A Closer Look at Talladega Speedway
After a hectic week last week that saw races take place at Atlanta Motor Speedway (Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500), Martinsville (Blu Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Dixie Vodka 400) in the span of eight days, NASCAR drivers got a bit of a break this week. There is no mid-week race this week, giving teams a full week to rest, recover and prepare for the next stop on the circuit. That comes at Talladega Speedway in the Yellowhammer State for the GEICO 500 on Sunday afternoon. Before the race Sunday, we’ll give you some background on the track and which racers have had the most success.
Talladega was conceived by Bill France Sr. in the mid-1960s after a trip to Daytona. His plan was to make Talladega the fastest, longest oval track in the United States. After building the track on the grounds of the old Anniston Air Force Base, with construction beginning on May 23, 1968. The first race to take place on the track for NASCAR was a Grand Touring race, the Bama 400, on September 13, 1968, with Ken Rush taking the checkered flag. The next day, the first NASCAR Grand National race, the Talladega 500, was run. Richard Brickhouse won the race, holding off Jim Vandiver and Ramo Stott as the only three cars on the lead lap. At that point, it was known as Alabama International Motor Speedway: it didn’t take on the Talladega name until 1989.
The track is a tri-oval, measuring a hefty 2.66 miles in length, which puts it a full one-sixth of a mile longer than Daytona. In addition, the turns are banked at 33 degrees, two degrees higher than Daytona, making it arguably the fastest track there is on the circuit. Over the years, the track has lived up to that billing: on April 29, 1982, Benny Parsons became the first driver to crack the 200 mph mark in qualifying by running a lap at 200.176 mph. Just over three years later, on November 26, 1985, Lyn St. James became the first woman to blow past the 200 mph mark at the track. On May 4, 1986, all 40 cars that qualified for the field turned in qualifying speeds over 200 mph, marking the first time that happened in history. Bill Elliott set the record for qualifying on May 1, 1987 by cranking out a lap at 212.809 mph.
One of the things that really stands out when one races at Talladega is the potential for “The Big One”, a crash that can wipe out a slew of cars in one fell swoop. Prime examples of the proverbial Big One include the 2003 Aaron’s 499, in which a crash started when Ryan Newman hit the wall ended up involving 28 cars in the wreck. Amazingly enough, that one was upstaged just two years later at the 2005 Aaron’s 499 as a staggering 31 cars were taken out in a crash. The damages in that accident were estimated at $8 million and it delayed the race nearly 45 minutes in order to clean up some of the mess. See for yourself:
When it comes to having experience at the track among current drivers, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch lead the way with 38 runs here in their careers. Ryan Newman, who was at the heart of the Big One in 2003, along with Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth each have raced here 36 times. Thirteen different active drivers have claimed the checkered flag here at Talladega though only four have multiple victories. Brad Keselowski leads the way with five while Joey Logano has three wins. Clint Bowyer and Johnson each have a pair to their credit. Kurt Busch and Logano each have eight top-five showings to lead the way, while Bowyer, Newman, Keselowski, Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin all have seven. Kurt Busch has the most top-10 showings among active drivers with 20. Newman and Harvick each have 15 while Bowyer and Johnson each have 13.
Ryan Blaney earned the win in the most recent race at the track, taking the 1000Bulbs.com 500 on October 14, 2019. He held off Newman by the narrowest of margins, taking the checkered flag by .007 seconds. Going into the race, Harvick leads the Cup Series standings by eight points over Elliott. Logano (29 points back) is third, with Keselowski (51 points back) and Blaney (52 points back) rounding out the top five. There will be no qualifying for the race as NASCAR is content to go with the drawing for starting spots as it has worked fairly well so far. In addition, there will be no practice sessions. The race is expected to drop the green flag at 3 pm ET with television coverage provided by FOX.