Talladega Superspeedway, which plays host to Sunday’s GEICO 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race (1:30 p.m. ET, FOX), is unlike any other track in NASCAR, and the drivers all know it.
Chaos is always inches away for 188 nerve-wracking laps, and the chances of getting collected in ‘The Big One,’ one of the huge multi-car crashes, is high. That said, the racers have a job to do. And here’s what they think about racing at Talladega.
A two-time Talladega winner, Bowyer minces no words about racing at NASCAR’s biggest oval. “You’re literally freaking out, making knee-jerk-reaction decisions the whole race. You’re reacting to things that you don’t even remember. You’ll get out of the car at the end of the race, and somebody’ll be like, ‘Man, that was an awesome move that won you the race!’ And you’re like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ There were at least 4,000 instances of what won that race or didn’t win that race.”
Busch has one Talladega victory, but he’s also piled up six DNFs here and says restrictor-plate racing is a grind. “It really wears on you a little bit, mentally. I would say Talladega is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical, while most other non-restrictor-plate races are 80 percent physical and 20 percent mental.”
The seven-time NASCAR champion has two wins here, but he’s had plenty of bad races, too. “Talladega is crazy. It’s about survival. I hope we have a better showing at this restrictor plate track than we did in Daytona, where we crashed."
The Cup series points leader has not done especially well at Talladega, where he has never finished higher than sixth. “There’s always a bit of anxiousness when you’re headed to Talladega.”
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Kenseth, a two-time Daytona 500 winner, is one of the best restrictor-plate racers in the sports and he has good advice on how to do well here. “It’s all about learning to adapt to that changing draft in order to have your car in the right place at the right time.”
Sunday will mark Kahne’s 54th restrictor-plate race and he’s still looking for his first victory. “Talladega is such a tough place to win. You have control of a lot of the stuff going on, but then there’s so much that you can’t control, especially the draft.”
The 2014 NASCAR champion has won at both Talladega and Daytona. His advice? Go for it. “Nine times out of 10, I believe, the aggressor is going to be the guy who comes out on the good side of things just for the fact that you’re making things happen and you’re not waiting for something else to happen.”
With his team’s sponsor also sponsoring the race, Dillon would love to get his first Cup win on Sunday. “A place like Talladega is especially intense. You don’t get a mental break unless you’re under a caution, and even that’s not really a break because you’re thinking about how you’ll survive the next run.”
Martin Truex Jr.
In 24 starts at Talladega, Truex has a best finish of fifth. “There’s no secret about Talladega for any of us drivers. If you stay out of the wrecks and avoid mechanical issues you will most likely have a pretty good day. But staying out of trouble is a big if at Talladega.”
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This sums it nicely: “Three words that describe plate racing would be: crazy, fast and risky.”
The Richard Petty Motorsports driver has one career victory, winning at Daytona in July 2014. “Talladega can definitely be a crap shoot. You want to run up front all day, but at the same time, you have to make sure you are at the right place at the right time in order to miss any of the Big Ones.”
After cutting a tire in the opening laps and finishing last at Richmond, Jones will be looking for better luck this week. “We can bring the best car we have but you really need the right things to happen and not get caught up in a mess so we can be there at the end.”
This one is all about the fans and not the drivers, says Allmendinger. “It’s just a race that I wouldn’t say that I really look forward to, but it’s going to put on an amazing crazy race and that’s what the fans love.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Just win, baby. That’s what Earnhardt and crew chief Greg Ives have on their mind this weekend. “We haven’t done anything to make our fans too happy here lately, so we’ll try to change that at Talladega. Greg told me last week that we aren’t going to look at points anymore, we’re just going to try to go win a race. We had a great car in Daytona, just had some bad luck when we were leading.”