TALLADEGA, AL - APRIL 17: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, crosses the finish line ahead of Clint Bowyer, driver of the #33 BB&T Chevrolet, and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/AARP Chevrolet, to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 17, 2011 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series heads to the biggest, baddest track of them all this weekend. Racing action at the 2.66 -mile Talladega Superspeedway is white-knuckled, and that's just for the fans.
That's really all that must be said, isn't it? Those nine letters alone can send chills up and down the spine of any racing enthusiast and certainly any racing competitor like few if any other words can.
Everything about Talladega epitomizes "big." It is the largest track in NASCAR, a 2.66-mile behemoth with a staggering 33-degrees of banking in its corners. Its infield night-life is as infamous as the track itself, a redneck Mardi Gras that leaves little to the imagination.
With restricted engines and plenty of room to race, Talladega always has the biggest pack in NASCAR racing, with 30-plus cars racing three-and-four-wide for several laps at a time. And it is that biggest pack that leads to perhaps the biggest aspect of Talladega racing of them all: The Big One.
Whether it is driver error, mechanical failure, or a blown tire, when that many cars are packed together at one time, the result is always the same: a heavy amount of carnage. The prospect of a major accident is what draws many, if not most, fans to Talladega and leaves the rest of us glued to our television screens. Some are looking forward to the crash, others are dreading it and hoping their favorite drivers are nowhere near when it breaks loose (count me among the latter category).
With big packs and big wrecks on a big race track, you might be wondering what else could be left to draw you to watching a race at Talladega. Take a look at the photo attached to this story. That is the conclusion of last year's Aaron's 499 Sprint Cup race, the event being held this weekend. Eight cars are under a blanket, racing for the win, and that was under last year's "tandem racing" format. If pack racing returns to Talladega as it did at Daytona in February, that group charging for the checkered flag could be doubled, tripled, or even more.
One thing is for certain: no matter the outcome of a race at Talladega, it's hard to feel as though you have wasted an afternoon by tuning in. Even if your favorite driver ends up a tantalizing second - as has been the case with my personal favorite on six different occasions, though he does have one win to offset those heartbreaks - you've usually been well entertained and on the edge of your seat for most of the previous couple of hours of racing.
It is cliche, but with Talladega, about all you can expect is the unexpected. It is 500 miles of the most white-knuckled, heart-pounding action of the entire racing season, in any division. And that is just for the fans. Imagine what those 43 drivers who take the green flag Sunday afternoon will be feeling as they race tighter than cars are jammed together in a parking lot with full knowledge that any mistake or malfunction could leave them sitting among a junkyard.
Talladega. That's all you have to say.