Talladega Superspeedway has a reputation as one of the wildest tracks on the NASCAR circuit.
Is it hype? Or do the numbers prove the point?
Talladega is the longest oval track in the NASCAR circuit. At 2.66 miles (14,045 feet), one Talladega lap is the length of about 468 football fields. Talladega is longer than Mauna Kea is tall.
If we measure lengths in terms of Talladega:
The distance from Charlotte to Nashville (the location of the NASCAR awards ceremony) is 339 Talladegas.
If you flew direct from Los Angeles to New York City, you would cover 2500 Talladegas.
Martinsville is just 0.20 Talladegas.
Talladega also holds the record for banking in current Cup Series tracks with 33 degrees. Talladega’s banking is so high that the outside lane of the 48-foot wide racing surface is 26.1 feet higher than the inside lane. That difference is about the height of a two-story house.
Talladega is a tri-oval. Think of it as three straight lines connected by three curves.
While tri-oval describes the track shape, it is also used to refer to the frontstretch — the most triangular part of the track.
And Talladega’s frontstretch is formidable. The 4,300-foot segment is banked at 16.5 degrees. Talladega’s frontstretch has more banking than all three of Pocono’s turns.
The backstretch, known as the Alabama Gang Superstretch, isn’t too shabby, either. It’s 1,000 feet longer than Daytona’s backstretch. If you were to unroll Richmond, its entire 0.75-mile length would just cover Talladega’s backstretch.
Talladega’s infield is so large that it could hold the L.A. Coliseum, Martinsville, Bristol, Dover, Richmond and the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Bill France Sr. originally envisioned Talladega as Indianapolis Motor Speedway with higher banking. At a time when raw speed was the big attraction, higher banking would allow Talladega to wrest away the closed-track speed record from Indy.
In 1970, just six months after Talladega hosted its first race, Buddy Baker became the first driver to break the 200 mph mark on a closed course.
Baker’s breakthrough happened at a testing session. It wasn’t until 1982 that Benny Parsons became the first Cup Series driver to qualify over 200 mph. Just four years later, all but one of the 42 drivers starting the spring race qualified over 200 mph.
In May 1987, Bill Elliott set the all-time Cup Series qualifying record at 212.809 mph. That record will likely never be broken. During the race, Bobby Allison got airborne and crashed into the catchfence. NASCAR subsequently mandated restrictor plates (and now tapered spacers) to keep speeds down and cars on the ground.
Restricting airflow to the engine makes drafting even more important. That, in turn, leads to large packs of cars racing within inches of each other. That’s why four of the top-10 closest finishes in the Cup Series happened at Talladega.
In the spring 2011 race, Jimmie Johnson beat Clint Bowyer by just two-thousandths (0.002) of a second. That ties the famous 2003 Ricky Craven/Kurt Busch Darlington finish for the smallest margin of victory in Cup Series history.
Of all Talladega races run after NASCAR introduced electronic scoring in May 1993, 44 ended under a green flag. Of those races:
Seven (15.9%) were won by less than 25 thousandths of a second.
Fifteen (34.1%) were won by less than one-tenth of a second.
Thirty-nine (88.6%) were won by less than two-tenths of a second.
The largest margin of victory was 0.388 seconds.
Pack racing leads to more contact. Out of 35 Talladega races run under the current green-white-checkered rule, 14 (40%) ended under caution. Rain caused one of those yellow/checkered finishes. The rest were due to accidents.
In 64 races since 1990, Talladega has seen 228 caution-causing spins or accidents, which involved 1,120 cars.
Almost half (49.2%) of these incidents involved only one or two cars. A one- or two-car accident is no less problematic for the drivers involved than a larger crash. But the more cars involved in accidents, the more likely a driver is to be knocked out of the race.
3.5% of all accidents since 1990 involved 20 or more cars.
5.7% of accidents collected 15 or more cars.
16.7% were 10-car or larger crashes.
38.2% involved five or more cars.
While probable, the Big One is by no means inevitable.
