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Race Day: To Air Is Human at The Dega

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 25 2010

Pack mentality reigns at Talladega Superspeedway today. Will some of the cars turn into airplanes? (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

It’s not true that there will be an FAA representative in the race control booth at Talladega today. NASCAR will first see what happens with spoilers replacing wings on the back of the Sprint Cup cars before bringing in air traffic control.

NASCAR officials, many drivers and several crew chiefs said this week that they feel the spoilers will prevent the type of aerial circus which played out at the end of last year’s Aaron’s 499. And some said that even if they do go airborne ala Carl Edwards in 2009, they will land safely because of the ruggedness that has been built into the Cars of Tomorrow.

But think about going airborne? You can bet the drivers are doing a lot of that this morning.

Several drivers were asked about being launched at Talladega and here is what a select group had to say:

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “I don’t really ever worry about going airborne. Hell, it happens so fast, you don’t know, you are completely upside down before you realize you have come off the ground. I remember at Daytona in the Nationwide car, hell, I just landed when I understood that I’d just went upside down. Just happened so fast and is over with.

“I used to tell people that going upside down and getting airborne in a car like that going that fast is an experience that you really can’t go buy a ticket for. I don’t cherish or enjoy-that isn’t the right word, that experience is uncommon and not many people get the opportunity to be involved in something like that. It is wild and it is something that you never forget. I’ve been upside down and it doesn’t scare you, it doesn’t scare me, it hasn’t yet. I imagine some things happen that could scare you, but they haven’t scared me yet.”

Jeff Gordon: “Yeah.  I mean, there’s a fear factor of going three-wide at Texas with 19-to-go that you could get turned into the wall too, you know? It’s just (something) that you don’t really think about until it’s happening. I guess that’s what makes us race car drivers.”

Jimmie Johnson: “In a weird way too, and I’ve always joked around and I’ll say this and be the guy that’s upside down this weekend, but if you’re going to wreck and be out of the race, you want the damn thing to be spectacular. Just smashing the wall and losing the right front, is kind of not spectacular. If you’re going to go out, you may as well go out upside down, on fire. And I’ll say that, and I’ll be that guy.  I think that we made big steps going to the spoiler that should keep the car on the ground. If you think about it, the wing going one way creates down force, going the other way creates lift and we don’t have that situation anymore.”

Fast facts

What: Aaron’s 499

Where: Talladega Superspeedway; Talladega, Ala.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

TV: Fox, noon ET

Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128

Track layout: 2.66-mile superspeedway

Banking in corners: 33 degrees

Race distance: 188 laps/500 miles

Estimated pit window: 34-36 laps (fuel)

Qualifying: Rained out, grid set by points

2009 winner: Brad Keselowski

2009 polesitter: Juan Pablo Montoya

Today’s polesitter: Jimmie Johnson

Trivia time

Who was the last driver to sweep two Sprint Cup races in a season at Talladega?

Spoilers II: “Yeah, it feels really, really slow to me and it just feels real draggy and slow to me.”

– Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Double fun: For the second week in a row, the Cup and Nationwide races will be held on the same day. Last week it was Texas Motor Speedway, this week it is Talladega.

Jimmie Johnson was asked about doing the double at those two places and here is what he said:

“It will be a lot easier here I think that what it was at Texas. This track, you spend more time looking in the mirror and trying to make a decision about what is going to happen on the next lap so it is more mentally tiring here than physically tiring. I don’t think it is going to be that hot either so it shouldn’t that big of a deal.”

History lesson

A short history of Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR’s longest track:

* Construction began on the track on May 23, 1969. It was to be known as Alabama International Motor Speedway.

* The first Cup race was held Sept. 14, 1969.

* The track’s name was changed to Talladega Superspeedway in 1989.

* It was last repaved on Sept. 19, 2006.

* Most wins at Talladega – 10, by Dale Earnhardt Sr.

* Most poles – 8, by Bill Elliott.

* First race winner – Richard Brickhouse in a Dodge owned by Ray Nichels.

A return to the scene: Carl Edwards was asked this week if he would like the final lap today to be like the final lap of last year’s race.

Edwards said, “The best I can hope for is to be in the exact same situation again.

“Whether it’s Brad (Keselowski) or somebody else to be pushing me, for us to be separated and just have a battle between me and one other guy. I don’t know how I would feel in that same situation.  Nothing teaches you like a little pain and that wreck was painful for a number of reasons, so I’d say that it’ll be in my mind to make sure that I defend my car the best I can so that I have the best chance of winning.”

Favorite sons: There have been seven Alabamans who have won NASCAR races at Talladega. They are Bobby Allison, Davey Allison, Neil Bonnett, Donnie Allison, Red Byron, Steve Grissom and Rick Crawford.

Milestones

Jimmie Johnson will make his 300th Cup start today.

Robby Gordon will make his 350th start today.

Denny Hamlin is gunning for his 50th top-five finish.

Brian Vickers is going for his 50th top-10.

Bobby Labonte is going for his 200th top-10.

Trivia answer

Jeff Gordon won both Talladega races in 2007.

Up next

From Talladega, the series moves to Richmond International Raceway for the Crown Royal Presents the Heath Calhoun 400.

It will be the 10th race of the season. Kyle Busch won the race last year.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 25 2010
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