5 Questions Before ... Aaron's 499

Credit: Rusty Jarrett/ Getty Images for NASCAR

A lot of things come to mind when people think about Talladega: The “big one”, bump-drafting, and, for the natives, “Why are you people pronouncing it wrong?! It’s Talla-DEEGA!”

But one word you do not hear associated with Talladega is “predictable”. In fact, the only that that is expected from this track is the unexpected.  Picking a driver to win this race can be simplified to drawing a name out of a hat, and with as unpredictable as 2011 is so far it will be next to impossible.

Here are some questions on my mind heading into the weekend…

Will we see the return of the two-car draft? … If you’re reading this article, more than likely you have your own opinion on the two-car draft. If you ask anyone reading this article their opinion on the two-car draft, more than likely you won’t hear anyone answer “Oh, I don’t care either way.”

More than likely you will get an “I HATE IT!” or “I LOVE IT!”

Personally, I prefer the 30-car packs of three-and-four wide racing, but I have no problem with the two-car draft. I find it interesting to see who works with who and listening to competitors talk to teams other than their own teammates can usually be rather entertaining.

Plus, I really don’t see a problem with the racing itself. I don’t find it boring at all, especially when you get 6-8 cars all going for the lead. The Daytona 500—which is what started all of the debate—had in my opinion, a great finish and not just because of the winner. I found the Daytona 500 to be a very exciting race and am expecting the same in Talladega.

General opinion says we will see the two-car draft this weekend, due to NASCAR’s restrictor plate changes. The NASCAR-mandated restrictor plate will be 4/64 inches smaller than the last two races at Talladega and 1/64 inches smaller than what was used in this year’s Daytona 500.

Love it or hate it, you might as well get used to it.

Will we see another Trevor Bayne-esque story? … Bayne will undoubtedly go down as the underdog story of the year in all of motorsports, and possibly in all of sports. Though we haven’t really seen much of Bayne since then, his name is still being spoken even in the mainstream media and no one has forgotten him. How could you?

Restrictor plate racetracks such as Daytona and Talladega are perfect for that type of story. The draft makes it so that even some of the regular mid-pack runners have a shot at the win if they find the right drafting partner.

One driver that comes to mind as far as underdogs at restrictor plate tracks is Regan Smith. Smith was fast every time he was on the track during SpeedWeeks earlier this season, almost beating Kurt Busch for the victory in one of the Gatorade Duel races and running up front for most of the Daytona 500. He wound up finishing seventh, even after a late-race crash seemingly took him out of contention.  

Smith has a history at Talladega as well. While the statistics show that Smith has never finished any higher than 12th at Talladega, Smith would tell you otherwise.

In fact, Smith would tell you that he has a win there.

While coming to the checkered flag in the fall race at Talladega back in 2008, Smith moved below the yellow line to avoid running into Tony Stewart and crossed the start/finish line just inches ahead of Stewart. According to NASCAR rules, a driver cannot advance his position below the yellow line. Smith was penalized for the pass, and placed at the tail end of the lead lap in the final running order. He would finish 18th.
Stewart leads Smith on the last lap. Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR

Smith was obviously peeved, saying he was forced below the start/finish line, something NASCAR also claims not to condone.

Smith no doubt feels as though the track owes him big time, and based up on his performance in Daytona, he may very well be a contender for the win this Sunday and give us another underdog story.

It still wouldn’t top Bayne’s win, though.

What impact will Talladega have on the Chase field? … Remember that the Chase rules are different this year, with the top 10 drivers getting locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup after 26 races and two drivers with most wins outside the top 10 but inside the top 20 get a wild card Chase berth.

Several of last year’s Chase contenders are sitting way outside of the top 10, and may end up having to rely on the wild card if they aren’t able to pick up the pace.

Talladega would be the perfect track for any driver in need of some extra points to try and grab a victory, but that’s easier said than done. Even with the draft, it’s just as easy to get caught up in a crash—the “Big One” possibly. But it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on some of the winless drivers this season, and those on the outside looking in.

Can Talladega break their own record? … Last season, Talladega Superspeedway held the most competitive race in NASCAR history with a total of 88 races in their spring race. The fall race fell short with 87 laps, but was still very competitive (obviously!).

The 2011 season has already been incredibly competitive, with three races breaking their record for lead changes in a race and Texas Motor Speedway last weekend coming within two lead changes of breaking their record.

The Daytona 500 was one of those record-breaking races, breaking the track record with 74 lead changes and 22 different leaders. Along with the lead changes came a record breaking number of cautions and caution laps.

While expecting Talladega to have 90+ lead changes is excessive, it wouldn’t be at all surprising especially if the two-car draft plays as big of a part this weekend as some are expecting it to.

Can Richard Childress Racing keep it’s streak alive? … In 2011, RCR swept both races at Talladega Superspeedway with Kevin Harvick edging out Jamie McMurray to win the spring race and Clint Bowyer edging out Harvick to take the fall win.

RCR holds the record for the most wins from an organization at Talladega. They have 11 wins, to Hendrick Motorsports’ 10.

Bonus questions: How many double entendres will the two-car draft cause? … What will be the craziest thing that goes on in the Talladega campground this weekend? … How soon do we see a racecar go airborne or flip over?
5 Questions Before ... Aaron's 499 5 Questions Before ... Aaron's 499 Reviewed by Summer Dreyer on Thursday, April 14, 2011 Rating: 5