Few venues in motorsports offer the kind of drama Talladega Superspeedway routinely provides.
Throw in a bunch of desperate drivers who need a victory at NASCAR’s biggest and fastest track to guarantee themselves a spot in the next round of NASCAR’s Chase, and the potential for a spectacle – and mayhem – is ramped up.
“Yeah, it’s real intense,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. of running in Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500. “There’s no denying the intensity and the pressure it puts on drivers like myself to be in a cutoff situation, where you’re eliminated if things don’t go perfectly on Sunday. But I think it’s what the fans enjoy. If I’m a fan, I like it.”
Earnhardt is one of those drivers facing Chase elimination. Only Joey Logano, with victories in both of the second round’s races, is assured of a spot in the next round. Joining Earnhardt outside the top eight are Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth.
With the top eight advancing after Talladega, Earnhardt is 11th in the Chase, 31 points out of the eighth spot. Winning – the other way to guarantee a spot into the third round – is probably a more realistic option for Earnhardt.
When you don’t believe in the car, you make different decisions.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
It’s a reasonable goal. Earnhardt has six career victories at Talladega, including this season’s spring race. He also won the July race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, NASCAR’s other restrictor-plate track.
“When we come to all the plate tracks we feel confident we can do well and are confident in the car,” Earnhardt said. “The confidence you have in the car is where it all stems from. With the confidence, the moves and decisions are different and change. When you don’t believe in the car, you make different decisions. Until we see anything different, we’ll be confident.”
Talladega is notorious for the “big one,” a big wreck that often happens thanks to the high speeds and bunched-up fields that come from restrictor-plate racing.
But Talladega and NASCAR have taken steps to cut the potential for safety problems that can come from the nature of racing at the 2.66-mile track.
Talladega has added SAFER barriers to cover the track’s entire inside and outside walls.
Since the May race, Talladega has completed its installation of SAFER barriers, with all of the track’s interior and exterior walls now covered.
And NASCAR announced earlier in the week that just one green-white-checkered finish would be used should the race go into overtime, instead of the maximum of three.
The decision to limit the green-white-checkered finish came after a bad wreck involving Austin Dillon during overtime of July’s race at Daytona.
1 Green-white-checkered finish to be allowed at Talladega
And although drivers generally seem to support the change, some aren’t convinced it will change how they race at the end, knowing the race will end quickly.
“Everybody’s going to (race) the same,” said Brad Keselowski. “I don’t think Austin’s accident is going to change the racing one bit. We’re race car drivers. We’re here to win and that’s the risk we sign up for.”
It all comes down to the racing.
“The only difference is the (Chase) drama and story lines,” said Jeff Gordon, who’s in sixth place and will race for a final time at Talladega before he retires at the end of the season. “What’s at stake, who’s on the outside looking in? The Chase format itself is what heightens the intensity of each race. Especially this one.”