Published January 13, 2015
When NASCAR comes to Talladega Superspeedway, it's usually a wild weekend of racing. While the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series run at Talladega, the IZOD IndyCar Series heads to Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Sprint Cup Series
Aaron's 499 - Talladega Superspeedway - Talladega, Ala.
NASCAR's new Sprint Cup Series race car, the Gen-6, will be a big topic again this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.
The Gen-6 wasn't exactly a hit in the first restrictor-plate race of the season, the Feb. 24 Daytona 500. The somewhat disappointing race at Daytona International Speedway featured just 28 lead changes due to a lack of passing. In fact, there were long periods of drivers running in single file before things got dicey in the closing laps.
Talladega and Daytona are both restrictor-plate tracks in NASCAR, but Talladega is slightly bigger and wider than Daytona.
So, will we see more passing and side-by-side racing at Talladega compared to Daytona?
"I would expect the racing to be similar to Daytona," said Matt Kenseth, who won the most recent race at Talladega last October. "Now, I dropped out of Daytona in the last 50 laps (due to engine failure), but I would expect the racing to be similar, because there were no rule changes. The tracks are a little bit different. There's more room at Talladega. I don't think handling will be a huge issue, although it actually kind of was for some cars. I expect it to be the same.
"But I will say that in Daytona, it's not that people don't want to take chances. It's not like you don't want to pass. If everybody could go up there, have a shot at leading, they will go do that. It's just circumstances and the way the car was and the way the draft worked. It just made the racing different. You had to be much more patient than you had to be last year. You had to be much more calculating with your move."
Kenseth, who made his first start in the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Daytona 500, led a race-high 86 laps before his engine expired, which resulted in a 37th-place finish.
Sprint Cup teams will find out how fast and how well the car handles at this 2.66-mile track during Friday's practice sessions. Qualifying for Sunday's race is scheduled for Saturday.
"I'm certainly very anxious to see, because it's a bigger, wider racetrack compared to Daytona," said Hendrick Motorsports driver and six-time Talladega race winner Jeff Gordon. "In Daytona, I felt like we learned a lot about being very patient and picking and choosing your moments to try to make passes. I certainly tried to make some that didn't work out and cost us a lot of positions. We saw single file through the middle section of the race, but yet still be extremely exciting in the closing laps. I think that you are going to see certainly that at the end.
"The unknown is with this bigger, wider track. Are we going to be able to complete those passes that we weren't able to do at Daytona? We did see handling be a bigger issue at Daytona, when you were around other cars on the longer runs. That doesn't normally seem to be the case at Talladega, so we won't know until we get there, get in practice, start drafting and run our race."
While there is a lot of curiosity about the car's first time at Talladega, drivers are more concerned about making it through the 500-mile race without being involved in "the big one." When NASCAR comes to this track, you can expect one or more major crashes to occur.
That was certainly the case here seven months ago when a 25-car accident occurred on the final turn of the last lap. Tony Stewart, who was leading at the time, triggered the wreck when he drove down the track and into the path of Michael Waltrip while trying to protect his lead. After Waltrip hit him from behind, Stewart's car spun around and then flipped over onto several other vehicles. Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a concussion during that wreck and had to miss the championship Chase races at Charlotte and Kansas.
"Someone described racing on the superspeedways of being a combination of a science project and the luck of a casino, and it's exactly that way," Stewart said. "You do everything in your power to take care of the science or technology side, do everything you can to build the fastest car you've got.
"But if you don't have the luck to go with it, even if you don't have any drama with getting the car touched - nothing happens to the car - if you're just in the wrong spot at the wrong time at the end, it can take you out of whatever opportunity you had. You can have the best race car in the field and not get the chance to get through to the front."
While Kenseth was quickly declared the race winner, it took nearly one hour for NASCAR to review the video of the final lap and determine the finishing order.
"I don't think I've ever seen a race at Talladega that wasn't a great, entertaining, edge of your seat race, so I don't see why that would be any different," Kenseth said.
Kenseth's JGR teammate, Kyle Busch, avoided the big wrecks at Talladega last year, finishing second in the spring race and third in the fall event.
"I would say Talladega is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical, while most other non-restrictor-plate races are 80 percent physical and 20 percent mental," said Busch, who turned 28 years old on Thursday. "Both races there last year, we survived the big wreck but just came up short both times, so I'm hoping to be in position with our (car) on Sunday to give it another shot at the win."
Danica Patrick will compete in a Sprint Cup race at Talladega for the first time. Patrick, in her first full season in the series, won the pole position for the Daytona 500. She became the highest-finishing female ever in that event with an eighth-place run. She was running in third on the last lap but lost momentum, as she was shuffled back in the pack.
"I feel like I've learned some lessons from Daytona about the draft and how that unfolds at the end, if you are in the right place at the right time," Patrick said. "I think that, when we talk superspeedway racing, there's a lot of luck involved. Like I said, right place at the right time - there are a lot of people who have a good chance of winning Talladega, I think. Hopefully, we are one of them at the end of the race. But, we won't know that until end of the race."
Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Aaron's 499.
Aaron's 312 - Talladega Superspeedway - Talladega, Ala.
When the Nationwide Series races at Talladega Superspeedway, it's usually a wild affair.
Big wrecks and close finishes generally happen in a Nationwide event at this 2.66-mile racetrack.
