Playoff time at Talladega over the years has caused stress and anxiety for all the drivers on different levels. This year it is almost a bittersweet moment, at least when it comes to the current race vehicle.
Since 2013, when Jimmie Johnson took victory in the Daytona 500, the gen-6 car has been the vehicle everyone is familiar with at Daytona and Talladega. The draft has changed, how the cars look has changed, and even the race package has changed over the last eight seasons. When the checkered flag flies today, it will close out another chapter in superspeedway history that has been riddled with chaos, excitement, torture and triumph.
But it also feels like the pressure and anxiety that come with this race has seemed to just gone stale over the last few seasons.
When Talladega had the distinction of being the final race in the playoffs, all that anxiety was up ten-fold, just because the fate of the playoffs could be in the hands of someone else. That certainly was reason to panic and try to get a win early in the round. Then, Talladega got moved to the middle race, and although some happiness came with it not being the deciding race, there still was a lot of anxiety simply because of the unknown that comes with it.
Drivers have suddenly become used to used to this event and have just normalized understanding that this event is going to be part of the playoffs, and just accept it.
Some people have wrote about that maybe the time has come to take Talladega out of the playoffs. This sentiment is not echoed by me due to the fact the playoffs involve all different types of racing, from intermediate to short tracks, a road course and the massive speedway. Taking Talladega out means trying to find a track to replace it, and that is not what NASCAR wants to do, or needs to do.
I say if anything, move Talladega to the start of a round, either the Round of 12 or even the Round of 8.
Starting at Talladega should it be in the round of 12, right away there’s three different races. Start at the superspeedway, go to the intermediate that is Las Vegas, and then it ends on the Roval, which in itself is a wildcard event. Go to the Round of 8, Talladega would lead off before heading to the Lone Star State and then finish off at Martinsville, which would make a perfect grouping for competition.
Having Talladega start the playoffs truly would be better for everyone. It gets the anxiety out of the way right away for all the teams, not just those in the playoffs, and gives teams two opportunities to make up for what Talladega could do for playoff contenders.
For this year, and next, that will not happen. Could it be something for future seasons, perhaps.
For now, we all must dust off ‘Dega and be ready for whatever this 2.66-mile monster has in store.