Saturday, May 4, 2013
Action aplenty Sunday at Talladega
By Matt Willis
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Last year, Brad Keselowski was the first car across at Talladega.
Talladega Superspeedway is the longest, highest-banked track on the Sprint Cup Series circuit –- and it’s also one of the wildest.
What should you know in assessing Sunday’s race there?
Expect a tight finish
Five of the six races at the track from 2010 to '12 were decided with a last-lap pass. The only exception in that span was last spring’s race, which Brad Keselowski won after passing Matt Kenseth and holding off Kyle Busch on a green-white-checkered finish with two laps to go.
Not only are the finishes usually up in the air at Talladega, the margins of victory are usually razor-thin. Dating back to when NASCAR began using electronic scoring in 1993, the average margin of victory at Talladega in races that don’t end under caution is 0.12 seconds, the tightest margin of victory of any track at that time.
To put the 0.12-second margin of victory in perspective, since 1993, only three tracks have an average margin of victory of less than a second: Talladega, Daytona (.28 sec) and Martinsville (.97 sec).
Also, don’t commit to picking a winner too early at Talladega. In 15 of the past 20 races there, the leader with 10 laps to go did not go on to win the race.
The wrecks can happen anytime
The last time the Sprint Cup Series raced at Talladega was in October. Kenseth won, but that was only half the story, as, on the final lap, Tony Stewart moved to block a fast-charging Michael Waltrip, triggering a 25-car accident.
Twenty-five cars make up about 58 percent of the 43-car field.
Dating back to 1990, that was the third-biggest accident at Talladega, a track renowned for “the big one.”
Talladega also features more last-lap wrecks than any other track. Since 1990, there have been seven at Talladega, involving a combined 61 cars.
No other track has more than four last-lap crashes in that time.
Anyone can run up front, but a big name will win
The commonly held opinion at Talladega is that any driver can win, thanks to the draft bunching the fields up and the unpredictability of the big wrecks.
That has held true to a certain degree, as 10 drivers have gotten their first career win at the track, the third-highest total at any track. Among that group, six never won another Cup Series race.
However, we’ve had only two first-time winners at Talladega since 1990, and one of those was Keselowski, who went on to win a Cup Series championship.
Even though the field is tight and the action bountiful, the cream has risen to the top.
In the past 11 seasons, 13 different drivers have won the 22 Talladega races. Six of those drivers were previous or future Sprint Cup Series champions, and five of the other seven had previously won a Nationwide Series championship.