Neither are accidents in general. Three races since 1990 finished with no cautions, but all three of these races took place before 2003. The lowest number of cautions in a Talladega race since 2003 is three. That happened at the fall races in 2013 and 2015.
The average number of caution-causing accidents and spins in a Talladega race is 3.5.
Seven races (10.9%) had a single caution-causing accident or spin.
14 out of 64 races (21.9%) had four caution-causing accidents or spins
13 of 64 races (20.3%) had three caution-causing incidents.
Races with four or fewer accidents make up 71.9% of all Talladega races — which means that races with five or more accidents only account for 28.1%.
The numbers definitely uphold Talladega’s reputation. Although the track itself remains the same, the racing varies. Tune in to NBC (2 p.m. ET) to see whether this fall’s bout is accident-filled or accident-free.
Joey Logano says he’s “never hit harder” than his crash in May’s Coca-Cola 600. Bubba Wallace calls the contact he had at Atlanta in March among the hardest he’s felt. Christopher Bell notes the headaches he’s had after a couple of big hits this season.
But what some drivers feel isn’t necessarily what data from crash recorders show, according to John Patalak, managing director of safety engineering for NASCAR.
Patalak said crash data this year looks similar to data from more than a decade’s worth of incidents.
“So that leads the drivers to ask, ‘Then why do I feel the way I feel?’” Patalak told NBC Sports. “‘Why does it feel so harsh? The data you’re showing me doesn’t match up with what my body is telling me.’
“We’ve had those discussions with drivers. I certainly will tell a driver, ‘I absolutely don’t doubt or dispute how you feel.’ At the moment, I don’t have a great engineering explanation as to why the perception is not matching with the data that we’re seeing.”
Even with those concerns, no Cup driver has missed a race this year because of an injury from an accident. The Cup Series has not had a driver fatality since Dale Earnhardt died in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500.
Earnhardt’s death, which followed the deaths of Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin and Tony Roper in separate accidents in 2000, spawned the sport’s safety revolution.
That led to the SAFER barrier, which reduce the energy transmitted in a crash to the driver, head-and-neck restraints and improvements to the restraint systems in the cars and the vehicles themselves.
Some competitors wonder if changes to the Next Gen car exacerbated the transfer of energy in an accident to drivers.
“NASCAR built the center section (of the car) to accompany outlier accidents, the 3% of hits, probably less than that,” Corey LaJoie said. “With that, they made the car stiffer for the 97 or 98% of the other crashes, right front blown, backing it into the fence.”
While safety enhancements were included as part of the Next Gen car, the contacts can remain big.
“These cars, they hit harder than ever,” Logano said. “They hit really, really hard. They’re super solid. It hurts.”
Austin Dillon said it can take an “extra day” to recover from some of these hard hits.
“That seems to be the consistent chatter (among) the drivers,” Dillon told NBC Sports.
Bell said he’s felt the effects of two crashes this year. He spun and backed his car into the wall during at Texas and during a test at Pocono.
“Both of them from the outside looking in … does not look like a hard impact,” Bell told NBC Sports. “But it absolutely felt way harder than any other car that I’ve backed into the fence before in NASCAR.”
Bell said he had a headache after both incidents, which he noted was “different than what I’ve had in the past.”
While drivers note how hard they’ve hit, their incidents have come at different angles. Bell backed into the wall. Logano hit driver side. Wallace slammed the wall with the car’s right side.
One element that stands out is the number of crashes this season. Drivers have struggled while learning the new car. Crashes in practice have been common. The Coca-Cola 600 featured 18 cautions, including seven for accidents and seven for spins. Sixteen of the 24 caution periods in the two Atlanta races this season were for accidents.
Patalak said that by the end of May, the Cup Series had exceeded the number of crashes it had all of last season. Patalak says a crash is defined as contact that triggers the crash data recorder in a car. There can be multiple crashes for a car in one incident.
Crash data recorders measure a variety of elements in an accident, including delta-v (the change in velocity) and peak acceleration.
