CHARLOTTE – Talladega Superspeedway’s move from cutoff to middle race of the Round of 12 has been well-received, but Cup drivers have been lobbying for another move with the race.
Denny Hamlin, who founded the Drivers Council that regularly meets with NASCAR, said “it’s been floated” to move the 2.66-mile oval to the regular-season finale.
“I think it should be the last race before the playoffs,” Hamlin told NBC Sports and NASCAR.com Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, where he unveiled a Martinsville Speedway paint scheme on his No. 11 Toyota that highlights a new partnership between FedEx and Walgreens. “That is the ultimate wild-card spot. If you want to see the craziest Talladega race ever, it would be right before the playoffs started. Probably 28 cars or so with their last opportunity to make it in the playoffs. To me, it’s a no-brainer where it should be in the schedule, but getting the tracks to agree is going to be very hard.
“It would be the ultimate cutoff race. Not knowing whether you’re in or not until the last lap, that would be the ultimate race. (Talladega) should want it. Even over being in the playoffs itself, (the regular-season finale) is a bigger event. I’m all for changing schedules around, but you really should put the racetracks where I think they’d thrive, and I think a cutoff Talladega race would be amazing.”
Any move wouldn’t happen until at least 2019. NASCAR already has announced the 2018 schedule with Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the regular-season finale (replacing Richmond International Raceway, which played host to the race from 2004-2017).
With another added layer of playoff points, Sunday’s race already is shaping up differently than 2016 when the Joe Gibbs Racing cars of Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards protected their points leads by intentionally running at the rear.
That left Hamlin, who needed a win to advance, trying to run for the lead with no help from his teammates.
“It really hurt me because I was on an island trying to race up front with no teammates where all the other teammates were working together and all mine were in the back,” said Hamlin, who finished third and was eliminated in the Round of 12 for the second consecutive season. “I understood where they were and said I’d be doing the same thing (in their position), but it certainly hurt our efforts to get a good finish.”
Hamlin said having Talladega as the second race in the Round of 12 is “better. No doubt about it. Talladega in the playoffs is sketchy anyway, but to have it as a cutoff race like it was last year is a little over the top.”
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who is ranked fifth in the points and 13 points above the cutoff, is expecting Sunday to resemble most Talladega races of recent memory, though stage points will discourage laying back.
“I don’t think it’ll get crazy until the last half of the race,” he said. “I think everyone is going to race up front. It’s going to do all the things they wanted it to do, competition-wise. There’s no laying back, there’s no, ‘Let’s ride this day out.’ Obviously it’s going to make for exciting ends of stages in my opinion. That’s where you have to be aware of the wrecks that can happen.
“I don’t think it’ll be as aggressive because people still want to stick around and need to be around at the end.”