TALLADEGA, Ala. - The new Generation-6 race car might have put an end to one popular strategy at the Talladega Superspeedway.
Drivers say the practice of hanging out at the back of the pack to avoid one of the track’s customary multi-car crashes might not work in Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 500. The cars are so fast - drafting speeds will top 200 mph on the backstretch - waiting until the final few laps to make a late charge might not work.
“You certainly can’t expect us, with 10 or 20 laps to go, to just drive your way to the front,” Jeff Gordon said. “So, yeah, you’ve got to be real careful about trying to hang in the back and while it might keep you out of trouble, it also can get you a lap down.”
In May, David Ragan went from eighth to the victory in the final two laps. That was possible because the cars in front of him got in two lines and that made it easier for him to find a hole in traffic.
The lead pack likely will be three-wide and 10 deep on the final 10 laps, so getting through that logjam might present a lot of problems.
“It’s just so many cars and teams and drivers that could win here. It's just the cars are all so equal with the type of drafting that we have,” Gordon said. “You really have to be careful pushing the cars ahead of you. So, I just know from the last time we were here, I was wide-open, pushing the guy ahead of me, and somebody was pushing me from behind. We were three-wide, but we weren’t going anywhere. We were just there, kind of stuck.”
Another factor is the Chase for the Championship. There are 13 drivers in the playoffs and it's not likely they will be willing to work in tandem with each other - especially in the stretch drive.
EARNHARDTS STILL POPULAR AT TALLADEGA: Even with earplugs, a helmet and the roar of an 850-horsepower engine, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he can still hear the crowd yell for him at the Talladega Superspeedway.
His late father became the fan favorite at the 2.66-mile raceway with a track record 10 victories. His son has five wins there.
And Earnhardt Jr. enjoys the reaction.
“No, you don’t block it out; I think you enjoy it,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “If you've got one fan or you’ve got thousands of fans, you know that when you put the car in first place, that they’re happy. I think you enjoy that as much as the fan enjoys it.
“You’re happy being first, obviously, but when you see the reaction that other people get from it, yeah, it’s a great feeling. It’s a really good feeling.”
Earnhardt Jr. insists he can feel the crowd at Talladega.
“Sometimes you swear you can hear them, but most of the time you can’. But you can definitely see it,” he said. “You can definitely see after lap after lap of going by the grandstand and seeing them sitting down. When you come by and they are standing up, it’s obvious. And you see the arms in the air and all that stuff.”