- Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 May 2012 19:11
- Published on Tuesday, 08 May 2012 19:11
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Talladega equals excitement. Last year’s Aaron’s 499 matched the Cup series record for lead changes with 88, and the closest margin of victory as Jimmie Johnson crossed the finish line a scant .002 seconds ahead of Clint Bowyer. There was a different leader in each of the last four laps. Both of last year’s Talladega races were dominated by two-car tandem drafting. Aerodynamic and cooling system changes largely eliminated this practice at Daytona and were intended to do the same at Talladega and return to the more traditional Super Speedway competition.
“I think that the pack racing we had at Daytona was amazing. I thought it was great racing,” said Denny Hamlin, a tw
o time winner in the first nine races of this season.
Every Talladega race has finished under the green flag since the introduction of electronic scoring in 1993. “The two car tandem didn’t win the race, and that’s a good thing. Really, they got us to where we were running a fast enough speed that handling became somewhat of an issue.”
Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth agreed. “Daytona has the new pavement and a lot of grip just like Talladega,” he said. “It has the same rules package, so I think you will see racing like you did during Speedweeks.”
Heading into last Sunday’s Aaron’s 499, Richard Childress Racing drivers Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick had won three of the past four races at Talladega. Richard Childress Racing’s twelve victories overall at Talladega led all owners with Hendrick Motorsports’ one win behind. Richard Childress competed as a driver in the track’s inaugural race in 1969, and was inducted into the international Motorsports Hall of Fame last Thursday.
“There’s some days where we just finish the last few laps and run slower than we need to run. But that’s always something that Richard has pushed on the guys is to make sure that when you start something, you do your best to not have a DNF on the chart,” said Kevin Harvick in explaining the team’s Talladega success during practice for last Sunday’s race. “We’ve definitely torn up our share of stuff at Talladega, as well. But it has been a good place for us.”
In keeping with Talladega’s history of unpredictable finishes, Brad Keselowski won a thriller under a green/white checkered finish last Sunday. Kyle Busch had pushed Keselowski to the lead on lap 193 of 194 in a race that went six laps past the scheduled distance. Conventional wisdom says that the driver running second on the final lap has a much better chance to win a restrictor plate race than the driver who is leading, but Keselowski had thought long and hard about what he would do.
The two cars ran bumper to bumper until turn three of the final lap, when Keselowski entered the corner high and dived to the bottom of the track, separating his No. 2 Dodge from Busch’s No. 18 Toyota. After he ditched his dancing partner, Keselowski pulled away to win by .304 seconds. The win was Brad Keselowski’s second win of the year and his second career win at Talladega.
Saturday night the circuit moves to Darlington for the tour’s annual Mother’s Day Weekend visit to NASCAR’s original Super Speedway. Last season’s Southern 500 was arguably the biggest upset of the year as lightly regarded Regan Smith drove the under-funded Furniture Row Racing team Chevrolet to his first career victory on the Cup circuit.
Nearly a year later Smith still acknowledges his Southern 500 win was one of the greatest moments of his career. With his name forever being listed on the Johnny Mantz trophy, Smith returns to Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 with a different title, defending champion.
“Winning the Southern 500 last year was a memorable milestone for our team,” Smith said. “It’s still unbelievable that we pulled it off. I recently tweeted that I would rather win the Southern 500 than win the lottery, and I am not changing my stance on that. I look forward to coming back to Darlington this weekend and trying to defend my win. No matter what, Darlington will always hold a special place for me.”