Chaos. Accidents. Unpredictability.
Those are just a few words to describe the style of restrictor-plate racing at Talladega Superspeedway. Nobody knows what’s going to happen when the drivers get in packs and there is no way to prepare for it.
That, coupled with Talladega serving as the cut-off race in the Round of 12 of NASCAR’s playoffs, the stakes couldn’t be greater. Only eight drivers will lead Alabama with their championship dreams intact after the Hellmann’s 500 ends Sunday afternoon.
Every driver will have a strategy to advance, particularly those on the proverbial bubble. However, none appear ready to sit back and play it safe.
As the old football announcer John Madden used to say: “The only thing the prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.”
All of the drivers in the championship mix are ready to live by that phrase.
Reigning race-winner Joey Logano is eighth in the points, and has no intention to try to avoid chaos to hold onto his spot.
“I don’t really think about how people are trying to knock me out, I think about how I’m going to knock other people out,” Logano said. “That’s my attitude. If I’m on defense, we’re not going to win. We better stay on offense. That’s what this 22 team does.
“We’re going to go out there and race hard because that’s what we know how to do when we come to speedways. Some guys can do it good the other way but, for us, we’re going to go out there and race hard and try to stay up front, try to keep making our car better for the end of the race and be there at the end.”
That mindset worked for Logano last season as he swept the three races in the Round of 12. But he had already locked in a spot in the Round of 8 prior to winning at Talladega.
This year, though, Logano has won only once and holds a tiebreaker over Austin Dillon for eighth place. His championship dreams are hanging by a thread, in other words.
But Logano doesn’t see much of a difference between this year and last.
“We know we can do this. We’re coming into a racetrack that we know we’re good at,” said Logano, who finished 25th at Talladega earlier this season.
“Is the situation different? Obviously, it is. There was nothing to worry about last year. This year, we’re not, but we still have the same goal, so why should we approach the race any different?”
That’s a similar approach of Martin Truex Jr., who sits sixth going into Sunday’s race and has a 10-point lead on Kevin Harvick and 13-point cushion on Logano and Dillon. Truex is in the midst of a career year with four wins, tied for most by a driver this season.
But Truex is in a delicate spot with his title hopes in a precarious position. He has only two top-five runs and an average finish of 19.6 in 23 starts at Talladega. He must finish 12th or better to advance.
“This is no doubt one of the toughest races there is just to stay mentally focused,” Truex said. “It would be a shame to lose it all here, so hopefully we can just get it done and do the best job we can do no matter what.”
As far as his aggressive strategy, Truex said: “There just comes a point where you say, ‘To heck with it.’ We’re just going to go race and hope for the best. Aside from that, what can you really do?”
Carl Edwards might have summed it up best. He is in fourth with a 24-point cushion — needing to finish 23rd or better to advance to the next round — but has fared poorly at Talladega throughout his career.
Edwards’ worst track has been Talladega with a 21.4 average finish in 24 career starts. Still, that dubious history won’t change Edwards’ approach.
“I have wrecked racing up front, I’ve wrecked in the back and I’ve wrecked in the middle and I can tell you it just feels better to be up front,” Edwards said. “I don’t know that you can have a plan. I’ll tell you this, I know that you can’t make a plan that is foolproof here.
“I know that every one of us is built to race and we build these race cars and we build them as fast as we can. We definitely don’t want to get wrecked riding around in the back. If we can start up front, we just want to stay up front all day.”
1 p.m. Sunday, NBCSN