’Dega Wild-Card Rep Heightened By New Championship Format
Talladega Superspeedway and unpredictability have been joined at the high-banked hip not long after the place opened the gates for its very first NASCAR Sprint Cup race in September 1969.
You know. The race that almost never happened. The one derailed by drivers’ concerns about tire wear while approaching 200 mph on a 2.66-mile tri-oval that had risen from the Alabama countryside, looking like Daytona on steroids.
Drivers boycotted. NASCAR President Bill France Sr. got things back on track – literally – by assembling a field of second-tier drivers and making sure the show would go on. Richard Brickhouse was Talladega’s first winner. Richard Childress finished 23rd.
Now who could’ve predicted all of that?
That was only the beginning. In terms of the race, while there never again have been makeshift fields at Talladega there have been a number of surprise visitors to Victory Lane – both before and after the advent of horsepower-reducing restrictor plates that have made close-quarters racing the norm.
From Richard Brickhouse … we went to Dick Brooks in 1973 … to Lennie Pond in 1978… to Ron Bouchard in 1981 … to Bobby Hillin Jr. in 1986 … to Phil Parsons in 1988.
One-win wonders, all, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Now toss in the four drivers who got their first – but not their only – series win at Talladega: Davey Allison in 1987, Ken Schrader in 1988, Brian Vickers in 2006 and Brad Keselowski in 2009.
For those with shorter memories, let’s go back to the spring of 2013. David Ragan and David Gilliland finished 1-2.
Repeating … Ragan and Gilliland … 1-2.
All of this history is why Talladega has come to be known as NASCAR’s ultimate wild-card race. That reputation is back into play this week, with Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 and will be in full force come Oct. 19 when the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is in midstream.
Factor in the new Chase format being instituted this year and the card gets even wilder. A race victory virtually assures a driver of making the Chase field, now expanded to 16 drivers. Which means Sunday’s surprise could become autumn’s championship contender. Just like that.
And now comes another wrinkle: Knockout qualifying, a first-year initiative pumping new life into competition for the Coors Light Pole Award. Given the unique qualifying format for the Daytona 500 in February – time trials locking in the front row followed by two 150-mile races that determine the rest of the field – this weekend will be the first restrictor-plate KO setting (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET on FOX). This is a good thing. Talladega excitement notwithstanding, single-car runs on the world’s largest oval track were at times less than compelling. Knockout qualifying will fix that up Saturday.
The favorite for the Coors Light Pole? Hard to say, impossible to predict. After all, it’s Talladega.