The race here two years ago featured a track-record 56-lead changes, 11 cautions and two red flags for extensive cleanup efforts. Kyle Busch was involved in a 21-car accident late in the race, but he somehow bounced back to win it. The event was extended with two green-white-checkered finishes. Busch propelled to the lead on the final lap when Joey Logano bumped him to the front. He remained the leader when the race ended under caution for an accident.
Last year, Logano edged Busch to the finish line by just 0.034 seconds after Logano made a sling-shot pass on Busch for the lead as they approached the line. The race ended in a green-white-checkered finish after a vicious 10-car crash took place on the backstretch in the closing laps. Eric McClure slammed head on into the inside retaining wall at a high rate of speed, forcing NASCAR to halt the event briefly, as track safety personnel attended to McClure. He suffered a concussion during the wreck and missed the next five races.
There are three restrictor-plate races on the Nationwide schedule each season -- two at Daytona International Speedway and one at Talladega. These events feature tight packs of cars, which can be a recipe for disaster.
"I wish I could decide more when and where wrecks are going to happen, but it's always a surprise when they do, and they happen at really random times," said Brian Scott, who drives the No. 2 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. "It's so hard to miss them when they do, other than the fact that you're running in a pack all close together. I hope that everybody keeps their cool, and we make it to the end of the race before things get wild. And I hope we're in front of it."
When the series competed at Daytona on Feb. 23, a horrifying accident occurred on the frontstretch during the final lap, injuring dozens of spectators in the grandstands. Rookie Kyle Larson flipped around and sailed into the catchfence before coming back down on the track. Race fans were struck by flying debris from Larson's car and the fence. Track personnel worked throughout the night to repair the fence in time for the Daytona 500.
In wake of the Daytona incident, the crossover gate areas at Talladega have been reinforced as part of new safety measures. Daytona will also make the same changes to its fence in time for the July races there.
Logano will try to defend his race win at Talladega. He is making his first Nationwide start this season. It will also be the first time the Penske Racing driver gets behind the wheel of a Ford Mustang.
"It's been a long time coming for sure," said Logano, who won the most races in the series last year with nine. "I really enjoy running in the Nationwide Series, and to sit there and watch all of the races up to this point this season has been hard. I'm a racer, and I just want to be out there running as much as I can. So, I'm pretty excited to finally get a chance to get behind the wheel of the car and check out these Ford Mustangs."
Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne and Danica Patrick join Logano as those Sprint Cup regulars scheduled to compete in this race. Patrick will drive the No. 34 Chevrolet for Turner Scott Motorsports. She drove that car in the season- opener at Daytona, finishing 36th due to engine failure in the early going. Kyle Busch, winner of four races this season, is not competing at Talladega.
Forty-two teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Aaron's 312.
IZOD INDYCAR SERIES
Sao Paulo Indy 300 - Streets of Sao Paulo - Sao Paulo, Brazil
There have been three IndyCar Series races in Sao Paulo, and Will Power has won all of them.
Power will not only try to win in South America's largest city for the fourth consecutive time but also snap a one-year long winless streak in the series. Once dominant on the road/street courses, the Team Penske driver has not been to victory circle in the last 14 races.
When the series first raced on the 2.536-mile, 11-turn Sao Paulo street circuit in 2010, Power survived a spectacular opening-lap crash and then endured heavy rain before making a winning pass on Ryan Hunter-Reay in the closing minutes for the win. The race was scheduled for 75 laps, but IndyCar officials placed a two-hour limit on the event due to numerous cautions for accidents and a brief halt for a thunderstorm.
With the 2011 race delayed one day due to heavy rain, Power once again survived a rash of accidents and dealt with wet track conditions. He took the lead for good with 10 minutes remaining in the timed-event and then crossed the finish line almost five seconds ahead of his closest competitor, Graham Rahal.
Power continued his dominance in Brazil last year, leading 63 of 75 laps. It was his third consecutive victory of the season. He had won at Barber Motorsports Park and on the streets of Long Beach, Calif. prior to Brazil.
"Brazil is probably the best street course that we go to," Power said. "It has the most passing opportunities, and a massive crowd is there. It's a cool street circuit, and it's a lot of fun."
Power has started on the pole in the last two races in Brazil. He started fifth in the inaugural event.
Right now, Power is eighth in the point standings. He is 37 points behind leader and Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, who is one of three Brazilians competing in this race. Sao Paulo is Castroneves' hometown.
"It's great to be in Sao Paulo, because it's an awesome place," Castroneves said. "The fans love it. The fans going there just shows that Brazilians really love race cars and IndyCar there."
Ana Beatriz, who drives for Dale Coyne Racing, is also from Sao Paulo, while KV Racing Technology driver Tony Kanaan is from Salvador, Brazil.
"I love it, and I love to race in front of my fans, my family and my friends, everybody who doesn't have a chance to come to America and watch us," Kanaan said. "I definitely have the biggest fan base when we go race there."
After scoring his first career IndyCar victory two weeks ago in Long Beach, Takuma Sato moved up to second in the rankings. Sato, in his first season with A.J. Foyt Racing, is just six points behind Castroneves.
"This is just the start," Sato said. "Now we're going back to Brazil. It's a different street course, but I hope we have a strong package and just keep continuing with it."
Twenty-five teams are entered for the Sao Paulo Indy 300.