CUP: Once More – For The Good Times

The current variety of NASCAR Sprint Cup vehicles will race on a restrictor-plate track for the final time in Sunday’s Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

And that fact explains the extended Talladega schedule this week.

Drivers will test the 2013 Sprint Cup model cars at Talladega Wednesday in a session scheduled to run from noon to 5:30 p.m. (ET). Results of the test will be very important in determining the shape of rules for next season.

After a day’s break, teams will return to the 2.66-mile track Friday for the first day of a busy weekend that leads to Sunday’s race, the fourth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Although the first three races of the Chase have split the championship field into the “haves” (Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin) and the “have-nots” (practically everyone else), Talladega can scramble things in a heartbeat. The track’s big drafting packs sometimes create chaos, and the innocent often aren’t spared in big crashes.

Some drivers like to avoid the core drafting pack and ride in the back of the field, which often provides protection, then run to the front near the end of the race. Sometimes that works; sometimes it fails miserably.

“I don’t think there is a set strategy that works the best, because if there was everybody would be doing it,” said Jeff Gordon. “You know, you just have to go and race. It’s frustrating because you can go there for many, many races and you end up in a wreck no matter what you try.

“So it’s confusing, and you are not sure which one to try or which one to implement, so I think you just have to go there and race and do what you feel is right and hope that you don’t get caught up in it. You can do everything right all day long and still get caught up in it on the last lap, and that is what none of us really like about Talladega. We love the fact that drafting can be fun and the finish can be exciting, but what is completely unknown is when and how it’s going to happen, and it gets pretty frustrating.”

Although a “Big One” wreck at Talladega could be a downer for those at the front of Chase points, it also could offer a chance for those who are trailing to gain significant ground.

“If we are going to have any shot at moving up in the points and have any shot at the championship, then we are going to have to have things go well for us at Talladega, and there is no doubt about that so we do look at Talladega as an opportunity,” said Gordon, who is 10th in points.

“You know, everybody knows they can win there, like we can, and we have always had fast race cars there, and I have won there before. So, yes, for us we hope that this is the time where we survive the big one.”

Friday’s schedule at Talladega includes a pair of Sprint Cup practices – at 2:30 and 4 p.m. (ET).

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.