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Dustin Off the Next Race: GEICO 500

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Ever since this site has come online, when I speak of Talladega and the racing here, I’ve spoke of three words:  plates, trust, and fear.  Well, one of those words can now change, but is replaced with two more.

This weekend, Talladega can be described in four words:  Trust, Fear, Unknown, and Uncharted.

When it comes to this place, trust and fear are always part of the racing.  Every driver needs to trust one another for 188 laps, and sometimes more, to make it to the finish.  All too often, this track has been the catalyst for some insane moments that either lead to victory, heartache, and maybe some anger.  That’s when the fear comes in because when teams roll into this big venue, they don’t know what is happening, and they fear they could be caught up in something that will cause their team harm, or harm to others.

I mean, the first race at this track was met with protest from drivers after tires were wearing out so bad they refused to race on it, and ultimately boycotted the event.

There is a lot of fear when it comes to Talladega, but now for the first time in over 30 years, we are experiencing uncharted racing…the third word in my description.

That’s because for the first time since 1987, cars will be racing at this track without a restrictor plate.  Yes, there is a tapered spacer on these engines, and there is a much taller spoiler, so cars will still be utilizing the draft.  But, this is something that drivers in this era have never experienced.  Not one driver in the field has driven this place without a restrictor plate.  In fact, many weren’t even born during the era when plates weren’t on the cars.

This is something that the teams are doing that has never been done before, and even NASCAR is in a way ill prepared.

After testing proved speeds were higher than expected, the eight-inch spoiler then got boosted up to nine inches, and the track bar adjuster was made mandatory to lift the rear of the car another inch off the ground.  What happened…speeds were still above the 200 mph mark for most of the laps.  Over half the teams actually eclipsed the mark in the first practice.

What to do?

Hoping to create more drag, a one-inch wicker was added to the spoiler, similar to what we saw used in 2015 at a couple tracks with higher speeds in what was a “high drag” aerodynamic package.  Certainly not the first time a wicker was added to the spoilers at this track, as it was the year 2000 when a wicker was on the spoiler and a strip was on the roof in a race that saw a then-record amount of lead changes, and a first-class Hall of Fame driver earn ultimately his final victory.

Was this a quick fix for the weekend?  Possibly, because when there’s 40 cars in the draft, there is definitely a lot of speed happening, but also there’s more driver response.

So what exactly are we going to be seeing on Sunday?

There lies the fourth word to describe this track, and in particular, this race…the unknown.  We have never seen a race like we all will witness on Sunday.  There’s very few people in the NASCAR community who are still here today that were part of both the pre-plate era, and the plate era.  Some were never part of the pre-plate era, and as stated some weren’t even born yet.

What we are witnessing on Sunday is not just an entirely new era of racing at the big superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega, but a whole new way of analyzing such a race.

It really will be a race where you will need to pull those belts as tight as they can, ensure that helmet is strapped tight, the radio is working to the spotter, and hope the drivers on all sides are going to make the right move at the right moment.

Here we go.

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