Patalak says peak acceleration comes from the acceleration of the vehicle from front to back, left to right and up and down over time in a crash — because a car is moving in multiple directions in a crash, such as forward and up the track. NASCAR combines those numbers and takes the peak value.
Patalak notes that delta-v is from the moment of impact with the wall until the car essentially leaves the wall or when the crash is over (when the acceleration is less than 3 Gs).
Patalak explains that if a car is going 150 mph the moment it hits the wall and then is going 100 mph shortly after impact, the delta-v would be 50 mph (the difference in speed from the moment of impact to a point measured).
“Sometimes things that look really severe have a low delta-v, or things that don’t look severe but have a high delta-v,” Patalak said.
Patalak notes that “the delta-v on some of our crashes are sometimes higher this year. That is something that really boils down to the speed and the angle at which the cars are approaching the wall.
“There’s always going to be severe crashes. That’s part of racing, that’s part of motorsports, but our data is showing us that we are having higher delta-v crashes than what our average would be over the last several years. When we look at the reasons to why are we seeing that, it’s a hard thing to have an engineering answer to.”
One element is the challenge drivers have had with the car when it gets out of shape. With the new steering box and feel of the steering wheel, what drivers did to get out of a spin went too far with this car. Drivers have gotten better at adjusting how much they turn the wheel in a spin.
“Some of the crashes very early on, we looked at potentially maybe some overcorrection, maybe trying to save the car a little too long,” Patalak told NBC Sports. “That produced some really high angles into the wall, which were very severe crashes. Maybe as the teams are learning the cars, we had maybe some setup issues. The industry has responded really well. A lot of that has gone away.”
One aspect the industry is learning more about is the headrest foam in the driver’s seat. Drivers have their headrest foam in different manners. Ideally, the foam would hold the head snug, but that can transfer the shocks and bumps the cars go through on track and cause the head to bounce around So some drivers want their headrest foam to not as be as snug.
But it can present challenges in a crash, as LaJoie experienced when he wrecked in practice at Charlotte and crashed the following day in the 600. In both instances a left rear tire blew, sending LaJoie into the wall.
“You don’t want your head moving around much between the headrests,” LaJoie said. “If you blow a left rear tire, like I did in Charlotte on Saturday in practice, and my head is up against the right side headrest and I hit with the left side — I’ve got three inches to bounce my head off the headrest — it’s going to ring your bell and you’re going to be looking for the phone that is ringing all day long.
“Then you turn around and go do the exact same thing on Sunday, blow a left rear tire down, and as I was in the process of swapping ends, I’m like oh … I’ve seen this movie before, let me pull my head against the headrest. I just got my helmet to the left side headrest before I hit the fence.
“That’s why your headrest foam gap is so important but also leaning into. You blow a right front like Austin (Dillon) did, and he mentioned it in his interview, he put his head against the right side headrest and you try to go limp and try to absorb it.”
LaJoie said that has been a discussion on the drivers’ text chain.
After Dillon’s hit at Atlanta — he got turned at the bottom of the track and shot up it, slamming the SAFER barrier with the right front, he noted he was fine.
“The hit looked bad,” Dillon said. “But the impact wasn’t as bad as it looked.”
Not every driver has been able to say that this year.
It’s happened twice in the last decade. Clint Bowyer signed in 2015 to be Tony Stewart’s replacement in 2017 at Stewart-Haas Racing and spent 2016 with HScott Motorsports. Kevin Harvick signed in 2012 to join Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014.
A situation like that presents potential challenges for a team and manufacturer that will eventually lose that driver.
One of the keys for RCR is to perform well the rest of this year and next year with Reddick and elevate that car’s standing in the sport to attract the top talent available.
“We just got to manage our way through it,” Campbell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “What I’m first of all proud of is that the team is going to focus on driving for the championship with Tyler.”
3. Career-changing moment
A handful laps of practice 12 years ago at New Hampshire Motor Speedway proved life-changing for Aric Almirola.
