I have seen some columns in various outlets this week about Talladega not belonging in the NASCAR playoffs because it is too unpredictable of a proposition – the wild card, as it were.
Yeah, no. This is the biggest load of bull ever.
In case you missed it, eight of the 12 remaining playoff drivers found trouble in the Alabama 500, a race that was eventually won by Brad Keselowski. Jamie McMurray finished 37th, Kyle Busch 27th, Rick Stenhouse Jr. 26th, Jimmie Johnson 24th, Martin Truex Jr. 23rd, Ryan Blaney 18th, and Chase Elliott 16th. All were at least six laps down at the checkered flag. Only 14 drivers of the 40 who started finished the event. Of those 14, only four are playoff drivers.
Kyle Larson found some trouble, but with all the other drivers in the race getting caught up in accidents, Larson managed to finish 13th, on the lead lap. Matt Kenseth finished 14th, one lap down from the leaders.
“There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s part of Talladega,” McMurray said after his lap 25 wreck. “We know you can come out of here with a lot of points and be a winner or you can be in the position we are right now. We’ll go to Kansas and do our best. I’m sure I won’t be the only playoff driver disappointed today.”
And looking at those results, he wasn’t wrong. But that doesn’t mean Talladega should come out of the final 10 races of the year. The playoffs should be representative of the different types of tracks NASCAR runs during the season. That’s one of the reasons I’m glad they are adding the road course at Charlotte next year. Road course racing is part of NASCAR and it needs to be part of the set of races that determine a champion.
NASCAR did switch Talladega’s date with Kansas this year to prevent Talladega from being the last stop of the second playoff round. That’s a good thing to somewhat mitigate the chaos. Remember last year when Truex and Keselowski saw their playoff hopes dashed at ‘Dega? This year both atoned for that with wins in the round. Keselowski locked himself into the next playoff round with the victory at Talladega, joining Truex who won at Charlotte the week before.
Unpredictability is part of racing. Crazy things happen. I mean, Gray Gauiding finished ninth at Talladega. Taking Talladega out of the playoffs because there is a greater likelihood of craziness in Alabama (at the track and in general), would be asinine.
Beyond the diversity of tracks in the playoffs, there is another factor here: attendance. We all know neither NASCAR nor tracks release the number of butts in seats, but Talladega looked to have a substantial crowd in relation to what we have seen at other tracks of late. Did some of those butts have something to do with Dale Earnhardt Jr. sitting on the pole in his last running at a track where he has six victories? I’m sure it did. But at this point, I’ll take what I can get with people in seats and beyond that, plate racing is exciting.
People like the thing that the AP columnist said should take it out of the playoffs: it’s unpredictable nature. It takes good strategy, a fast car and a heap of luck to be successful at Daytona and Talladega. Of course, big crashed don’t hurt.
It would be a disservice to move the fall Talladega race into the first 26. There are already enough 1.5-mile ovals in the playoffs. Give me something different. I want the champion to be the guy who can master all styles of competition in the NASCAR world when it counts the most.
Andy Cagle can be reached at email@example.com.