What is control? Webster’s dictionary has several meanings, both as a verb and as a noun. As a verb, it’s defined “To hold in check, or to curb one’s actions.” As a noun, it’s defined as “The situation of being under the regulation, domination, or command of another.”
So when it comes to NASCAR, how exactly can one be in control, but also not be in control?
That’s exactly how restrictor plate racing is. As everyone knows from the moment I started doing this column, especially when I swapped from doing race analysis to an opinion or viewpoint, racing at Talladega absolutely frightens me. It’s unpredictable, while still being predictable, which in a way is the same as saying being in control, while out of control.
Everything that happens at a plate race is not necessarily based on the driver. In fact, in the years I’ve been doing this column, the style of plate racing has changed. It was the tandem draft where it was drivers nose-to-tail in pairs, often swapping positions in order to go faster. Then it got back to the big pack racing from the 90’s, and now it’s a combination of both since the tandem draft only works to a certain extent.
But still, in order to make this style of racing work, to be in control, one must relinquish control of their own race and know the drivers in the mirror are the ones in control overall.
The leader at a plate race is the one that is in the most vulnerable position, and the spotter on the roof is the one in panic mode. That lead driver is moving side to side, figuring out what line is making the move forward, and moving in time to stop that momentum. Calls to the driver of “high line moving, low line now moving, watch your right, etc” continue to fill the helmet.
At the same time, the drivers know in order to be in control, there needs to be trust.
In these big packs, the slightest bobble, or slightest touch, can turn into calamity in a matter of moments. That is the predictable, and unpredictable, aspect of this racing. Every team knows the possibility is there to have that big wreck happen, but also none know when it will occur. It could be at the beginning, midway through, or right near the end of the race.
Sunday’s action saw 16 cars destroyed in one straightaway after one very slight touch. There’s trust, and there’s hope, and every race there’s a hope it doesn’t happen.
Once a driver realizes that in order to be in control during a plate race, they have to relinquish control. That must be why I’m frightened of this style of racing…so much control is taken away. It’s a necessary evil, one that will likely scare me until I no longer enjoy the sport.
STAGE 1 WINNER: Brad Keselowski
STAGE 2 WINNER: Denny Hamlin
RESULTS: 1-Stenhouse Jr. 2-McMurray 3-Kyle Busch 4-Almirola 5-Kahne 6-Kurt Busch 7-Keselowski 8-Johnson 9-Menard 10-Ragan
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Larson 22-Earnhardt Jr. 23-Kenseth 32-Logano 35-Truex Jr.
CAUTIONS: 8 for 33 laps. 18-21 (#42 incident-T1); 57-62 (Stage 1 conclusion); 83-87 (#55 incident-FS); 112-116 (Stage 2 conclusion); 162-165 (#17, #21 incident-BS); 170-173 (#2, #3, #4, #6, #10, #13, #20, #22, #23, #24, #38, #41, #47, #72, #77, #78, #83
and #95 incident-BS [Red flag: 26 Mins, 51 Secs.]); 180-181 (#34 stopped on track); 187-189 (#14, #31 and #37 incident-BS).
LEAD CHANGES: 26 among 14 drivers. R. Stenhouse Jr. 1-13; B. Keselowski 14-17; R. Newman 18; C. Bowyer 19-23; K. Harvick 24; C. Bowyer 25-27; Kyle Busch 28-33; B.
Keselowski 34-57; T. Dillon # 58-60; D. Hamlin 61-80; Kyle Busch 81-83; T. Bayne 84-88; R. Newman 89; C. Bowyer 90-91; D. Hamlin 92-112; P. Menard 113; M. Kenseth 114-117; D. Hamlin 118; B. Keselowski 119-121; D. Hamlin 122; K. Harvick 123-127; J. Johnson 128-130; K. Harvick 131-139; J. Logano 140-149; E. Sadler(i) 150-151; Kyle Busch 152-190; R. Stenhouse Jr. 191.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 29 Mins, 16 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 145.669 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.095 Seconds
POINT STANDINGS (Points/Behind Leader [Playoff Points]): 1. Larson, 428 ; 2. Truex Jr, -54 ; 3. Keselowski, -61 ; 4. Elliott, -75 ; 5. McMurray, -110; 6. Logano, -110 ; 7. Harvick, -119 ; 8. Johnson, -123 ; 9. Bowyer, -139; 10. Kyle Busch, -151 ; 11. Hamlin, -161 ; 12. Stenhouse Jr, -178 ; 13. Blaney, -188 ; 14. Newman, -191 ; 15. Kurt Busch, -201 ; 16. Bayne, -205.