Talladega Superspeedway, as seen from 5,000 feet - image: AuburnPilotEnlarge Photo
When it comes to racetracks visited by NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series, some have achieved near-mythic status. While Daytona may top the list of sacred temples of speed, the 2.66 mile tri-oval in Talladega, Alabama, finishes a close second.
Perhaps its the sheer size of the place, since its 2.66 mile length makes it the longest non-road course track on the NASCAR schedule. Maybe it’s the fact that it can hold up to 175,000 spectators, making it third-largest behind Indianapolis and Texas in capacity.
Maybe it’s the pack racing that the track seems to promote, which inevitably leads to big crashes. Perhaps its the legend that the track is cursed, or maybe its a combination of all of these factors. The only thing certain is this: the twelve drivers competing in this year’s Chase For The Championship will breathe a little easier after Sunday’s race.
Chase leader Brad Keselowski has won at Talladega twice, both times in the early-season Aaron’s 499. He’d like nothing more than a second win at ‘Dega
in 2012, to boost his lead in the Chase and to give Dodge final victory before it exits Sprint Cup competition
(for now, anyway) at the end of this season.
Second place Jimmie Johnson has also won there twice, again in early-season racing. His strategy of hanging near the back of the pack left him with a disappointing 26th-place finish in last year’s race, so don’t be surprised to see him push to remain up front this year.
Denny Hamlin, who currently sits in third place, has never won at Talladega. Even his team, Joe Gibbs Racing, has only racked up three victories there, with none more recent than 2008.
Perhaps the driver to watch, though, is fourth-place Clint Bowyer
. He’s won the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 for the past two years running, and would like nothing more than to give Richard Childress Racing a three-peat victory. If there really is a curse at Talladega, Bowyer may be the only driver racing who seems immune from it.
The race airs on ESPN at 1:00 p.m. Eastern on Sunday. Weather looks to be good with only a 20-percent chance of rain for Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race.