Talladega Superspeedway is known for its high speeds and pack racing. A normal speed in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is 180 miles an hour and the passing is usually two or maybe three cars wide. However, at Talladega cars hit 200 miles an hour with the passing four wide at times on thirty-three degree banking in the turns. The Talladega race is one that requires restrictor plates, which levels the playing field. Horsepower and aerodynamics are normalized. As a result, lead changes abound at Talladega. On Sunday, when NASCAR visited Talladega, there were 188 passes for the lead during the race with over twenty different leaders. It was as if people were running for a Black Friday sale at 4am.
Brian Scott led the field to the green flag with his first career pole while the rest of the Richard Childress Racing cars dominated the next five spots behind him. Right on the parade lap, Tony Stewart had some car trouble and by default had to start from the rear of the field.
Early in the race, Danica Patrick took the lead and became the first woman in NASCAR Sprint Cup history to lead a lap at Talladega Superspeedway. Unfortunately, however, the first caution flag was brought out on lap 14 when Brad Keselowski tried to slingshot around Patrick, cut down in front of her too early, and spun out. A few laps later, Keselowski had to pit due to water and radiator issues, which caused him to come back out six laps down.
Although the 34-week pregnant wife of driver David Ragan was in attendance, Danica Patrick’s was the water to break. On lap 32, her water pressure light came on, forcing her to join relatively big names such as Dale Earnhardt Jr, Matt Kenseth, and Kurt Busch in the back of the pack that had formed. For the rest of the race, she was unable to regain her previous momentum and remained in the middle positions.
Throughout the race, there was excitement. At times the pack racing was so tight that there was only a three second difference between the first and the forty-first positions. Several drivers were also able to move from the back of the field right up to the front. Greg Biffle started from thirty-fifth and made his way to first position on lap 57 and led for 58 laps, which was the highest for the race. Denny Hamlin also started thirty-fourth and made his way to the lead. David Gilliland was able to make his way from fortieth to become a contender during the race. That is intense racing that can be very exciting if done right, and most of the drivers did it right.
However, racing this tight breeds cautions. On lap 50, the next caution of the day came out due to debris on the front stretch. There was another caution on lap 107 because a caution light on the track was damaged from the high winds. After that, the caution did not come out again until lap 137 when there was an accident in turn 4 when Brad Keselowski spun after one of his tires went flat and ended up hitting the cars of Trevor Bayne, Jeff Gordon, Brian Scott, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard, Kyle Busch, Michael Annett, Tony Stewart, Alex Bowman, and Cole Whitt. Then, with 38 laps to go, there was another caution period when the engine of David Gilliland blew, causing smoke to billow from the back of his car. He eventually stopped at the end of pit road. On lap 174, the car of Jimmie Johnson became very loose, which means it severely oversteered and the back end wiggled back and forth, and spun. Then, it hit the cars of Joey Logano, David Ragan, Kurt Busch, Reed Sorenson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, and Michael McDowell. With six laps to go, there was an accident when one of Carl Edwards’ tires went down and he hit the car of Ryan Newman, who eventually hit Cole Whitt because of the contact with Edwards. The last caution of the day came on the last lap after debris came off of the car of Justin Allgaier.
In the end, Denny Hamlin went on to win under yellow. Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top five.
I enjoyed watching the drivers battle over a lead of less than a tenth of a second. It was also amazing to watch drivers who started in the back storm up through the field and become contenders for the race win. I never would have guessed that Greg Biffle would make his way from thirty-fifth to lead the most laps in the race. Passing. Four wide. Few crashes. A great day of NASCAR.