Whenever NASCAR returns to Talladega, the movie “Talladega Nights” is often brought up. What is your favorite racing movie and why?
Nate Ryan: In the documentary category, it’s “Senna.” The chronicle of one of Formula One’s most extraordinary talents and personalities is so emotionally gripping, you can be captivated without knowing anything about racing. In feature films, it’s “Le Mans” (because Steve McQueen) and “Winning” (because Paul Newman).
Dustin Long: “Winning.” The 1969 movie, which starred Paul Newman, Robert Wagner and Joanne Woodward, is a classic. A close second for me is “Senna,” the powerful 2010 documentary of Ayrton Senna.
Daniel McFadin: The cinematic masterpiece that is “Days of Thunder.” OK, “masterpiece” may be a strong word, but it’s the best depiction you could ask for of NASCAR in cinema, and I try to watch it every year before the Daytona 500. It’s not too far over the top and the on-screen racing is gripping and fun. Even though it wasn’t a breakout hit at the box office, “Days of Thunder” undoubtedly played a factor in the rise of NASCAR’s popularity heading into the 1990s. The sport could use another film like it right now and not a farce like “Talladega Nights.”
Dan Beaver: “Greased Lightning.” It was not only a good racing movie but an exceptional biopic of Wendell Scott and an inspirational underdog story.
What is your most memorable Talladega moment?
Nate Ryan: There are too many surreal episodes to choose just one … but five stand out from those covered in person:
— The April 6, 2003 race in which Dale Earnhardt Jr. rebounded with a damaged car on a controversial pass for the lead below the yellow line.
— Everyone thinks of multicar crashes at Talladega, but Elliott Sadler’s never-ending tumble down the backstretch in the Sept. 28, 2003 race still registers.
— Jeff Gordon’s winning celebration on April 25, 2004, being met by a few thousand beer cans hurled by angry masses showing their displeasure with a yellow flag that ended Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s bid at a win (and virtually created the overtime rules).
— The wicked airborne crash of Carl Edwards into the frontstretch catchfence during the final lap on April 26, 2009, injuring several fans as Brad Keselowski scored his first Cup victory with the underdog James Finch team.
—The massive cloud of dirt and dust that erupted in Turn 4 on Oct. 7, 2012 when a block by Tony Stewart in the last turn helped trigger a 25-car pileup and left Earnhardt with a concussion that sidelined him for two races.
Dustin Long: So many. Here are a few I’ve covered in person:
— Dale Earnhardt’s final Cup win in October 2000. He went from 18th to first in the final five laps to win in one of the most riveting charges to the checkered flag that I’ve witnessed.
— The April 2004 race when fans littered the track after Jeff Gordon won. Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were side by side when the final caution came out. Gordon was declared the leader and won when the race when it could not be resumed before the checkered.
— The October 2006 race. Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the last lap with Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers trailing. Johnson made a move to get under Earnhardt and Vickers followed. Vickers hooked Johnson, turning Johnson’s car into Earnhardt’s car, wrecking both. Vickers scored his first career Cup win.
— The October 2008 race where Regan Smith took the checkered flag first but Tony Stewart was given the win by NASCAR because it stated that Smith illegally passed Stewart by going below the yellow line coming to the finish.
— The April 2009 finish where Carl Edwards’ car flew into the fence in his last-lap duel with Brad Keselowski, who scored his first Cup win and did it for car owner James Finch.
Daniel McFadin: It may not be my most memorable moment, but it’s what popped in my head: A year before his dramatic final Cup win, Dale Earnhardt showed off his magic in the 1999 IROC race at Talladega. Coming to the checkered flag in second place, Earnhardt shot to the outside of Rusty Wallace in the tri-oval. He went as far wide as you possibly could and beat Wallace to the line without any help. Fun fact – all three of his 1999 IROC wins came on a last-lap pass.
Dan Beaver: Bobby Allison’s watershed 1987 accident that forever changed racing on the superspeedways.
Who wins a race first: Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin or Aric Almirola?
Nate Ryan: Even after his weak showing at Dover International Speedway, Kyle Larson remains too talented to stay winless, and his up-and-down season could foreshadow a surprise win at Talladega or a redemptive victory at Kansas Speedway.
Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin at Martinsville.
Daniel McFadin: Aric Almirola. He’s fed up with coming up short this year and barring being involved in a wreck I expect to see him flex his restrictor-plate muscles this weekend.
Dan Beaver: Kyle Larson wins at Kansas in two weeks. But if he can’t pull it off, then Denny Hamlin grabs the checkers at Martinsville.