NASCAR has always been accused of playing favorites with some of the decisions that it makes. In recent weeks there has been a lot of talk about some of the caution flags that have been thrown because of debris on the racetrack.
NASCAR even took a hard line with the way the envelope was being pushed by Jimmie Johnson’s and Mark Martin’s crew chiefs with the cars they were using in the Chase, even though they did not break the rules.
It’s for sure that NASCAR doesn’t leave anything to chance with the way it runs the sport and we should all be thankful for that approach. The sanctioning body’s methods of control ensure us that we will see a competitive race at each stop on the schedule and that no one team is getting the advantage on the rest of the field.
One area in which you can’t scream that NASCAR is manipulating is the part of the schedule being used as the 10 races that make up the Chase for the Championship. The 10 tracks that play host to one of the Chase events make up a highly diversified portion of the schedule, and one that is very tough on both drivers and equipment.
Sunday’s stop at Martinsville that kicked off the second half of the Chase provided us with some classic short track racing as it is the shortest track on the entire schedule. Short track racing means plenty of banging and pushing and that was exactly what we witnessed, especially during those last couple of restarts that eventually led to Denny Hamlin winning his third race of the season.
Short track racing at times is more about survival than it is racing for a win, and if the racing was tough at Martinsville, this weekend’s stop at Talladega is expected to be every bit as tough. The only difference this weekend is that the banging and pushing that took place at Martinsville occurred at about 100 miles per hour less than what we will see on the high banks of the longest track that makes up the Sprint Cup schedule.
Teams know that when they unload this weekend at Talladega NASCAR officials will be there to hand each a horsepower-robbing restrictor plate, which ensures that there will always be large packs of cars racing against each other. The upside to that for the fans is that there seems to always be threeand sometimes four-wide racing, which tends to produce a thrilling finish.
Racing at Talladega seems like a made-to-order event for fans watching on television as the entire field is always on the edge of being out of control. That’s the kind of racing that fans love, but if you’re behind one of those cars that is close to crossing the line of being out of control it isn’t much fun.
Jimmie Johnson enters Talladega this weekend with a 118-point lead over Mark Martin, but this is the track where even a point lead of that size isn’t really safe. The threat of the so-called ‘big one’ can happen on any lap and it can occur at the front of the field as easily as it can near the back of the pack. Talladega for sure plays no favorites when one driver gets out of shape on the track and begins collecting other cars in the field.
Although a driver must know how to draft if he wants to have any chance of visiting victory lane at Talladega, the bottom line is that this is the track where he must have a little luck left in him if he wants to have a shot at winning. So much of what happens to a driver on Sunday will not be a direct result of what he does on the track but a combination of factors that are really out of his control. He must have the good fortune to find another driver who will work with him in the draft as no driver ever wins at Talladega without another driver pushing him to victory lane.
That’s just the way it works out at Talladega, which could be a huge plus for the three Hendrick Motorsports cars that are in the Chase. Following Johnson and Martin in the points is teammate Jeff Gordon, which gives those three drivers a couple of ‘dance partners’ when the final laps begin to go off the board. You have to have another car willing to push you across the finish line and there is no tighter organization than Hendrick Motorsports when it comes to putting what is best for the organization first. Even though these three drivers will all be driving for the win, the bottom line is that they would rather see a Hendrick car in victory lane than that of another owner.
Race Preview — Event: AMP Energy 500. Track: Talladega Superspeedway (2.66-mile trioval, 33 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: Nov. 1, 1:20 p.m. TV: ABC. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Tony Stewart.