Since the modern era began, the hallowed ground of Talladega Superspeedway has welcomed the unknown. Some drivers cringe upon the necessity of the 2.66-mile race track when it is inching closer on the schedule, while others welcome the challenge, knowing that this could be their one shot to win a race all season long.
The October race in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama brings certainty for an entreating race. Certain foes will be running up front for the majority of the race getting their sponsor some coverage, otherwise unknown.
In the past, drivers such as Dick Brooks and Lennie Pond picked up their one and only win in NASCAR’s premier series at the famed Talladega Superspeedway. It is the track that hosted the first victory of current Cup Series stars Brad Keselowski and Brian Vickers and a place over the years that the Earnhardt’s have reached legendary status.
It is this year that Michael Annett would have liked to host his name on the trophy and pick up his first career win on the outskirts of Talladega Boulevard.
The restrictor plate tracks of Daytona International Speedway and Talladega allow for an even playing field, and all 43 cars that take the green flag have the opportunity to be first at the checkered flag. Over the course of the 500-mile race, cars will be shuffled in and out of the draft, run at the front of the pack and toward the rear. It is where you cross the checkers that counts.
“We have as good of a chance winning this race as anybody does that takes the green flag,” Annett told Speedway Digest. “That’s the cool part about the superspeedways. Jay (Guy, crew chief) was there with David Ragan when he won here a few years back. Jay knows firsthand that a smaller team can bring home the trophy at a track like this.”
There is no doubt about it that in 2015, the HScott Motorsports No. 46 team has struggled. The South Carolina-based race team has am average finish of 33.1 with just that one top-20 finish at Daytona in February. The team’s next best result is a pair of 23rd-place finishes at both Bristol in April and Kansas in early May.
However, Annett’s best finish of the season came in the season-opening Daytona 500 where he finished 13th.
Some enjoy racing at the restrictor plate tracks. Others hate it. Strategies differ, with teams racing near the front or trying to stay out of trouble near the back.
“You can look at it two different ways,” Annett said. “I love the opportunity that the superspeedways bring, but the downside is there is just so much that is out of your control at these races.”
In three prior starts at Talladega, Annett has an average finish just north of 27th. At a track that presents itself with costly accidents, he has been involved in two during the three races at the superspeedway, though none of his own doing. It was simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Just because a team is quick in practice, it doesn’t mean that they will be fast in the race, or make the race for that matter. Sure, teams can judge off of practice on whether or not a team has single car speed or if they look solid in the draft. That can all go in a way in an instant in the pack-style racing that is Talladega.
On Saturday afternoon, the day started out promising for Annett’s No. 46 team. After all, it could not be worse than Friday. He was the slowest out of 30 cars in Happy Hour, and 30th in the first practice session of the weekend. When qualifying came, it was Annett, along with Jeb Burton, who did not qualify for the race. It marks the second time in two years that an HScott Motorsports car missed the race at Talldeaga, with teammate Justin Allgaier DNQ’ing last year.
Annett knows from prior experience that racing toward the front and back at restrictor plates is a greater unknown. In the back of his mind, he knows how dangerous it is to go three-wide at 200 mph for over three hours. But missing a race for the second time this year is certainly not what the Iowa native needed.
One of his better chances of winning a top division NASCAR race was in 2013 at Talladega, where he was behind the wheel of the No. 43 in the Xfinity Series for Richard Petty Motorsports. With just a few laps to go, veteran Elliott Sadler and he teamed up and made a charge toward the front. But that came to a crashing halt when they went to switch positions in the tandem draft as Annett’s temperatures were getting too hot.
“It’s just something you don’t think about,” Annett said of the craziness at Talladega. “If you race worrying about something like that then you don’t even need to take the green flag. I went by the philosophy that is something is going to happen then it’s out of my control.”
Daytona and Talladega bring the craziness in NASCAR to a new extreme because in just about every race, there is a viscous crash- the “Big One.” The safety in NASCAR has come a long way, but no driver, crew member or team knows what to expect at these races.
“This sport drives you crazy, just because we went into that race with the same strategy and went into Talladega with that same one and weren’t even close to finishing where we wanted to,” Annett said. “It’s been a tough year on the performance side and not at all where we want to be. We’ve shown some flashes of what we can do on the race track and obviously we would like to do that a lot more often.”