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Race Day: Time For Some High Speed Drama

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 31 2010

Juan Pablo Montoya will lead the boys to the checkered flag at Talladega Superspeedway this afternoon. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

The magic speed at Talladega Superspeedway in the years since restrictor plates were mandated at the track has been 200 mph. Hit that speed and teams, drivers and NASCAR start to sweat.

In the past, hitting that speed in practice has prompted NASCAR to switch plates to slow the cars during the course of race weekends. That is how concerned officials are with 200.

Speeds topped 200 on occasion during practice for today’s Amp Energy Juice 500. NASCAR looked at the situation but the plates with which the teams practice will stay in place for the race.

Several drivers were asked about hitting 200 on Friday and here is what they had to say:

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet: “You are looking at a one or two lap situation, not multiple laps. I’m sure that at times that I have been in a draft here that has reached 200 miles per hour but not on a consistent basis. And, you won’t see it on a consistent basis here on Sunday either. You’ll see two cars that will get out there and they will do it one or two laps and then they will slow down 15 miles per hour after that. I think that is why it is being accepted right now.”

Greg Biffle, No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford: We’ve kind of been faster and slower.  I think the speed is OK.”

Tony Stewart, No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet: “I never got pushed (in practice) so I never got up there. I don’t think it’s any different than it was in the spring so to me it’s a non-event right now.”

Fast facts

The Race: Amp Energy Juice 500

The Track: Talladega Superspeedway

When: Today, 1:15 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128

Race distance: 188 laps/500 miles

Estimated pit window: 34-36 laps

Qualifying: Saturday, 12:15 p.m. ET

Track layout: 2.66-mile superspeedway

Banking: 33 degrees in corners, 16.5 degrees front stretch, 2 degrees back stretch

2009 race winner: Jamie McMurray of Roush Fenway Racing

2009 polesitter: Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports (owner points)

Today’s polesitter: Juan Pablo Montoya of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing

Trending

Auto racing is a sport of trends. Everything from equipment to setup to vocabulary comes and goes as the sport evolves.

A trend which has settled into racing at Talladega is that of two-car drafts. In fact, two-car breakaways have won the recent races at the place.

Will we see more today?

“Oh absolutely it is going to happen,” driver Jeff Gordon said. “It is because these two-car drafts, the way we’ve been able to figure out how to hook up with one another and maximize

Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton and Tony Stewart were all friendly like before Sunday's race at Talladega. But will they be so friendly during and after? (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

with what you can do with two cars pushing. It is pretty amazing what happens and how the rpms pick up and the speed. It is an incredible thing that has evolved in this sport and at this track. It’s going to really be interesting to see which two-car draft can win this race.

“Then what happens as you come to the line between those two cars, even that part is pretty darn exciting. I know we like to see big groups and packs here and five-wide at the line, but, for us as competitors, we’d prefer it to come down to two guys and it is still exciting. I think that is pretty cool.”

Trivia time

Who was the last polesitter to win the race at Talladega?

Stress test

Carl Edwards is not a Talladega fan. Never has been. He has said that he thinks the track should not be part of the Chase. He was asked if the place stresses him out this week.

Edwards said, “I don’t stress about it, I just try to really focus.  I’ve watched enough of these things and I’ve been involved in enough of them to realize that you just do the best you can and, at the end, one guys is gonna be in front when you cross that finish line.  If you can separate yourself like Brad (Keselowski) and I did a couple of years ago, if you can separate yourselves from the group at the end, you’re obviously doing yourself a huge favor because then you’re only dealing with one guy – so that would probably be the goal.  I think that’s what you’ll see.  I think you’ll see breakout groups at the very end of the race – guys that just commit to pushing another guy.  Everybody is getting really good at that, so it could be pretty interesting.”

Track tidbits

Most victories: 10, by Dale Earnhardt

Most poles: 8, by Bill Elliott

Most top-fives: 23, by Dale Earnhardt

Most top-10s: 27, by Dale Earnhardt

Most lead changes: 88, in 2010

Fewest lead changes: 13, in 1973

Most cautions: 11, in 2004

Fewest cautions: 0, three times (most recently in 2002)

Fewest cars on lead lap: 1, twice (most recently in 1979)

Fewest cars running at end: 14, in 1986

Closest margin of victory: .005 seconds, in 1993

Late trouble

Jeff Burton on the late-race wrecks at Talladega: “There is a reason that we wreck at the end of the race and it’s because for 140 laps, 130 laps, when somebody is trying to fill a hole, you let them do it. The cost to you isn’t great so you allow it. When it starts to get to the end of the race, that spot is coveted and you want it and so you end up doing things that you wouldn’t normally do because if you don’t, you aren’t going to have a chance to win the race. That is nature of the beast.

“You don’t know you are going to wreck. If you lift when you really want to lift an awful lot of times, it really costs you. A lot of these wrecks when they happen, a guy didn’t not lift and he knew he was going to get in the wreck. He didn’t not lift or he does something because he is trying to make something happen and it is everybody in one spot trying to make it happen and that is why we have the wrecks. I feel pretty confident that Sunday’s race will go green, caution at some point, green, green, caution at some point, green, caution, caution, caution, checkered flag.

Life on the inside

So, what’s it like wrecking at almost 200 mph?

“That is the exact moment when you don’t want to be in the car anymore,” Clint Bowyer said. “It sucks. All hell breaks loose and you just cringe and hold on and it hurts. You hit hard and you bounce around and finally come to a stop and think like what the hell just happened, you know? But it’s just one of those things that makes the fans come from all over to be at a place like this and to see that spectacle and we owe it to them to go out there and put on a show for them.”

Trivia answer

Jeff Gordon won from the pole in the spring race in 2007.

Up next

Texas Motor Speedway for the AAA Texas 500. Kurt Busch won last year’s fall race at TMS and Jeff Gordon started it from the pole.

Carl Edwards has the most victories at TMS – three, with the last coming in the fall race of 2008.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 31 2010
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