Spotters' skills on full display this weekend as Cup Series treks to Talladega

Spotters' skills on full display this weekend as Cup Series treks to Talladega

With Talladega Superspeedway on the horizon, spotters will be in full song as they guide their drivers through close-quartered, three-wide racing around the 2.66-mile behemoth.

Drivers are ultimately the ones who put their cars in Victory Lane, but spotters can make or break whether a driver can keep their car spotless from green to checkered or get collected in a multi-car pileup.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski have all had their fair share of success at tracks like Talladega and Daytona, the most recent victor being Stenhouse in the 2023 Daytona 500. While Stenhouse is big on trust with his spotter Tab Boyd, he also keys in on a spotter’s cadence and listening to them.

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“Luckily for me, I’ve only had in my whole career, like four spotters, and I feel like I’ve had some really good spotters and I think you got to trust them,” Stenhouse told “But you also have to enjoy listening to them, right? You have had spotters here and there, different races where you go back and listen to races and radio communications of other teams, and you close your eyes, you’re like, ‘Man, there’s no way I can listen to that spotter.’ So you got to be comfortable, you got to enjoy them, but you got to trust them as well.”

Boyd jumped over to Stenhouse and the No. 47 JTG Daugherty team after the 2021 season, and while the two haven’t strung together consistent results on superspeedways yet, Stenhouse said he’s enjoying having the longtime spotter as his eyes in the sky.

“Tab Boyd’s been spotting for me for a while now and I think we got a great relationship,” Stenhouse said. “He knows what I’m looking for and you just continue to build that relationship up and that trust. They’re super important, especially in this day and age where, you know, an inch here or there when you’re clear, is very vital to track position. It takes them doing their job to, you know, to be on it.”

Whether it’s running three or four wide inches apart at Talladega or spread out and having multi-second gaps between your competitors at a road course, Stenhouse said he always wants his spotter to have the same tone no matter the scenario.

“I think you want a spotter that’s the same all the time,” Stenhouse said. “I think that’s key. The drivers get excited enough. You want your spotter pretty calm and so whether you’re battling for the win at Daytona or at Bristol or a road course, you want a guy that it’s going to be the same.”

Since his early days in NASCAR, Denny Hamlin has had only two spotters. Outside of his breakout 2006 victory in the pre-season shootout at Daytona, Hamlin hadn’t won a superspeedway race until Chris Lambert joined the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team.

While Hamlin has been a perennial title contender throughout the majority of his career, he noted the differences between his spotters and how each one made him a better driver in various aspects.

“[The first] was Curtis Markham early on. He was more of a driver coach when I came into JGR in my early years,” Hamlin said. “And then once we switched over to Chris Lambert in 2012, or 13, he was just a really sought-after guy, and in my eyes, from what I’d seen, the work he had done, I think that he kind of made me a better superspeedway racer.”

Together, Hamlin and Lambert have won five superspeedway races, two of them at Talladega, and what is probably the most impressive feat of Hamlin’s career, three Daytona 500 trophies.

As motorsports continue to evolve and technology becomes a greater aspect both away and at the track, relationships among race teams have to evolve and adapt with the times.

Brad Keselowski, the winningest active driver at Talladega (six), broke down how the roles of spotters have changed over the course of his career.

“Probably the biggest thing is when SMT came in, and all this technology came in, the spotter went from being somebody who could almost work it as a part-time job to someone who has to study every week and really focus hard,” Keselowski said. “Not that it was a part-time job before, but it was different. It seemed like the garage experience, at least from a spotter perspective, was more about being at a race track for four or five days a week and now it’s, as the schedules change, more about being at the race track, two days a week, but studying for two days a week. So it’s a different balance for those guys for sure than what it was a decade ago.”

Regardless of where the sport goes in the future, the spotter’s importance will never fade and the role will be at its most pressure-filled this weekend.

To get a perspective of the driver-spotter relationship, here’s how to access the scanners this weekend to listen live to spotters navigate their drivers around the high banks of Talladega.