The Big Wreck -- it's going to happen at Talladega
by Al Muskewitz
amuskewitz@annistonstar.com
Oct 19, 2013 | 10013 views |  0 comments | 42 42 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Big wrecks usually damage those pretty race cars in Sprint Cup events at Talladega. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
Big wrecks usually damage those pretty race cars in Sprint Cup events at Talladega. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
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TALLADEGA – David Ragan was sitting around the garage the other day and just for the fun of it started checking out some of the rich caution history at Talladega Superspeedway.

What he discovered came as no surprise to a guy who has done some form of racing here since 2006.

“I think 100 percent of the time in the last seven or eight races there is going to be a caution in the last 10 laps,” he said. “I am not a big betting guy, but I would bet for that to happen again this week.”

It goes farther back than seven or eight races, and if history follows, another chapter in the track's green-white-checkered past will probably be written again in today’s Camping World RV Sales 500.

Ten times in the last 11 Cup races at Talladega – and 12 of the last 14 -- there has been a multi-car wreck or caution somewhere in the last seven of the scheduled 188 laps – and sometimes even after that. Ragan’s victory in the May Aaron’s 499 was the result of one of them.

“I know exactly the reason,” Ragan said. “It’s because your intensity gets a little higher at the end and … you are frustrated and your anxiety is probably getting at you. The bottom line is it’s go time.

“On lap 100 I’m going to give a guy an inch or two or trail the brake just to be on the conservative side, but in the closing laps all you can think about is setting yourself up to the win and when they throw the white flag.”

Ragan’s win last year might have surprised some, but given the nature of the racing here it shouldn’t have been unexpected.

As current series points leader Matt Kenseth said, “under the right circumstances” any of the 43 cars in the field could have a chance to win the race. Most everyone who watches would say any of the 43 could have a chance to keep their favorite driver from winning, too.

“Your guard is up more than normal, you pay attention to every car out here,” Kenseth said. “Like last week there were a couple guys who weren’t going to race for the win. When you come here it opens it up.”

Nothing scrambles the deck faster than somebody getting out of line, losing their air and putting half the field on a wrecker.

Ragan’s win in the spring came during a third straight green-white-checkered Talladega finish -- and all of them have had Kenseth right in the middle of it.

The winner here has grabbed the lead on the last lap in six of the previous seven Sprint Cup races.

Kenseth had the dominant car in the spring, but a huge crash on the backstretch in the closing laps set up a green-white-checkered finish. Kenseth led the way for the final restart, but Carl Edwards moved in front heading into the final lap.

Ragan got pushing help from teammate David Gilliland and passed Edwards in turn 4 on the last lap and held on for the win.

Kenseth won last year’s fall race, but not without drama. Tony Stewart had the lead coming to the white flag, but got turned sideways trying to block and touched off a melee that collected 25 cars. Kenseth was the only one in front of the crash and made it safely to the finish.

In last year’s spring race, a nine-car pileup on a restart created another green-white-checkered finish. Kenseth led at the start of that one, but put too much room between himself and drafting partner Greg Biffle, opening the door for Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch to sweep through. Keselowski then made the move that gave him the win.

“So many things are out of your hand,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “When you’re driving at other race tracks you are in control of … a lot more. Here, you’re at the mercy of the draft and what line you’re in … and you can psyche yourself out anticipating negative things happening.

“You have to try to stay positive and keep plugging away. You are going to make a lot of bad decisions … but that one right decision you made might be the one that gets you where David Ragan ended up.”

So with all the bumping and banging that’s expected today, and danger lurking in every turn, what’s a contender for the Chase supposed to do?

With so much at stake in the standings – 37 points separate the top five – it’s prudent to take the right approach. Some will consider hanging toward the back most of the race, hope to avoid the wreck, and push toward the front late in the day. Others will want to run as close to front as possible for as long as they can.

Regardless of strategy, the prevailing feeling is to get in and out of here with as little damage to your car and your position as possible.

In the end, it’ll probably look all the same.

“I think we’ll see a typical Talladega race where some people just aren’t comfortable running every lap in front and some people are,” Jeff Burton said. “If you ride around, when you go is what’s important.

“If it’s a 188-lap race and you take it easy for 100, there’s no reason you can’t get back to the front in 88 laps, no reason in the world. I think you’ll see a mixture of stuff. These races are crazy – we go single-file sometimes for no reason. I don’t understand why that happens. You just don’t ever know what’s going to happen in these races.”

Al Muskewitz is a sports writer for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.
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