“Crazy, fast and risky.” That’s how Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing, describes restrictor-plate racing at tracks like Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, where the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete in Sunday’s Alabama 500.
Talladega has long been considered somewhat of a wild-card event, where a driver’s fate is not entirely in his or her own hands. It is one of only two racetracks on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit where restrictor plates are used. A restrictor plate is a device installed at the air intake of an engine to limit its power in an effort to reduce speeds, increase safety and help provide an equal level of competition. The horsepower-restricted engines require drivers to draft together, side-by-side, at speeds approaching 200 mph.
As a result, superspeedway events often produce crazy, fast and unpredictable racing.
“It’s super easy to drive around the track flat-out by yourself – it’s not difficult at all,” Patrick said. “When you put all of the other cars around you, it’s not necessarily about how the car feels on the track, although that can be an issue, for sure, at times. It’s more about what everyone else is doing around you. You’re constantly looking at what’s happening in front of you. You’re also looking at what’s behind you. Probably more important than what’s happening in front of you is what’s happening behind you – who’s coming, who’s following you, who’s helping you move forward.”
All of that jostling and jockeying around for position at speeds near 200 mph can lead to the seemingly inevitable “big one” – a multicar accident that typically eliminates multitudes of drivers from the event. This type of racing leaves teams wondering what it will take to survive the “big one” and make it to victory lane at the end of the day.
Patrick has set records at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway – the other restrictor-plate superspeedway on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule – but she’s yet to find the same level of success at Talladega. With 10 prior NASCAR Cup Series starts at the track, her career-best finish is a 19th-place result she earned in October 2014.
In May, after running as high as seventh, a late-race, 18-car accident relegated Patrick to a 38th-place finish. Last year, another late-race accident left her with a 24th-place result in May and, when the series returned to the track in October, she finished 20th.
As the NASCAR Cup Series returns to Talladega this weekend, Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford team will be prepared for a crazy race as they look to survive the “big one” and go for the win on Sunday.