand. Edwards’ car bounced off the catchfence and remained on the track. Edwards hopped out of his burning car and did his Ricky Bobby impersonation by sprinting across the finish line and bowing to the crowd.
Last year, Kevin Harvick pushed Jamie McMurray until he could see the checkered flag. Then Harvick dove high, and in doing so he clipped McMurray’s car which caused him to get loose and slow down. Harvick kept the “pedal to the metal”, and clipped McMurray in a photo finish. The margin of victory was only .011 seconds, which was the eighth closest finish in NASCAR history.
Besides the finishes, everyone remembers “The Big One”.
At Talladega and Daytona, NASCAR races a restrictor plate, which restricts speeds, and keeps all of the drivers in a tight pack. Mike Joy summarized this racing best as “Bumper-to-bumper, rush hour traffic at 200 miles per hour.” This kind of racing wears out the drivers mentally, and fatigue usually causes errors in judgment, thus creating “The Big One”. One driver’s mistake can take out half of the field. In the 2003 Aaron’s 499, the Cup series had a 30-car pileup, which by the way is another record. This crash takes out 10 or more drivers. We have also seen crashes at Talladega containing 20 or more drivers. Will “The Big One” strike again this year?
The Big One: The crash that every fan wants to see and that no driver wants to be a part of.
Lately, we have see this phenomenon in restrictor plate racing. This is where two cars hook up together and fly through and away from the pack at 210 mph, until the driver’s cars begin to overheat causing them to separate. When they separate, the pack eats them up and those drivers have to start over and try working their way through the field again.
The Yellow Line: Only Daytona and Talladega have the double yellow line, which means out-of-bounds in NASCAR. Any pass made under the yellow line results in a penalty.
Favorites: At this race track, anyone can win, but here are some of the drivers who have had the most success here.
Jimmie Johnson: He has the best average finish here among all cup drivers in the past five years, and won here in 2006.
Kyle Busch: The 2008 winner of this race.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: He has won here five times.
Jeff Gordon: He has won at this track six times, which is the most among active drivers.
Kevin Harvick: He won this race last year, finished second in the last race here, and won the summer race at Daytona. He is also one of the best restrictor-plate racers out there.
Jamie McMurray: He nearly won this race last year, he won the fall race at Talladega in 2009, and he won last year’s Daytona 500.
Clint Bowyer: He won the last race at Talladega.
Others to watch:
Trevor Bayne: He won this year’s Daytona 500.
Kurt Busch: He won the Budweiser Shootout and his Gatorade Duel at Daytona this year.
Jeff Burton: He won his Duel race at Daytona this year and usually has good cars here. Unfortunately, bad luck has haunted him the past few races here.
Denny Hamlin: Just like Burton, good cars, but has had bad luck here.
Tony Stewart: He won here in the 2008 fall race. He has won many races at Daytona.
Matt Kenseth: He has had strong runs here, but has bad luck recently. He won the 2009 Daytona 500.
David Ragan: He has a Nationwide Series win here, and he has the fourth best average finish here among all cup drivers in the past five years.
Joey Logano: He has the third best average finish here among all cup drivers in the past five years.
Brad Keselowski: He won this race in 2009, and has the second best average finish here in the past five years. He also won last year’s Nationwide race.
Michael Waltrip: He is a two-time Daytona 500 winner and has one win here. He is also just racing part-time, which means he is just going for the win.
Juan Pablo Montoya: He has finished third in the last two races here; and has the fifth best average finish here in the past five years.
Regan Smith: He crossed the finish line first in the 2008 fall race, but he went out-of-bounds, so the win was taken away and given to Stewart. He also had a strong car at Daytona.
Martin Truex Jr.: He won two Nationwide races here, and he also had a strong car at Daytona.
JUNIOR!!!!!! He is the most popular driver in NASCAR and he has gone winless in his past 100 races. This is Dale Earnhardt Junior’s favorite track. He has the equipment behind him with Rick Hendrick Motorsports. Now, he has to get the job done. It is now or never for Earnhardt.
Images courtesy of: Iracing.com (Earnhardt), Fotothing.com (Two-car Tandems), I2.cdn.turner.com (Photo Finish), Roundofwedge.com (2010 Aaron’s 499 Pack), USA Today.net (2009 Big One), Media.lawrence.com (2005 Big One), and Canttim.com (Edwards flying toward the stands)
Stats provided by: NASCAR.com, Jayski.com and Motorracingnetwork.com