Talladega: Jimmy Spencer preview

The Tide, the Tigers, and Mongo. MOORESVILLE, N.C. (April 2, 2003) - There's something to be said about a place that boasts one of the most exciting races of the year and still ranks it below spring football, which is nothing more than a month...

The Tide, the Tigers, and Mongo.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (April 2, 2003) - There's something to be said about a place that boasts one of the most exciting races of the year and still ranks it below spring football, which is nothing more than a month of glorified practices.

"But that's Alabama," says Jimmy Spencer, an avid fan of the gridiron. "College football rules in Alabama. If you don't like it, they'll tell you to go somewhere else, because they're not changing."

Nor should they. Between the University of Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn University Tigers, there is little room for a 500-mile race. Perhaps that is why Talladega Superspeedway hosts the only 499-miler on the schedule -- because to run that 500th mile would require an extra 52 seconds that could be better spent discussing which freshman recruit ran the fastest 100-yard gasser.

Nonetheless, the NASCAR Winston Cup boys will still get their turn on Alabama's center stage this weekend with Sunday's running of the Aaron's 499 (1 p.m. ET on Fox), and will do so in front a crowd of more than 160,000. The SIRIUS Dog Pound has been itching for another chance at a restrictor-plate race ever since an early accident in the Daytona 500 (Feb. 16) prohibited it from truly flexing its superspeedway muscles.

With race eight of 36 now upon us, Spencer slows down to discuss a handful of topics, including this weekend's race, his Talladega win in 1994 and, of course, football in Alabama. According to Spencer, Dennis Franchione isn't high on Mongo's list either.

Jimmy Spencer's thoughts:

A Chevrolet has won each of the last eight races at Talladega. Do the Dodges have a chance this weekend?

"Well, I think they have a chance every weekend. It's obvious the DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) teams are very strong, and so is the whole GM speedway program. But with Ryan Newman breaking through for Dodge last week, that was big. The Dodges have been qualifying well; they just weren't getting to Victory Lane until last week. The Dodges seem to run well on superspeedways, and with the new body rules, I think we'll be more competitive in these restrictor-plate races."

You've always liked Talladega. Why is that?

"Because it's fast, there's a lot of room to race, and it's great for the fans. I don't care what people say about how the racing is too close, and that it's a recipe for disaster. The restrictor plates are here to stay. I've always liked Talladega and Daytona because they are high adrenaline tracks and they require strategy. It's everything you could want in a race."

Because of the restrictor plates, most people expect a big wreck at these superspeedways to take out 10 or 15 cars in one swipe. Do you expect the "big one" again?

"I hope it doesn't happen, but it usually does. I know I catch flack for saying this, but I honestly believe that 99 out of 100 times, the 'big one' is started by driver error. Some teams come in with a strategy on how to avoid it, but it's really a game of chance."

Then what is your philosophy - patience or aggressiveness?

"I don't think you can predict what you're going to do. I think it depends on how your car is handling. The 13-gallon fuel cells will play into it, because it's obvious you're going to be making pit stops under green. A lot of things will happen on the pit stops that will dictate how the race comes out."

What do you remember most about your win here in 1994?

"I remember that I had a chance to win the spring race at Talladega, but I made a mistake and ended up finishing third or fourth. So I went back to the fall race convinced I wouldn't make that mistake again. My mistake was that I waited too long to make my move, and I ended up getting boxed in. So in the fall race, I had already decided that if I could make a move and get to the front, I'd do it and take the results as they came. That's what I did. I got to the front of the pack and held off Bill Elliott for the win."

What's it like to win in front of the fans in Alabama?

"There's nothing like it. Talladega is such an extraordinary place, and a lot of that has to do with the fans there. I met a guy about 10 years ago at Talladega, and he said he'd been coming to the races for 13 or 14 years, and I've seen him about every year since I met him. I remember he told me there are only two things in life he looks forward to: Alabama football and Talladega race weekends. I hope I see him again this year, because I'd love to ask him what he thinks about their new head coach."

Or better yet, ask him what he thinks about their old coach. Those people in Alabama didn't think too fondly of Dennis Franchione leaving to take the coaching job at Texas A&M.

"Boy, that's the truth. I've heard all kinds of funny stories about some of the ways Alabama fans voiced their displeasure. The way I see it, if he was doing what was best for his family, it's hard to fault a guy for that. But it ticked Mongo off. Mongo is an upbeat kind of dog, but when Franchione left, Mongo listened to the blues channel on his SIRIUS radio for about a month. He wasn't happy."

I didn't know Mongo was an Alabama fan.

"Mongo likes everybody. He's a lover, not a hater."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bill Elliott , Jimmy Spencer , Ryan Newman