The last time the Sprint Cup raced in Talladega, Brian Vickers left feeling that the drivers looked like a bunch of pansies.
After NASCAR’s ban on bump drafting last year made it impossible for drivers to race hard, fans and competitors alike expressed their displeasure at the rule change. And NASCAR listened.
So the odds of a repeat of last year’s yawner at this weekend’s Aaron's 499 is pretty much zero after NASCAR repealed its ban, leaving the drivers to bump draft at their leisure at the Talladega Superspeedway.
That always makes things interesting, because the pack racing caused by the restrictor plates used at Talladega to reduce horsepower also make it notorious for big crashes.
With inches separating the cars for the better part of 188 laps, one small weave or one tiny bobble can wreak havoc on the field. The biggest wreck at Talladega happened in 2003 when 27 cars got caught up in a crash four laps into the April race.
"You can’t let your guard down. A lot of things can happen there that are out of your control." –Brian Vickers
There’s no way around it: the threat of getting sucked into a frame-bending pile-up constantly stares the drivers in the face. “You can’t let your guard down,” says Vickers. “A lot of things can happen there that are out of your control. You just do your part the best you can and hope the rest of it avoids you.”
Vickers arrived in Talladega looking to forget a difficult race in Texas last weekend, where he had two tires fail and then retired when choking blue smoke from a rubbing tire filled the cockpit, sending him to the medical center for oxygen. He finished in 38th place, 142 laps adrift of the leaders.
The result has him in 19th with 835 points, 106 outside the coveted top-12 spots that make the Chase for the Cup. Luckily, things usually work out well for Vickers at Talladega. He scored his first-ever Sprint Cup win in the fall race there in 2006.
In all, he has five top-10 finishes at the high banked, 2.66-mile tri-oval, including last year’s spring stop where BV overcame poor qualifying that saw him start 30th to finish eighth. In the fall, he crossed the line 13th.
That early race last year also delivered Scott Speed’s best result in his career so far. The No. 82 Red Bull Toyota driver ran well all day and appeared to be headed for a top-10 finish when opportunity knocked. With his buddy Kyle Busch giving him a push, Speed threaded his way through a final-corner crash that involved two of the leaders to take his first top-five finish.
Speed’s fifth combined with Vickers’ eighth represents Team Red Bull’s top combined finish in just over three seasons of Sprint Cup competition.
Speed will be hoping to continue his string of good results in 2010, where he’s finished in the top-20 four times in eight starts. He’s 20th in the points with 831, only four behind his teammate and just 110 out of a Chase berth.
Unfortunately for Speed, his only other start at the Superspeedway didn’t turn out as well after he was robbed of another top finish when he was taken out by Kurt Busch on the penultimate lap. He ended that race 27th on a day where a second straight top-10 in Talladega looked possible.
And after he miraculously snaked his way through a late-race, nine-car mélée last week on his way to a 16th place finish in Texas driving a car he named Debbie, Speed will probably hope that she makes a return this weekend to help take guide him to another top result.