Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Talladega Dreaming

This weekend Nascar goes to Talladega, the 2.66 mile super speedway that is all about restrictor plates and drafting.  Talladega is the longest oval in all of Nascar, and before the days of the restrictor plate, the highest speeds ever achieved in the sport happened at this track.  The track has good, high banking, and nice soft turns, and this is the track that all the drivers keep the gas pedal pegged all day long.  Aerodynamics are really more important here than horsepower, and drafting skill is the major difference among the drivers, because most of the cars will be just about equal.

Jeff Gordon is the current active driver with the most wins at 6 total.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 2nd with 5 wins at the monster track.  The late, great Dale Earnhardt holds to most wins ever at this track, at 10.  The fact that Jeff and Dale Jr. are now teammates could be very important at 'Dega this weekend.  In the past, they've always been on different teams, but this year, they are teammates.  That will all go out the window with about 4 laps to go, but the Hendrick cars have the opportunity to draft together and work their way to the front if they indeed have that opportunity.  Racing being what it is, there's not guarantee that they will be able to run together at all.  I'm guessing that Jeff, Jimmie, and Dale Jr. will find their way to the front, and if the Hendrick invisible driver, Casey Mears can get in that mix, it's all good for them.

Talladega has always been a very unique race track.  The fans that regularly attend the race are among the most hard core in all of Nascar.  There will be partying in the infield, and there will be a few fights amongst drunken fans, but Talladega is a track that almost defies description.  I've been there, and looking down the track is like looking at a small airport, without the airplanes.  You just cannot believe the size of this track until you've seen it in person.  Remember, you're looking at cars, not jumbo jets out there.  Without binoculars, you will miss a lot of the race, if you are in the stands.

My one and only race at Talladega was in 2004, and I was sitting in the Turn 1 stands.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the race, and I saw a cloud of smoke over around the start/finish line, but I never actually saw the burnout.  Like I said, I was in Turn 1, and I couldn't see anything but smoke.  If I were to go back to Dega, which I surely would, I'd sit up high in the front stretch stands, and I'd have some good binoculars.

When you look at a track like Talladega, it's easy to see why the 1.5 mile tracks have gained a lot of popularity over the last few years.  At Atlanta, you can sit just about anywhere and see everything, without magnification.  I've never been to Pocono, but I imagine there is much the same feeling as I had at Talladega.  I never really saw the race, or at least most of it, until I came home and watched the video.

In my opinion, all racing is good, and I would be interested in seeing what Cup cars could do on a 3 or even a 5 mile oval, if given the opportunity.  I suppose it's not much different from watching a road course race in person, because you never get to see everything when you are there.

Personally, as much as I love Talladega, I'd rather see more Darlington or Rockingham style race tracks, where the fans can see everything, all the way around the track.  Shorter tracks mean often lower speeds, because of the restrictor plates on the really big tracks, but if Nascar could created drafting on a 1 to 1.5 mile track, I'd be interested.

Nascar needs the 2.5 plus mile race tracks.  It's good for the sport, because it challenges the teams and the drivers, just as much as running a couple of road course races per year does.  It's all different strokes, and I love Daytona and Talladega, but sometimes I think the best racing happens on the short tracks.

This weekend we'll get to see if Chevy has got the groove back, or if Toyota and Dodge still rule the restrictor plate tracks.  Or will Ford make make another run?  We won't know until we get there, and I can't wait!

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