One week after racing on the flattest and smallest track of Martinsville where speeds never get over 100 mph, the drivers face the complete opposite this week.
Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR’s most competitive track, is the site of this Sunday’s Cup race. The wide 2.66 mile track with a 33-degree banking make it the fastest track on tour. Ever since the track was constructed in 1970, the lingering concern hovering over Talladega is that it is too fast.
As the technology of improved engine horsepower coupled with sleek aero-dynamics have increased over time, Talladega has been the main concern of NASCAR officials to slow down the cars.
The safety issues created better tires, chassis construction, and harness devices to protect the driver, but not until last year did NASCAR implement the air-resistant aero-package which slowed the cars more than ever.
When mixing in the existing restrictor plate, NASCAR now has what amounts to every car being basically the same negating the advantages that some of the more well funded teams have. Essentially, any driver can win this race because of the rule changes.
For the astute NASCAR bettor, this week will be the toughest of all races to rate, or at least as tough as the last Talladega race. In that April event, 26 different drivers led a lap culminating with 55-1 longshot Bobby Hamilton taking the checkered flag.
Since the aero-package has been implemented, the Talladega races have produced the most excitement. The manipulation of air and creating temporary alliances with other drivers to push the draft is the only way to win.
When discussing air manipulation, there was no one better than the late Dale Earnhardt. He turned his skill into an art, winning at Talladega a record 10 times including last year, the final victory of his legendary career.
The only driver who has been Earnhardt-like on the Superspeedways is an Earnhardt, Dale Jr., who comes into the race as a 4-1 favorite. The one constant with this aero-package when looking for trends in the four races, including two at Daytona, is Junior. He led a lap in every one of the events and each time it occurred at the later stages.
It would be hard to say his success is attributed to genetics, considering his father owned and designed the cars that Junior and his team drives, but learned instincts from the best does play a role. Dale Sr. never shared his “Art of the Draft” information with other drivers stating that,“No one ever taught me, so...”
But one has to believe that he definitely shared some insight with his son and driver of the team he owned. The DEI car undoubtably plays a role in the success. There is no other logical explanation on how Michael Waltrip (55-1) can finish first and second in two of the three aero races when he has never been a consistent contender at any other track.
In July at Daytona, all the pieces came together as Junior dominated the race, with Waltrip blocking on the final few laps.
Unfortunately, some felt it was just too good a story to be true. The speculation was caused by a few writers in the media looking to create a conspiracy buzz. The writers that caused the stir were not educated enough in the sport to decifer all the information leading up to that race that clearly showed Junior was a top candidate to win.
The aftermath of the stories hurt Junior and took something away from his magical redemption of a moment. Junior has won since Daytona, but for the sake of showing just how good he is on the Superspeedways, these types of races take on an added role of importance.
Earnhardt doesn’t have to prove anything to those in the know, but to those who base beliefs on perception, somehow I believe he’ll be trying to legitimize his greatest moment for years to come. That Daytona win is and forever will be the greatest moment in NASCAR history.
Junior will be driving the same car this week he used when winning at Daytona. He will also be going for the “Winston No Bull $5 Million” along with four other drivers.
Top 5 finish prediction:
1) #8 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (4-1)
2) #20 Tony Stewart (5-1)
3) #18 Bobby Labonte (6-1)
4) #6 Mark Martin (22-1)
5) #33 Joe Nemechek (35-1)