Jimmie Johnson’s wife was expecting the couple’s first child at the time, and Almirola, who had no full-time NASCAR ride, was tabbed to be on standby for the team.
Almirola got a chance to climb into Johnson’s No. 48 car at New Hampshire in late June 2010 to run some laps in practice. Almirola said those laps put him on a path that brings him back to New Hampshire (3 p.m. ET Sunday on USA Network) as the race’s defending winner.
“I got in his car on Saturday morning for practice and actually went faster than he did,” Almirola said. “And that was a big boost of confidence for me. That practice session honestly changed the course of my career.”
“Chad (Knaus) and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports just really gave me a lot of praise and talked highly of me,” Almirola said of Johnson’s crew chief at the time. “All the other crew chiefs, standing up on top of the haulers watching the 48 car go around the racetrack with a different driver in it and still being fast, I think, it just changed people’s opinion and perspective of who I was as a race car driver.”
Almirola said soon after that Dale Earnhardt Jr. asked him to drive the No. 88 car for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series. Almirola drove the car in eight races that season and then the full season in 2011. That led to Almirola joining Richard Petty Motorsports in 2012 and moving to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018.
“I feel like that particular weekend at Loudon, driving that 48 car on a Saturday morning in practice, changed the course of my career,” Almirola said.
4.Another new winner?
Kevin Harvick enters this weekend the first driver outside a playoff spot, trailing Christopher Bell by 19 points.
Crew chief Rodney Childers looks at what the team has done at similar tracks and looks at this weekend as a chance for Harvick to do well and become the 14th different winner this season.
Teams will have the same tire that was used at Phoenix, Richmond and World Wide Technology Raceway.
Harvick finished sixth at Phoenix, placed second at Richmond and was running in the top 10 until a mechanical failure sent him into the wall in the final laps.
“If you look at those types of tracks, those are the ones we’ve actually been the best at,” Childers said. “Those are the ones he’s felt the most comfortable at with this car and even going to the simulator with him (Wednesday), he hit the ground running.
“You can just tell the places he’s comfortable with. He’s made thousands and thousands of laps without the track being changed or things being different, and he knows where every crack and every little seam and all that stuff is and how to manipulate the car and all that.
“Those are big keys for us right now is that kind of stuff – going back to these places that he’s got a ton of confidence at and hopefully we can capitalize on that.”
5. More shifting
Rudy Fugle, crew chief for William Byron, says that drivers could be downshifting twice every corner and upshifting twice on the straights in Sunday’s race at New Hampshire.
“We all kind of know where we’re going to be at for pace, but that overall lap time we run because of track grip and different reasons, the heat in the track, is what will determine what gear and if we go down to third,” Fugle said on Wednesday’s MotorMouths show on Peacock.
“So that’s two downshifts every corner and two upshifts on every straightaway. That’s a lot of times to make a mistake. The hard part of that is doing some of that under those braking zones and over the bumps and the car is out of control and it makes you miss the corner. You see people do that in qualifying when they’re pushing really hard.
“But it also makes it a lot harder to pass. Guys that are struggling can use that downshift as a little bit of a handicap, it helps rotate the car. You have more RPMs, so it turns on the throttle pedal or it turns on the downshift.”
Corey LaJoie says he believes the shifting could prove helpful.
“I think shifting once, potentially twice, if running the bottom or the apron at New Hampshire this weekend, will make the race really good,” he said.
“It’s been a notoriously one-groove racetrack if you don’t spray the (resin), and then we run that lane up off the bottom and you wrap the left front around where that difference in banking is. It’s hard for everybody to pass. They spray the PJ1 or resin (neither will be used this weekend), then you run up in the third groove pretty much all day long and you might be able to pass somebody on the bottom.
“Now, if you have a little bit better race car and you’re kind of stuck, you can go push it to third (gear) and roll the bottom and actually get the launch (off the corner).
“Getting a launch out of the middle of the corner because your RPMs are so low there was always the challenge of trying to run the bottom. I think you’re not going to have that now. I think the bottom lane is going to be equally as strong as what the second or third groove is going to be. So I think it’s actually going to be a pretty good race.”
