Each time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to Talladega, the storylines are the same – the big one, the wildcard, anything could happen, anyone could win. The same holds true heading into the Camping World RV Sales 500 this Sunday. On Friday at Talladega drivers were sharing their thoughts about this weekend’s race and how they are planning to get through it unscathed.
Points leader, Matt Kenseth, talked about what he has learned during his career at the 2.66 mile superspeedway saying, “Well, I don’t know what good it’s going to do me to get freaked out about it right now. I think they’ve been working really hard on this car and I know TRD (Toyota Racing Development) has been working on engines, so hopefully we’ve got some speed when we get out there and draft a little but today.” He continued, “Just like every week I think, you go out and try to do the best job you can do with controlling the things you can control and not worry about the things that you can’t.”
The problem at Talladega is – all of the things you can’t control, are on the edge being out of control. 43 cars running on the edge, a fine line between making a successful corner, and being towed to the garage on a hook. The restrictor plate style racing lends itself to large pack racing, racing that provides excitement and intrigue for the fans, and nervous anxiousness, stress and fear of the next lap being the end of the race for teams.
Rookie of the year contender, Danica Patrick, talked about her level of preparation for this weekend, “There is a certain level of it that of course is a little bit of a crapshoot, but there are patterns. I would say that one of my patterns is that they tend to be better races for me and that find a way to the front for a majority of the race. Hopefully, this will be another one of those and that I know that Stewart-Hass builds great superspeedway cars. I feel very comfortable and confident on these tracks.”
Confidence can be a driver’s best friend, but it can also be their worst enemy. At Talladega, one must have the confidence to make that daring move that can propel them to a win, however, too much confidence can lead to a driver being careless and making “banzai” moves that create the “big one”. The best drivers are the ones who can balance their confidence level with reason, logic and intelligence. The fact that we complete any laps before creating a $20 million dollar junkyard is proof positive that, for the most part, they do a very good job at it.
Jeff Gordon was added to the Chase as a 13th driver in an unprecedented move by NASCAR in an effort to rectify a bad situation caused by Michael Waltrip Racing at Richmond. Gordon has made the best of his fortune by running well and staying consistent. He currently finds himself fourth in the points, 36 out of the lead. Gordon talked about Talladega being a game changer, “Well, we have nothing to lose. We’re sitting fourth in points. We came into (the Chase) 13th. We’re sitting here in a great position and everything is a bonus from here on out for us. We’re certainly more in the mode of we’re not probably on eggshells like some of the guys are ahead of us in points and have everything to lose.”
This attitude can be very dangerous for Gordon’s competitors. Couple this with Gordon’s desire to win a fifth championship, and the crafty race calls of crew chief, Alan Gustafson, can be a recipe for success. This just may be Gordon’s year.
There are always many different strategies and theories on how to get through this wildcard weekend. There is no correct answer. It is, as Danica said, a crapshoot. It really just boils to down to who is at the right place at the right time. Yet a team must create a plan for its own piece of mind. As we saw at the end of the Camping Word Truck race on Saturday, chaos and calamity are just under the surface, ready to strike at any time. One can only hope they make it through and survive NASCAR’s wildcard weekend.