Bob Margolis: Talladega belongs
Talladega Superspeedway has long been one of my favorite race tracks.
It's the biggest and fastest on the Nextel Cup circuit, and its expansive infield is so huge you could probably fit a small Third World country inside and still have plenty of room left over.
And forget Daytona or Indy – nobody throws a better party than the folks deep in the heart of Dixie. Can I get a little "Sweet Home Alabama" from Lynyrd Skynyrd, y'all?
But when it comes to the biggest party of all, the Chase for the Cup, "'Dega-bound" should be a one-way trip to "Nowheresville."
Give me Bristol. Give me Indy. Heck, give me Las Vegas, even. But not Talladega.
My reason is simple: Talladega has the propensity to make or break a driver's chances in the Chase more so than any other track due to the artificiality of restrictor-plate racing.
Unlike the 32 other races on the schedule where the driver's hands and feet are firmly in control of the race car, at 'Dega and Daytona it's the other way around: the car is firmly in control of the basically helpless and hapless driver.
Throw in the almost obligatory multi-car Big One pileup and you have nothing more than a manufactured race, with manufactured limits that typically present anything but a fair outcome.
Since the use of restrictor plates was first mandated by NASCAR nearly 20 years ago, there's no question the rule change has done its job of slowing cars down. But the trade-off has been taking a good deal of maneuverability and all throttle control away from the driver.
Drivers can't just go out and mash the gas pedal like they would at places like Bristol, Atlanta, Texas or even Sonoma. Instead, they have to resort to doing odd-sounding things like drafting – or its evil cousin, bump drafting.
Joe Fan can relate to the frustration that Cup drivers face on plate tracks. It's akin to trying to pass someone on the interstate in a car with a clogged fuel filter: you sputter helplessly and hope that maybe a gust of wind at your back might finally give you the passing power you need.
The late Dale Earnhardt put it best when he said racing at Talladega becomes like a train ride that either gets you to your destination or brings you to the train wreck known as the Big One that promptly stops you in your tracks – which seems to be the case more often than not.
To help counter the effects of a Talladega-like race, a lot of discussion has centered on the possibility of throwing out a driver's worst finish during the Chase, thus keeping him somewhat in contention to win the championship. It has even been given its own nickname (borrowed from golf): a Mulligan.
Alas, that gimmick has one major drawback: once again, it's a case of artificial control – altering the rules to suit the circumstances rather than simply encouraging true races to the checkers and the championship.
Sure, if NASCAR was to suddenly take the plates off the cars, I'd immediately want Talladega back on my hypothetical Chase calendar. How could you not want to have the biggest and fastest circuit be part of NASCAR's "playoffs?"
But to have a driver's hopes and chances to win the championship suddenly be dashed by one so-called race that is nothing more than a case study in the plusses and minuses of artificial control, no, count me and 'Dega both out.