Denny Hamlin, though, is not as enthused about how shifting can impact a race. He shared his feelings on social media Thursday.
Oval racing since the beginning of time has been a momentum based. If the driver in front made a mistake or missed the corner then he would pay the price down the entire next straightaway. That would allow the driver behind to get position on them.
Hamlin’s tweet inferred that his team plays chess while others in the sport play checkers.
“We’ve said from the beginning that 23XI Racing wants to be a different kind of a race team and that’s a forward-thinking team, that’s an aggressive team, it’s an innovative team,” said Steve Lauletta, the organization’s president.
Tuesday’s announcement was a brilliant move. The fast action by 23XI Racing and Toyota avoided a potential frenzy for Reddick next year.
His talent, age (Reddick turns 27 in January) and success, which includes Xfinity championships with two different teams, and his first Cup win earlier this month, would have made Reddick a highly sought free agent.
“Franchise drivers don’t come around that often,” Hamlin said. “So, if there is ever one that you can grab, you go after it. You do whatever it takes to make it happen and then you work on the details later.”
At least five organizations that have won a Cup race this year could have been in play for Reddick next season. Hamlin made sure those teams never got the chance.
“I watched him. I raced against him. I wanted him. And I got him,” Hamlin said Tuesday.
Reddick will remain at Richard Childress Racing through next season because RCR picked up the option on his contract for 2023.
After 2023, RCR will be among those teams looking to fill a spot on its Cup roster.
“There are a lot of free agents at the end of ’23,” Hamlin said. “If you can strike while the iron is hot, then you strike.”
Next season has the potential to be one of the most dramatic free agent markets in recent years.
After Ross Chastain’s win at Circuit of the Americas, Trackhouse Racing car owner Justin Marks said he told Chastain before signing him that he wanted to put the driver on a “two-year deal so you’ve got some job security.” Next season would be Chastain’s second year with the organization.
Joey Logano’s contract goes through the 2023 season. Team owner Roger Penske said in late May that “(Logano) and I are in good conversation about (an extension), and we expect to announce his extension shortly.” No announcement has yet been made.
Lauletta was asked Tuesday if Wallace and Kurt Busch were both signed through 2023. Lauletta said: “No changes on our side for ’23. The focus is squarely on ’24 and how we maximize the opportunities of the organization as a whole.”
Lauletta would not say if either Wallace or Busch were signed beyond 2023.
While anything is possible, one possible scenario next year could be for Harvick, Truex and Kurt Busch to retire after the 2023 season. That would open a seat at Stewart-Haas Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing, which would be filled by Reddick.
Ty Gibbs would be expected to move up to Cup for Joe Gibbs Racing after the 2023 season. Provided Christopher Bell and Bubba Wallace remain with their teams, Toyota would have at least four drivers, including Reddick, no older than 31 competing for the manufacturer in 2024.
Having a majority of its driver lineup so young is significant to David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development.
“I’ll say it really can’t be overstated how important it is,” Wilson said. “It seems like just the other day we had a stable of 20-something year old drivers and the future looked unlimited. We all know that that is a moment in time.
“If you are not intentional about securing your future, about securing your foundation as a (manufacturer), as a race team, then you’re going to get behind all too quickly.
“It feels great to lower that average (of the age of drivers) with Tyler, knowing he’s coming. Obviously we’re not done yet in our commitment to the development of young driver athletes.”
Hamlin noted that signing a driver more than a year before they’ll join the organization “it’s not unprecedented, but it is rare. In my mind so is Tyler, and you act accordingly.”
This marks only the third time in the last decade that a driver signed with another organization more than a year before joining that team.
In late 2012 news broke that Harvick would join Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. Harvick’s contract with Richard Childress Racing was through 2013.
In 2015, Clint Bowyer signed to be Tony Stewart’s replacement at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017. Bowyer was at Michael Waltrip Racing, which was shutting down after the season. Bowyer spent 2016 with HScott Motorsports.
