Friday, April 27, 2007

The 'Dega Factor

This photo is from Ballparks and is for sale in full poster size through that website.

Talladega Superspeedway is the biggest and fastest venue on the NASCAR racing circuit. After it was built in 1969, many drivers in what was then the NASCAR Grand National Series (now the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series) deemed it too fast for safety's sake. Most of the NGNS drivers, led by Richard Petty boycotted the inaugaral race in the fall of 1969, in spite of assurances by NASCAR presedent "Big" Bill France--who actually got in a racecar and drove laps there--that the track was safe. The field was filled by drivers from the NASCAR Sportsman Series (now the NASCAR Busch Series) and the race went on, being won by Richard Brickhouse.
Since 1970, the race still goes on, twice a year, at Talladega, where the infield parties rival those of the Daytona Speed Weeks. The winners' list reads like a roster of the racing Hall of Fame.
Since 1988 (?) the addition of the restrictor plate, which limits the air intake to the engine, and thus the horsepower, has prevented the cars from reaching speeds too deadly for racing in the large, heavy cars. It also forces the cars to stay close together, and they travel around the track as one large group. This can also be very dangerous--restrictor plates or not, the cars still reach speeds of over 200mph while mere inches apart, creating the potential for huge multiple car accidents. We have often referred to the races at Talladega as a "200mph parking lot."
The racing at Talladega is not so much dependent on the driver as it is to the entire team. Races are won on pit road, and a missed set-up is always fatal to the chances of winning. Luck, also, has very much to do with the outcome of the race.
Still, a driver's skill is much needed in the mix. Talladega takes a steady hand on the wheel, and extreme patience on the part of the driver. This is why we can expect the best finishes to be placed by the most experienced teams and drivers.
Teamwork between drivers, even those who do not drive for the same owner, is often seen at Talladega, the most notable in recent years being that of Dale Earnhardt, Jr and Tony Stewart. These two can almost always be expected to hook up during restrictor plate races, and have had great success together. The Hendrick Motorsports drivers, especially The (Jeff) Gordon and reigning Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, can be expected to work together most effectively, and HMS whiz-kid Kyle "Schrub" Busch can also be added to that mix. Kevin Harvick, winner of the Daytona 500, also likes to run with Stewart and Junior, plus he has very capable teammates from RCR in Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer.
I write this often: never underestimate Denny Hamlin, or, in the case of restrictor place racing, his "other" teammate JJ Yeley. Yeley has been showing much maturity this season, which was missing last year, and if Hamlin and Yeley hook up, that may be a difficult combination to beat.
The surprise of the race could be the Robert Yates team of David "Gilligan" Gilliland and Ricky "Rooster" Rudd. Gilligan is one of those natural talents who can often surprise, and the Rooster has one of the best all-time career records at 'Dega, not having won a race there, yet, but almost consistantly finishing in the top ten. We may also see an unprecedented hook up between a Ford and a Chevy, with Matt Kenseth in the Ford, and Mark Martin in the Chevy cooperating to run much of the race up front. Their driving style is so similar, it would be disappointing not to see them run together.
There is no sure thing in racing, and this is often most noticeable at Talladega. Drivers may get angry at each other for a variety of reasons, including excessive or unnecessary and untimely bump drafting and aggressive blocking, and the alliances quickly deteriorate. And we can also expect the aforementioned "Big One"--the accident that could potentially take out many of the favorites--to occur.
Even with my personal misgivings about restrictor plate racing, Talladega is a very exciting venue, and the one thing we can expect Sunday is a strategy contest that rises above all other sports. No matter who the winner is, the adrenaline rush for the fan will be extreme. Let's go racing!

1 comment:

Racefan57 said...

A terrible finish...but the rest of the race was good