Haunting questions about Talladega's new surface linger

The 2.66-mile Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama remains the wild card race for many of the Chase for the Nextel Cup drivers. Talladega has always been known for its unpredictability; the restrictor plate track is hard to negotiate and has a ...

The 2.66-mile Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama remains the wild card race for many of the Chase for the Nextel Cup drivers. Talladega has always been known for its unpredictability; the restrictor plate track is hard to negotiate and has a reputation for causing disastrous multi-car crashes.

The track has recently been repaved adding a soupcon of trepidation for the Chase drivers this weekend. Not that a certain amount of unease hasn't always existed when racing at Talladega.

For years it has been rumored that the Superspeedway was haunted, perhaps because of the manic nature of the race, which produces uncertain outcomes. Fans have been electrocuted, helicopters have crashed, lives have been lost; and all of that files in the history annals with a certain amount of lore.

"Well, I heard the story," Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said of the track being somewhat supernatural in essence. "When I was probably, I don't know -- I was racing late models in the mid '90s, I heard the story that Bobby Isaac heard voices. Leading the field, come in and parked it with ten to go or whatever when he was driving Bud Moore's car.

"You know, I believe it. Bobby Isaac comes in with the lead with 10 to go and tells you he heard voices, you better believe it. You know, I don't know. I definitely have a lot of respect for the racetrack. If what they say is true, you know, it would be kind of freaky. I've heard that story a long time ago, and I heard that the airport previous to the track was built on an ancient Indian burial ground. I don't know if that's true or not, but that would be quite a twist."

For fellow Chase competitor the demons may not be on track but in his own head. Mark Martin, a self-professed gloomy Gus, has set his expectations for the last restrictor plate race of the season fairly low.

"Based on my past experience, my expectation would be to wreck next week at Talladega (laughter), but so far I haven't had a disaster, so let's go see what happens," Martin commented post race in Kansas last weekend.

For Earnhardt, Martin and the other eight Chase contenders they can add in the new surface to an already heady equation. Six teams tested Talladega after the surface was redone and everyone seemed to agree that the new smooth track was better than the bumpy roadway that ate tires.

The looming question, however, is that testing with just a handful of cars gave no discernable answer to what the track will be like when 43-cars are racing an inch off each other's bumpers on Sunday. That is worrisome.

"You might get 15 to 18 cars in a draft (during practice), but you never get the whole group together to see what's going on," said Jimmie Johnson. "That's the toughest thing."

But Johnson's teammate and four-time series champion Jeff Gordon disagrees For Gordon, he thinks it will be business as usual.

"I don't think the change in the track is going to be a factor whatsoever," Gordon commented. "From what I hear, they just did a fantastic job. It is really smooth. It is going to allow us to take a car that aerodynamically is going to be a little bit slicker, a little bit better in the wind tunnel straight on because the track has grip.

"We don't really need a handling racecar, but that is pretty typical for Talladega. In the past we have been able to run from the white line to the wall. I think you are just going to continue to see typical Talladega racing that is going to be wild. Five wide at times, if it looks like guys are being more aggressive and doing more than normal and trying that much harder, they are going to do more to get up front and stay up front, I am going to play it as I see it. I might say, ok these guys are crazy and I need to get out of these situations. I have had to do that before.

"What I am not going to do is come to take the white flag and my teammate is leading the race, I am not going to put myself in position to pass him and fall back to 15th, I learned that lesson earlier in the year which I think was a very valuable lesson. Everything I have heard the track is beautiful, smooth as glass, they did an awesome job."

The factor that is haunting at Talladega and Daytona is always the same, overzealous rookies taking chances that could result in a giant melee. With the entry list including several drivers not particularly skilled in the fine dance of restrictor plate racing; Chase racers might want to be less concerned with ghosts in the infield and more fraught with who's running next to them; and whether or not they know what they're doing.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Mark Martin