Thursday, April 24, 2008

Aaron's 499 preview

Each week Ridebuyer delves deep into the misunderstood, oft terrifying, world of American saloon-car racing known as NASCAR.

This week: Talladega. The third most interesting place/event in the state of Alabama... (#1: Space Camp. Why? If you have to ask 'why', you wouldn't understand. And, yes, they do offer programs for adults. #2: The GMAC Bowl. Why? C-USA athletics are the balls, that's why.)

TV: Fox 1:00pm EST (Sunday)
Location: Talladega Superspeedway (Talladega, AL)
Distance: 499 miles/188 laps
2007 winners: J. Gordon (spring race); J. Gordon (fall race).

*A note on scheduling*

The meat of the NASCAR season has commenced. I hope you enjoyed last weekend's little Cup- siesta, because you're not getting another weekend off until the middle of the summer. There are 11 Cup races in the next 12 weeks. The next off-weekend is the weekend of July 18th. July 18th!? It's currently fucking April. What kind of sick sport would device such a schedule? Clearly this is the work of a cruel scheduling-bastard, hell bent on sucking the marrow from reasonable racing fans. To Follow NASCAR at this point in the season is a full time job (granted, one that requires a wifebeater instead of a suit and a Ward Burton mini-cooler instead of briefcase, but a job nonetheless). No man this side of Mike Joy can follow the series with any degree of regularity or depth do to its sheer length.

After the July 18th off-week, the season concludes with 17 consecutive race weekends. That span goes from the end of July until the Homestead finale in mid-November. I'll spare you the burden of addition and tell you that equates to 28 races in 29 weeks. Fuck me.

Some sports have pretty crazy schedules. But, the difference between motor racing and, say, the MLB is that baseball is a sport that needs to be played daily. Baseball players need daily games to find rhythm at the plate and to further perfect their Skoal skills. Games need to be played everyday so drunken businessmen have an outlet to imbibe at noon on a Tuesday. Stock car racing is not baseball. While races happen every weekend instead of daily, the effort needed to transport teams, cars, and personnel to any number of tracks across the country makes the task of staging a weekly NASCAR event more daunting than anything the MLB scheduling folks could fathom.

But, enough stick-and-ball comparisons. If you want more on those activities take solace that MLB team's have 130 more games this season, and the NBA Playoffs will continue until sometime in December.

On to racing.

*What to know:

Talladega is big. Like Daytona (only other restrictor-plate track on circuit), Talladega features racing that looks more like a single clump of advertisement-laden drones circulating at something far less than terminal velocity than actual closed-circuit racing. Many people hate this form of racing. Alas, the criticisms of restrictor-plate racing have been discussed ad nauseam and to the point of cliche. There is no point to further trash the institution as NASCAR will never modify their stance on the devices. Just brace for the "big one" and enjoy the ride.

*It was a wreck at Talladega that caused NASCAR to implement restrictor-plates at the Alabama track and Daytona. The thought of a 200+mph stock car traveling into the grandstands was a bit too much for NASCAR. Witness Bobby Allison in 1987:

The most successful team owner in terms of victories at Talladega is Rick Hendrick. The man has 10 victories at the uberspeedway. I would like to say there is a chance for other teams to post a 'w' in Bama, but that would be a lie and it's illegal to lie on the internet. If a car owned by anyone other than Rick Hendrick wins on Sunday I will personally fight a lion. Barehanded. Also, the car that is leading with 10-laps remaining will not win this race. That is really all you need to know. Here, I'll put that information into easy-to-read bullet points:

- Hendrick car to win

-Big wreck will happen

-Late race lead change

-Ridebuyer might have to fight a lion

This race is rather straight forward.

View Larger Map

*Who to watch:

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: The odds-on favorite to win Sunday and break his winless streak as it approaches two years. Sunday's race is the 300th Cup series start for Junior. His record at restrictor-plate events is pretty damn impressive (five wins, seven top-fives and nine top-tens). His first point-paying win for Hendrick has to come soon, and Talladega seems like a logical choice to bust through the proverbial hymen of victory lane. He is also third in points and is coming off of a P7 in Phoenix.

Jeff Gordon: Like Earnhardt, Gordon is still looking for his first win of season. Like Earnhardt, Gordon is the balls at Talladega. He has the most wins (6) of any active driver in Bama, plus swept last season's 'dega races. His average 'dega finish is inside the top-15 (that is since 1993, mind you). There is no reason why Gordon will not be near the front for the duration of Sunday.

Carl Edwards: Call him the best of the rest. Since Edwards is not in a Hendrick-mount this weekend, he will not win. But, only having two drivers in the 'Who to Watch' portion of the preview is quite homosexual. In the spring race of 2005 Edwards had posted a fifth place finish. That is about the extent of his success at the big track. He finished forth last race and leads this season's win tally with three. If this was Las Vegas, Edwards would be the strongest of the "field" bets. But, if this was Las Vegas, you'd also be getting blown by a hooker you met outside of the Tropicana right now. This is definitely not Las Vegas.

*Dark Horse:

Ryan Newman: The easy pick for a dark horse is Ryan Newman. I like taking the easy way out. He won the only other restrictor-plate race of the season, plus had top-10s in both Talladega races last year. He has been the class of the field this season for Dodge, and sits 12th in points. Enjoy the horse, Ryan.

*For those heading to the track:

Talladega is something of a Mecca for those folks who hold tailgating in a high regard. The 'dega infield is so expansive that the campgrounds therein can accommodate roughly the same number of people that reside in the entire state at any given time. Booze, orgies and novelty beads are all hot commodities. A first hand account of Talladega debauchery can be found here. The campgrounds open on Tuesday of race week and don't close until the next Monday. That is six full days of pregaming. My god, Rick James would be hard-pressed to sustain the party for that duration (you know, if he wasn't already dead). The most shocking (horrifying) aspect of the infield experience is the cost. There is none. If you have a ticket to Sunday's race, you can live at the track for an entire week. This means the mechanism in place to keep grifters, gypsies and other societal-drains out of legitimate sporting events has been removed. God help you. Any race week that occurs without a declared marshal-law is almost unheard of. Further track regulations (if you can call a complete free-for-all 'regulations') are here.

*Series points:


Next weekend: Richmond International Raceway. Dog fighting theme? I think that's a safe bet.

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