Unrestricted at Talladega
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Races at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway are always viewed as unpredictable.
Talladega is one of only two racetracks on the Sprint Cup circuit where restrictor plates are used. By definition, a restrictor plate is a device installed at the air intake of an engine to limit its power. The use of a restrictor plate both limits speed and increases safety, and provides an equal level of competition. Races at Talladega and its sister track, Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, are races where literally anyone can win. Horsepower-choked engines require drivers to draft together, side-by-side at speeds approaching 200 mph.
Some drivers elect to drop to the back of the pack and ride, waiting until the late stages of the race to make their move toward the front of the field. Other drivers will do whatever they can to stay at the front of the field throughout the race. Other drivers find themselves stuck in the middle, an area that can be somewhat of a disaster zone.
One driver will win the race. Some drivers will finish. Others will be involved in the almost inevitable “big one” – a multicar accident that typically eliminates multitudes of drivers prematurely.
Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is one driver who can breathe a little easier heading to the famed 2.66-mile track for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499. As one of only two drivers with multiple Sprint Cup wins in 2014, his ticket into the postseason’s 16-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship can be considered punched.
Harvick finds himself entering Talladega in a bit of a different situation than he has in past years. With the new “win-and-you’re-in” Chase format, he doesn’t have to worry about where he’s running in relation to drivers he is challenging in the point standings, or having to push the issue if he simply doesn’t feel that he’s in a position to do so.
What Harvick has at Talladega is an opportunity to take the race as it comes, and either go for the win if he feels he’s got a shot at it, or race conservatively – well, as conservatively as one can at Talladega – and bring his Jimmy John’s Chevrolet home in one piece. But, with one Talladega win in April 2010 and two wins at Daytona in February 2007 and July 2010, expect him near the front of the pack when it’s time to fight for the checkered flag.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You’ve won at both superspeedways on the circuit, Daytona and Talladega. Your record on the restrictor-plate tracks speaks for itself. Do you approach these races with a strategy in mind, as far as working to get out front and stay there, or ride at the back? Or do you just take each race as it comes?
“I think a lot of the approach depends on where you qualify. A lot of these tracks, if you can qualify decent and race up front with the current rules package, I think it’s better to stay up front and try to keep yourself there throughout the day. Obviously, if you don’t qualify well, you go with the opposite strategy. For us, having a couple of wins in the bank, I think you race as hard as you can all day to try and keep yourself up front and have a complete day of hopefully keeping the car rolling when it’s time to be around at the end.”
You had a strong run at Daytona in February in both the Sprint Unlimited and the Daytona 500. Talk a little bit about those races, and what you think makes the SHR cars so strong on the superspeedways.
“I didn’t really feel like our cars were dominant, by any means, I feel like we did a good job on pit strategy and pit stops and all the things that came along with keeping ourselves in the race. I know the guys were working on finding some speed and making the cars a little better before we headed off to Talladega. It’s a constant progression. I felt like we had a little bit of a lack of speed but I think, by the time we get to Talladega, we will have found that. Hopefully, that will allow us to be a little bit better than we were at Daytona.”
Do you feel tracks like Talladega and Daytona are anomalies in the sense that, unlike most tracks, track position is not as important until the last few laps?
“I still think track position is pretty important, just for the fact that it seems like it takes longer to make a move and to make things happen. So I think, as you look back at this current car and this current rules package, you want to be somewhere toward the front.”
What do you expect we’ll see with the new qualifying format at Talladega?
“I think the new qualifying format has been good every week. As you take it to the superspeedways, it could be very unique for the fact that everyone’s going to try to get those huge runs from the back of the pack. So, you’re going to have a lot of different agendas. The timing of when you make your runs is going to be a little bit different. There are going to be some interesting moments, I would say, as we go through qualifying, but I think it’s going to be exciting compared to what we’re used to.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine