When it comes to racing at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, nobody wants to be in the middle — you know, that area around mid-pack. Actually, that also goes for racing at NASCAR’s other restrictor plate track, Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. But this weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Talladega for round four in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, so we’ll stick to talking about ‘Dega here.
Most race weekends, the closer a driver runs toward the front, the better. And that logic makes sense. After all, the closer to the front you’re running, the better your position is and the more points you earn, and yada, yada, yada. You get the picture.
But restrictor plate racing is an entirely different animal. Because racing at Talladega and that other plate track brings with it not only the chance, but the likelihood of what’s known as the big one — a huge chain-reaction wreck that starts off with what normally would be characterized as a miniscule mistake by one driver and collects much of the race field, sometimes as many as 20 or so cars.
These big calamities seem to happen, more often than not, around mid-pack. So to start a plate race, drivers who aren’t up front at the green flag often, obviously, drop to the back to casually ride around, hopefully to avoid trouble. After all, with the draft, a driver has the potential to go from the back to the front in the span of just a lap or two.
But is this really racing? No, I don’t think so. Unless you count the drop to the back and a possible difference of opinion as to who is going to get the back spot racing. Poll some fans, and I’m sure you’ll get a resounding, “No, that’s not racing.” Of course, a lot of drivers say the same thing. It’s just that some would go on to say that it’s just a nature of the beast.
It’s sort of the same outcome as Jimmie Johnson’s strategy in the All-Star race. He won a segment early, guaranteeing him a spot up front for the final restart. So what did he do? He rode around in the back for much of the event. Racing? No. Good strategy? Of course.
The ideal situation at Talladega would simply be to qualify up front and just stay up there; just avoid mid-pack altogether. But that’s easier said than done. Everybody can’t start up front. What about just racing to the front from the beginning? That’s a good strategy — the strategy race fans prefer. But what those who can’t get to the front? They’ll just drop to the back and make laps. It’s not an exciting way to race, but at the same time, it’s hard to blame the guys who do it. Guess like I mentioned before, it’s just the nature of the beast. What can you do?
In case you’re interested, here’s a video of Kasey Kahne talking about his likely strategy for Sunday.
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