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Unpredictable Talladega Superspeedway Will Define 2016 Championship Hunt
- Updated: October 17, 2016
By Jerry Jordan, Editor
TALLADEGA, Ala. – When it was first built mortal men feared it because it was too fast, too unpredictable and too dangerous to race on. Now, nearly 50 years later, mortal men still fear Talladega Superspeedway but not because it’s too fast or too or too dangerous but because it’s the cutoff race in Round 2 of The Chase, NASCAR’s playoff format, and it remains unpredictable – a crapshoot for drivers hoping to advance to Round 3.
However, while the drivers will go into this weekend attacking trepidatiously, trying to figure out a strategy that lets them battle for the win at the end of the 500-mile knuckle-clenching day, tens of thousands of race fans will whoop and holler, throwing fists in the air as they cheer on their favorite drivers and boo the ones they secretly hope get spun out or caught in The Big One.
It’s the nature of Talladega and, Grant Lynch, the track’s president, believes that should any driver be bold enough to say the 2.66-mile track is their favorite, well, “their lying.”
“I think when it was first built, right from the start in 1969, it is the only time I am aware of that the actual stars of the sport were afraid to race at a place,” Lynch said. “So, it opened under the shadow of all those major drivers boycotting that race and not being willing to race. So, what happened is that Mr. (Bill) France (Sr.), had all the tickets sold, so what he had to do was talk the guys, who had raced on Saturday, into staying over and racing on Sunday and telling them, ‘I’ll pay you both purses.’ And then he told the crowd, which he had a real problem with because they didn’t get to see the race they wanted to see, that forever if they bring their stub from that race to Talladega or Daytona, he would give them a free ticket to the race. What made that so smart was that he knew he couldn’t pack the house at Talladega the next year, so he took both racetracks and it was a way spread that loss, so to speak, over a big period of time and that is how he kept from going broke.”
Once the cars were on the track, the rest was history. This weekend’s Alabama 500 is just another chapter in what has become one of the most-anticipated races of the season. Kevin Harvick closed out the win last week at Kansas Speedway, which gave him a proverbial free-pass should his car get wiped out in The Big One. Likewise, Jimmie Johnson also has a safety net after his win at Charlotte Motor Speedway. But this is the Round of 12 and there are 10 other drivers that need to stay out of trouble and be in the Top 8 when they leave Sunday evening.
Matt Kenseth (3rd), Kyle Busch (4th) Carl Edwards (5th) and Kurt Busch (6th) are probably safe but Martin Truex Jr. needs to have a solid day and since Joey Logano is tied with Austin Dillon for the final transfer spot, he needs to avoid mistakes, even though he would technically advance based on his highest finish in Round 2.
Dillon can’t afford a lackluster run and he needs to edge out Logano if he hopes to have a shot at moving on. He’s in the bottom four of the standings with Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott. It may not be a must-win scenario but it would be the safest bet and that is going to set-up a battle for position throughout the race that will keep fans on their seats.
“When the drivers get ready to race at Talladega and they do what they can do there, and I have been every racetrack on the circuit, it’s the dadgummist thing I have ever seen because it will take your breath away. We hold all the competition records for closest finishes in all three series,” Lynch said. “We also hold the record for the number of lead changes, at 88, and the number of drivers to swap the lead, at 29, so it’s the bigness of the place and it’s the excitement of what you are going to see on the racetrack that defines Talladega.
“We aren’t the drivers’ favorite racetrack and I think if they said we were, they might be lying. Now, Brad Keselowski might tell that he likes Talladega but I still don’t believe it’s in a driver’s favorite racetrack category and I am comfortable with that. It’s a tough place to drive and you don’t have as much control of your destiny as you do at other racetracks but it’s breathtaking to watch.”
Lynch said the anticipation of the action on the track coupled with the thousands of fans makes also makes Talladega the biggest party-destination in NASCAR. The infield festivities are legendary, complete with concerts, a strange form of Jell-O wrestling, a Mardi Gras-esque parade and flowing alcohol along what is known as, Talladega Boulevard. Plus, the track even has its own jail.
“You’ll probably see some stuff you’ve never seen before,” Lynch joked, when discussing what one can expect should they be brave enough to traverse the famous boulevard. “You’re going to meet people that are there to have a good time but we don’t have a lot of people that cause problems.
“We are going to have a lot of over-beveraged guests there this weekend and most of them don’t ever cause any problem. But if they do, we know how to handle that too. We’ve been handling that for a long, long time.”
When asked about the jail, Lynch laughed and said, “It’s a guest information center. We’re going to inform you that you are arrested.”
Lynch said the overall experience of being at Talladega is one reason why so many fans make it their single destination event during the racing season. And he said the price to get in on the action is the best in the business.
While there are limited numbers based on a first-come, first-serve basis, fans can get Sprint Cup tickets starting at $50. Plus, kids get an even deeper discount on tickets and Lynch said despite Talladega’s party atmosphere, young fans are a huge part of the track’s target audience.
“We have had a children’s program since I got there and it was free,” Lynch said. “Now, I think the Sunday ticket is $10 or you get $50 off any other ticket for a child. And we actually have an alcohol-free campground and, on Sunday morning, I think we have three or four church services across our property. So, yeah, we tell people we are the party capital of NASCAR but at the same time, you can call our ticket office and say, ‘I want a little bit of partying but by midnight I want to go to sleep.’ And they are going to direct them to the campground they need to go to. Of course, we’ll have those that say they want the wildest place on the property and we tell them to go to a different campground.
“We kind of section our groups out that way and I think we have a little bit of something for everybody.”
A few additional bonuses for this weekend, rookie driver Chase Elliott will host “Chase U” where college-aged fans can get tickets for $24 and meet the young superstar. And Lynch said there is also a ticket program for active members of the military. For more information or to purchase tickets check out www.nascar.com/tickets or call 1-877-Go2-DEGA.
“The size and scope of our track lets us do things that other tracks can’t do,” Lynch said. “So, if you cannot not afford to come and spend a weekend with us at Talladega, there isn’t another racetrack that is going to give you the value for your dollar that you are going to get here at Talladega Superspeedway.”