Talladega presents daunting, mysterious challenge for most drivers

By Brendan Marks - The Charlotte Observer

Some NASCAR drivers laughed, others cringed, but they all had something to say about Talladega.

Sunday’s Alabama 500 is at the famous (or infamous, depending on whom you ask) track, and even at Charlotte it dominated conversation among drivers. Kyle Larson said he hates Talladega. Martin Truex Jr., who ended up winning Sunday’s Bank of America 500, said he doesn’t know why he struggles so much at Talladega.

In fact, just about every driver who mentioned Talladega also mentioned disliking Talladega.

But not Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who is 12th in the standings and desperately in need of a solid result to propel him into the third round of the playoffs. He’s figured out how to race at Talladega, perhaps better than anyone else left in the playoffs.

The track is one of two restrictor-plate tracks on which the Cup Series races (Daytona is the other), and Stenhouse has seemingly solved them both. His only two Cup wins this year came at those two tracks, and if not for those victories, he almost certainly wouldn’t be in the playoffs.

So Stenhouse probably isn’t too afraid of Talladega, but everyone else is. That means this weekend is going to be crazy. Likely the only thing you can say for sure is that something unpredictable is bound to happen.

What makes Talladega so daunting, so mysterious for drivers? One, the speed. It’s one of the fastest tracks in NASCAR, with drivers routinely topping 200 miles per hour. Then there’s the history of big crashes there, which is both too long and too gory to try to capture in a few paragraphs. But maybe even more than those, there’s just something about Talladega that causes weird things to happen — almost as if it’s cursed.

That curse isn’t just a myth or some kooky movie plot (although “The Legend of Hallowdega” did come out in 2010), but there are stories to back it up.

Like when Bobby Isaac parked his car during the 1973 Talladega 500 and quit racing altogether, allegedly because he heard “a voice” telling him to do so.

Or last year, when both Truex and Brad Keselowski blew their engines and their championship hopes midway through the race.

So far, Stenhouse seems to be the only driver who has conquered (or bypassed) the Talladega curse. Maybe he will again and push through to the third round of the playoffs. Maybe he won’t and he’ll fall victim this time.

But whatever happens on Sunday, know this — nobody knows what is coming at Talladega, or who the curse will strike down next.


(c)2017 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

Visit The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.) at www.charlotteobserver.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

By Brendan Marks

The Charlotte Observer