Talladega a crash course for racing

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:28 AM ET

TALLADEGA, Ala. — When it comes to race tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit none is quite as grand or quite as unpredictable as Talladega Superspeedway, located just east of Birmingham.

Heck, they even made a movie about it.

At 2.66 miles around, it is the biggest racing oval in the world. And when you combine that with banking on the turns of 33 degrees what you end up with is a rocket launch disguised as a race track.

The track is so fast that NASCAR mandated its Sprint Cup cars use restrictor plates on the engines to reduce the horsepower produced by the V8 motors.

As a result the races at Talladega breed pack racing — groups of 30 cars or more inches apart at 190 m.p.h. Those packs also produce some of the most spectacular and dangerous wrecks in any form of motorsport.

It is not for the feint of heart.

And one of the best at Talladega is Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet. Stewart sat down this week to talk about the challenges and the rewards that are all part of the tale of Talladega.

“It’s no secret that it’s a very mentally taxing race. It’s not physically challenging, it’s mentally challenging,” he said in a teleconference call. “The hard part is staying focused for 500 miles when you know you can’t make a mistake any direction.

“You can’t predict when there’s going to be a wreck. You can’t predict when guys are going to get in a line on the top of the racetrack, you know, do the Dale Jr. line. He’s the one that started that whole thing.”

Stewart said that Sunday’s AMP Energy Drink 500 will produce a variety of different styles of racing, depending on the individual driver.

“Everybody has a different strategy for what to do to be there at the end,” he said. “The hard thing is that it’s a 188-lap race, but the last 10 laps are what really matter and set the tone for what’s going to happen on the last lap. You basically — in those 178 laps — are trying to take care of yourself.

“(But) racers are still racers. There will be guys in a hurry at the beginning of the race, there are guys that appear to be in a hurry, but they’re trying to see what they have car-wise.

“There will be guys that drop to the back, not because they have a problem, but because they’re trying to take care of themselves, not get into a position they can’t get out of. A lot of times it’s self-preservation.”

At this stage of the NASCAR season — with just four races left to determine a champion — there is also a whole lot more pressure not only on the drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship but also for the rest of the 31 drivers on the grid who are looking to either keep their jobs or get better ones for next season.

That, Stewart said, is what adds an extra bit of wild to the already wild-card reputation of Talladega.

“It’s definitely a scenario where you have to be patient, you have to let the guys that are impatient, in a hurry, do their thing and you have to stick to your plan,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys in the field that are fighting for jobs still. Those guys don’t really have that flexibility to ride around. They’re trying to impress car owners.”

Stewart said that there are good things about Talladega and there are great things about Talladega.

“The good thing about Talladega is you can just about be guaranteed if your driver is in the back, they’re choosing to be there at that point in the race, not because they don’t have a very good racecar,” he said. “The great thing about Talladega is you can’t count anybody out.”


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