NASCAR Classics: Races to watch before Talladega

Throughout the 2024 NASCAR season, Ken Martin, director of historical content for the sanctioning body, will offer his suggestions on which historical races fans should watch from the NASCAR Classics library in preparation for each upcoming race weekend.

Martin has worked exclusively for NASCAR since 2008 but has been involved with the sport since 1982, overseeing various projects. He has worked in the broadcast booth for hundreds of races, assisting the broadcast team with different tasks. This includes calculating the “points as they run” for the historic 1992 finale, the Hooters 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The following suggestions are Ken‘s picks to watch before this weekend‘s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

1978 Winston 500:

Rain delayed the 500-mile event at Talladega from May 7th to the following week, which promptly landed on Mother‘s Day. NASCAR‘s struggles with Mother Nature forced them to move the Music City 420 at Nashville Fairgrounds out of its spot on the May schedule and to be completed later in the season.

Once the green flag eventually waved, the 41-car field put on a show for everyone in attendance. The race featured 44 lead changes, with all of them coming from drivers who were named to NASCAR‘s 75 Greatest Drivers in 2023.

One driver did not lead the race for more than 17 consecutive laps, and 14 of the lead changes lasted just one lap.

Cale Yarborough, who led the most laps on the day, passed Buddy Baker exiting Turn 4 to take the checkered flag.

Dave Marcis inherited the point lead after finishing eighth. He left Talladega with just six points up on Benny Parsons.

Cale Yarborough in Victory Lane at Talladega
Cale Yarborough in Victory Lane at Talladega

1982 Winston 500:

Benny Parsons put his Harry Ranier-owned Pontiac on the pole for the race with a lap over 200 MPH.

The story of the day was a mix between parity at the front of the field and attrition.

13 different drivers found their way to the front of the field at some point in the day, with 51 lead changes occurring along the way. From 1981 NASCAR Cup Series champion Darrell Waltrip to rising star Terry Labonte to Lennie Pond to Steve Moore, the front of the field was always changing as the laps slowly passed.

18 of the 40 starters in the field picked up a DNF due to many issues, the majority of them being mechanical issues. Only five drivers finished all 188 laps, and only 16 of them completed at least 180 laps.

It all came down to another classic Talladega finish.

Parsons took the lead with three laps remaining but lost the top spot on the final lap as he attempted to break the draft of the cars behind him. Waltrip led a contingent of cars past Parsons on his way to Victory Lane.

Cars racing at Talladega
Cars racing at Talladega

2005 UAW-Ford 500:

A handful of contenders were caught up in an early accident triggered by contact between Jimmie Johnson and Elliott Sadler. This ended the day for Mark Martin and Dale Earhardt Jr. and left Michael Waltrip‘s car flipping two times.

Later in the race, Scott Riggs’s No. 10 car tumbled end over end after contact between Ryan Newman and Casey Mears.

Dale Jarrett captured the 32nd and final victory of his NASCAR Cup Series career, in a race that featured the final hurrah for not only Jarrett but also a handful of others.

It was also the 57th and final victory for his car owner, Robert Yates, and his team.

The race also marked the seventh and final NASCAR Cup Series start for Kerry Earnhardt.

Tony Stewart finished second after leading a race-high 65 laps, which had him leading the point standings by four over Ryan Newman with just seven races remaining on the schedule.

Cars racing at Talladega.
Cars racing at Talladega.

You can watch these three races and hundreds more by visiting NASCAR Classics.