Talladega Superspeedway is known as a track where anyone can win. It is often more about survival than finesse and it’s had it share of underdogs in the winner’s circle. Drivers such as Richard Brickhouse, Dick Brooks, Lennie Pond and Ron Bouchard visited victory lane at Talladega for their first and only career win in NASCAR’s top series. In 2013, David Ragan gave Front Row Motorsports its first ever Sprint Cup win at Talladega. The only thing predictable about Talladega is its unpredictability.
However, there are some drivers who have conquered the restrictor-plate track, most notably, Dale Earnhardt, who accumulated 10 victories at Talladega and remains atop the all-time winners list.
By The Numbers:
1) Brad Keselowski enters the race as the defending champion. Last season he advanced to the Eliminator Round of the Chase with a win at Talladega in October after taking the lead on a green-white-checkered restart and holding off all challengers. He has made two other trips to victory lane at the track, in 2012 and in 2009, where he led only the last lap to grab his first Cup career win. Keselowski has proven that he knows how to make things happen at Talladega and with one win already under his belt this season, he has nothing to lose.
2) Jeff Gordon is second on the all-times win list at Talladega with six, the most of any active driver. In addition, he is the all-time restrictor-plate wins leader with 12 and leads all active drivers in top-five finishes, top-10s and laps led at Talladega Superspeedway. (Dale Earnhardt Sr. ranks second with 11).
Gordon seems to be hitting his stride after a rocky beginning to the season and is currently the only driver to have finished in the top-10 in each of the last six races. The streak has moved him from as low as 36th in the points to his current position of 10th. With a little luck, this could be his chance to secure his spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, although his last win was in 2007.
3) Kurt Busch is coming off a win at Richmond and sits in seventh place on the Chase Grid. This is even more impressive when you consider that he missed three races this season. Also of note, he ranks fourth in fastest laps run (217) and second in laps led (536)
Busch is fourth in the driver ratings at Talladega and his confidence is growing each week. Look for him to be a contender as he carries that momentum to Talladega.
4) Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s five victories at Talladega put him third on the all-time list and are the most for him at any track. He also set a record for most consecutive wins with four from October 2001 to April 2003. Of additional significance, he has led in all but three of the 30 Cup races he has entered at the superspeedway for a total of 832 laps. The only other track where he has led more laps is Martinsville (972 laps).
Even though his last win was in 2004, Earnhardt’s statistics are still imposing claiming the series-best average running position (14.5), the second-best driver rating (90.7) and the third- most quality passes (4,478). Plus, he has led laps in 27 of his 30 Talladega starts. Earnhardt is still searching for his first win and there’s no place better than at one of his favorite tracks on the circuit.
Top 10 Driver Ratings at Talladega Superspeedway:
95.6 – Kyle Larson
90.7 – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
89.9 – Matt Kenseth
88.3 – Kurt Busch
87.5 – Jimmie Johnson
85.0 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
84.0 – Brian Vickers
82.9 – Brad Keselowski
82.2 – Joey Logano
82.0 – Denny Hamlin
Martin Truex Jr. “I’ve been all over the place at Talladega. However, the one place I haven’t been to in the Sprint Cup Series is Talladega’s Victory Lane, and it’s about time that we get there. I am confident that we will have a contending car on Sunday.”
Jeff Gordon: “Restrictor-plate racing is a white-knuckle experience where we race in big packs while trying to avoid the ‘big one’ – the big wreck that collects a lot of race cars.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “The guy that’s leading the race really is the guy controlling everything. He can block and he can do whatever he needs to do as far as getting in front of the line that’s coming to be able to get the push to maintain his speed. He can do so much more than everyone else in the field. And that’s just the best place to be.”
Greg Biffle: “I finished second in this race last year and I’m excited to go back. Talladega is a good opportunity for us to win a race, its pure speed and we have fast Speedway cars, so I’m looking forward to this weekend.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: “I’m looking forward to Talladega after seeing the speed our cars had at Daytona earlier this season. We need a win to make the Chase and I think that Talladega is great opportunity for us to be able to get that win. If we can stay out of trouble and avoid the notorious ‘big one’, I think we can leave Talladega with a solid finish.”
Denny Hamlin: Last year at Talladega, we finally got our first plate win, and it was big for our team. It obviously gave us a Chase berth and a lot of momentum. This year, hopefully, we can get another win there to get more bonus points. It’s all about winning for us.”
A Slice of Talladega History:
Thirty years ago Bill Elliott experienced one of the greatest comebacks in NASCAR history at Talladega. The year was 1985 and although his car had led 25 laps of the 1985 Winston 500, an unscheduled pit stop to fix a broken oil fitting line left Elliott almost two laps down, a five-mile deficit.
Elliott did what he did best. He put the pedal to the floor and passed the field twice in less than 100 laps. Back on the lead lap, Elliott raced into victory lane. But the story doesn’t end there.
R.J. Reynolds had offered the “Winston Million” to any driver that could win three of the sport’s four biggest races; the Daytona 500, Winston 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500. Elliott had already won the Daytona 500 and after the victory at Talladega went on to win the Southern 500 at Darlington, earning that “Winston Million.” It catapulted him into the national headlines with a spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Elliott celebrated the anniversary by re-creating that Talladega win. He strapped into the Ford Thunderbird, put on a helmet, ran five laps and drove to victory lane where he was given a replica trophy. The car hadn’t been cranked since it was put on display at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1986.
He said being back in the car felt “like a million bucks. I really miss the competitive side of racing week-in and week-out. I ran so many laps around this race track and tested here so many times in my career. It feels like it was yesterday I was racing here.”
Racing at Talladega Superspeedway is challenging, both physically and mentally. Tune into the Geico 500 Sunday on FOX at 1 p.m. ET to discover who emerges victorious.