TALLADEGA – There will be three checkered flags at Talladega Superspeedway today. Three times the drama. How about three times the danger?
The stage racing implemented this season to ratchet up the drama “has completely changed” the complexion of restrictor plate racing, Jamie McMurray said earlier in the week.
Bonus points are awarded at each stage, with 10 going to the leader at lap 55 and at lap 110; they’re awarded in descending order to the top 10 at each stage. So, obviously, building some segment points can be some insurance.
Talladega Superspeedway is not a place where post-race points are necessarily awarded fairly. A late “Big One” crash can eliminate someone who has raced near the lead all day. A frenetic last lap can shuffle a driver from third to 13th in a hiccup.
Now there’s potential for the frenetic last laps before the green-and-white checkered flags fly that signal the end of a stage.
“I don’t think it will be as intense as the end of the race, but I do think the intensity level will definitely pick up,” said Joey Logano, who has won the last two fall races here.
Added Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “I don’t know how it’s going to affect the race. I know it was a little funky at the (Daytona) 500. I don’t know what you’ll see.”
Neither does anybody else, it seems.
Matt Kenseth theorized that “with the stages and it being the second race of the round … you’re going to race for position every single lap of every single race.”
There are 12 drivers still eligible for the championship, and the lower in the standings, the higher the intensity, figured Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who won here in May.
The top driver will “probably feel pretty comfortable, maybe not getting up in the mix the whole time and missing out on some stage points … but there are a lot of us within 20 points of each other, so I think that’s going to be the key, is how hard we’re going to race for those stage points.”
But, at what cost? There is a definite risk-reward scenario at play.
“If you’re going to be 20th on back, is the risk (worth it to get) up there to get one point, maybe?” Logano said. “Is it worth the risk of crashing and getting no points the rest of the day. Those are the decisions that drivers will have to weigh out in the heat of battle.”
Said Chase Elliott: “The stages are important. But, no, it’s not worth wrecking yourself getting some stage points. If you can make it work then, great. But ultimately I’d like to be a part of the event when it’s over.”