As the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series seasons starts to wind down with the final handful of races of the year, Danica Patrick and the No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet SS team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) return to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway – a track where anything can happen – for Sunday’s Alabama 500.
Talladega has always been considered a bit of a wild-card race, where a driver’s fate is not entirely in his or her own hands. It is one of only two racetracks on the Sprint Cup 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.
“It’s super easy to drive around the track flat-out by yourself,” Patrick said. “It’s not hard at all. 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.”
As a result, superspeedway events often produce wild, unpredictable racing.
“The cool thing about superspeedways is that anybody can win,” Patrick said. “It’s a toss-up, what’s going to happen.”
And that toss-up always includes the distinct possibility of 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.
“The race is constantly evolving and you and your spotter have to be on it to be in the right position at the end,” Patrick said.
While Patrick has set records at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway – the other restrictor-plate superspeedway on the Sprint Cup schedule – she’s yet to find the same level of success at Talladega. With seven prior starts at the track, her career-best finish is a19th-place effort she earned in October 2014. Last year, she finished 21st in both races at the 2.66-mile track and, in May, a late-race accident left her with a 24th-place result.
As the Sprint Cup circuit returns to Talladega this weekend, Patrick and the No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet team will be looking to turn their luck around there and go for the win in Sunday’s Alabama 500.