Drivers are even less certain than usual about what to expect at Talladega Superspeedway given a new package that NASCAR is still adjusting on the fly.
To Clint Bowyer, that unpredictability at least makes it anything but boring.
“If you woke up every day of your life and knew what the future held, that would be a boring life,” he said Friday. “That’s what’s cool about Talladega.”
If that’s the case, the Cup race could be especially cool Sunday. Drivers turned practice laps Friday at Talladega Superspeedway, beginning to get some inkling of what the race might bring minus the restrictor plates .
But NASCAR made tweaks after the opening practice session, adding a one-inch wicker to the spoiler and allowing teams to switch between the two gears until qualifying. Speeds ratcheted up in afternoon practice, when six cars topped 204 mph.
“I think pretty much everyone coming here thought that there was a pretty large potential for an audible along the way,” Brad Keselowski, who lead active drivers with five Talladega wins, said in between sessions. “I’m not frustrated. I’m just focused.”
Gone are the restrictor plates that had sapped horsepower to reduce speed since 1988, oft-maligned devices geared toward improving safety at the nation’s fastest tracks. They’ve been replaced by tapered spacers.
So at Talladega and Daytona, in July, drivers will have 550 horsepower, about 140 more than with the restrictor plates. The changes didn’t go into force until after February’s Daytona 500.
NASCAR has increased the height of the rear spoiler and the rear height of cars hoping to cut speeds. More changes came after their first tryout on the 2.66-mile track, famed in no small part for chaos and big wrecks.
The changes have led to lots of questions and speculation about what the race will look like when money and series points are on the line.
Matt DiBenedetto, who led a race-high 49 laps at Daytona, had a wary initial assessment after the first practice: “It’s weird and it’s different.”
“I think the runs are really big and I hope I’m wrong, but I think there’s going to be the potential for more crashes because the runs are so big,” DiBenedetto said. “When we led at Daytona, we were able to kind of manage both lanes and lead for a long time. I think it’s going to be harder to do that now.”
Jimmie Johnson said the closing rate “is the highest I’ve ever experienced.”
Talk that the new package could lead to a return to more tandem drafting seemed to have subsided after practice, when pairing up proved difficult.
“I don’t think that the tandem deal that we have all thought about it is going to be a reality but I do think that the cars are still pretty fast and handling will still come into play,” David Ragan said.
Of course, it’s Talladega. Keselowski isn’t taking it for granted that Friday’s talk necessarily translates to Sunday’s race.
“Whatever the sentiment is (Friday), the race will be the opposite,” he said. “Because all the drivers are listening and if you say they’re going to wreck everybody, then they’ll all get scared and they won’t run tight and wreck each other. If you say, ‘Oh, it’ll be just fine, then they’ll all run over each other.’ It tends to go inverse of whatever the sentiment is in the week.”