When the socially awkward nerds of the television show “The Big Bang Theory,” led by Drs. Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper, proudly dubbed Thursday as “Anything Can Happen Thursday,” they just might have been on to something. Their proclamation is a bold statement (for them at least) that they should embrace the unpredictability of what lies ahead.
With the NASCAR caravan heading to Talladega Superspeedway this weekend for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 (1 p.m. ET, FOX), NASCAR drivers and teams should heed the words of those fictional geniuses and have the mindset that indeed “anything can (and probably will) happen Sunday.”
At Talladega, drivers have come to expect the unexpected and be prepared for anything. The 2.66-mile track has always been a bastion of surprises dating back to its inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in 1969 when Richard Brickhouse scored his only victory in the series. In all fairness to Brickhouse, he only made 39 starts over the course of five years, but anyone who says they pegged him as a favorite is lying.
Brickhouse isn’t alone. Dick Brooks (1973), Lennie Pond (1978), Ron Bouchard (1981), Bobby Hillin Jr. (1986) and Phil Parsons (1988) all notched their only career wins at the superspeedway. In addition, Davey Allison (1987), Ken Schrader (1988), Brian Vickers (2006) and Brad Keselowski (2009) all logged their first career wins at Talladega before going on to win at least once more in the series.
The truth of the matter regarding racing at Talladega is that no one knows what to expect there and its just as hard to identify the favorites. Anything can happen there and it usually boils down to who has good fortune on their side.
Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart summed it up best: “Someone described racing on the superspeedways of being a combination of a science project and the luck of a casino, and it’s exactly that way.
“You do everything in your power to take care of the science or the technology side. You do everything you can to build the fastest car. If you don’t have the luck to go with it – even if you don’t have any drama with getting the car touched, nothing happens to the car – if you’re just in the wrong spot at the wrong time, it can take you out of the opportunity to take the best race car in the field and win.”
Even last year’s two races at Talladega provided surprise winners. In the spring race, David Ragan avoided a late-race accident that collected 12 cars and was pushed to victory by his Front Row Motorsports teammate, giving the small team its first win in the premier series and its first 1-2 finish. Then in the fall race, Jamie McMurray was out in front of Dale Earnhardt Jr. when a last-lap accident involving Austin Dillon and Casey Mears ended the race under caution.
Although Talladega is the great equalizer and there are no clear-cut favorites, loop data at least suggests that Matt Kenseth, who won seven times in 2013 but has not found Victory Lane yet this season, has a good shot at performing well there. In the past 18 races, he has run the most laps in the top 15 (2,239) and led the most laps (407) with the second-highest driver rating (91.6).
NASCAR Sprint Cup regulars Clint Bowyer (two), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (five), Jeff Gordon (six), Jimmie Johnson (two), Brad Keselowski (two) and McMurray (two) all have multiple wins at the Alabama track.
However, past history and stats all go out the window once the green flag waves and drivers begin taking calculated (and sometimes uncalculated) risks hoping for the best. The drivers are in the dark just as much as the fans are in being able to identify favorites and predict the race’s outcome because anything can (and probably will) happen on Sunday at Talladega.
ELLIOTT HOPES DAYTONA’S RACE WILL HELP AT ‘DEGA
Chase Elliott has been nothing short of amazing this season – his first in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Through the first eight races, he’s posted two top 10s, including back-to-back wins at Texas and Darlington. His only non-top-10 finish came in the season opener at Daytona, where he finished a respectable 15th in his series debut. This weekend, however, could be a little speed bump in his stellar start.
If there is one thing Elliott took from the Daytona race that he could learn and apply to Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Talladega Superspeedway, it’s that he’ll need to improve on his ability to draft, which is important at the two restrictor-plate tracks on the schedule.
“Continuing to learn the draft will be key for me this weekend at Talladega,” Elliott said. “The notes my guys have from Daytona this year will also come in handy.”
Those notes gleaned from the Daytona event will be of the utmost importance this weekend since the 18-year-old driver from Georgia has never competed in a NASCAR national series race at the track.
Heading to the 2.66-mile superspeedway, Elliott holds a 19-point advantage over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith in the championship standings. In addition, he leads Ty Dillon in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings by 34 points.
JRM is having a renaissance-like year with the organization off to their best start in its history. Between Elliott, Smith and Kevin Harvick the three have won half of the season’s events.
In the most recent race, at Richmond, Harvick held off a hard-charging Elliott over the final laps to give JRM its first 1-2 finish in the series.
Regardless of how he runs at Talladega, Elliott is excited about the opportunity to race at one of the most challenging and unpredictable tracks on the schedule.
“I’m looking forward to getting to Talladega and putting on a show.”