“For me, in my opinion, it’s better to do it now than the playoffs,” he said. “There’s no reason to kick the can down the road. We know what lies ahead. We now all know what is in front of us and what we need to do.”
Tyler Reddick will join 23XI Racing in 2024, team co-owner Denny Hamlin announced Tuesday. It is a multi-year deal, the team stated.
Hamlin calls the 26-year-old Reddick a “franchise driver.”
“It’s easy to spot talent when you’ve got to go against it,” Hamlin said.
Reddick won’t join 23XI Racing until the 2024 season because Richard Childress Racing has picked up the option on Reddick’s contract for 2023. Next year will be Reddick’s third and final Cup season with Richard Childress Racing.
RCR issued a statement on social media that raised frustration about the timing of the announcement: “We’re proud of the success Tyler Reddick has found at Richard Childress Racing. We’re focused on winning a championship in 2022 and 2023, although timing of this announcement could not be any worse.”
Reddick responded to the RCR statement, saying: “It’s always a difficult thing when … our relationship is going to come to an end. But I feel like it gives everyone time what lies ahead, what’s the next step, where do we go from here?
“For me, in my opinion, it’s better to do it now than the playoffs. There’s no reason to kick the can down the road. We know what lies ahead. We now all know what is in front of us and what we need to do.”
This is not the first time a driver has signed for another team more than a year before joining the organization but it has not happened since 2015 when Clint Bowyer signed to replace Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017. Bowyer was with Michael Waltrip Racing at the time but it had announced plans to close after the season. Bowyer went to HScott Motorsports in 2016 before moving to SHR.
“I’m really excited about this opportunity that is coming ahead in 2024,” Reddick said. “The team is very young, but it’s been going in a very positive direction from day one. I’m just really excited to get it out there. … Very excited to be able to announce this to know what lies for me and 23XI.”
Steve Lauletta, president of 23XI Racing, said it is to be determined what car Reddick will drive in 2024. Hamlin said the team will seek sponsorship for Reddick. That is among the many things the team will have to sort through leading up to the 2024 season, including if it will have two cars or expand to three cars. Hamlin said Tuesday that while all scenarios are possible, he didn’t “forecast” having three cars by 2024.
“All we know is we wanted him,” Hamlin said. “We made sure we planted our feet deep in the ground to make sure Tyler had the opportunity with this race team, and we made it happen.”
Said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development: “We’re delighted to have Tyler in our future.”
Reddick is a two-time Xfinity champion. He won the series crown in 2018 with JR Motorsports and 2019 with Richard Childress Racing. With his victory this season, Reddick is set to make the Cup playoffs for the second consecutive year. He was eliminated in the first round last year and finished 13th in the points.
23XI Racing has Bubba Wallace and Kurt Busch as its drivers. Asked if both were signed through 2023, Lauletta said: “No changes on our side for ’23. The focus is squarely on ’24 and how we maximize the opportunities of the organization as a whole.”
A Kansas City TV station reports that Clint Bowyer was involved in a deadly crash June 5. WDAF, citing a crash report from the Lake Ozark (Missouri) Police Department states that Bowyer struck a woman walking on a ramp.
The TV station, citing the crash report, stated that Bowyer called 911 and helped first responders to the female victim, who was pronounced dead at the scene. WDAF identified the woman as Mary Jane Simmons.
According to the crash report cited by the TV station, Bowyer showed zero signs of impairment and provided a roadside sample of .000 blood alcohol content.
According to the crash report cited by the TV station, a crystalline substance was found where the female victim’s belongings were located and is believed to be methamphetamine. The crash report stated that she was believed to be under the influence of drugs.
WDAF received a statement from a Bowyer:
“Anyone that knows me, knows that family is everything to me. My thoughts and prayers are with the family and loved ones of Ms. Simmons. This is a very difficult time for my family and I, please respect our privacy as we move forward.”
Fox Sports, which employs Bowyer as a broadcaster, released the following statement:
“We are deeply saddened by the news of this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families.”