TALLADEGA, Ala. – Stay amongst the leaders and try to lead as many laps as possible? Or fall back from the main group of cars to avoid a potential multi-car accident during Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event?
Jeff Gordon already has a plan.
“My strategy is to race whatever way gives us the best chance to win,” said the six-time Talladega Superspeedway winner. In April at the 2.66-mile track, 26 leaders combined for 88 lead changes – a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series record for most lead changes in an event. In fact, that number was reached in April of 2010, as well, with only 87 lead changes occurring in this race one year ago.
The track is now dangling a carrot in the form of a $100,000 bonus to the driver that leads the most times, provided 100 or more lead changes occur during the event. The $100k for 100 is appealing to Gordon, but so is the victory.
“I think the bonus is a cool thing that the track is doing, and 100 might be reachable,” said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet. “But reaching that target is not the No. 24 team’s goal once the race starts.
“Our plan is to be there at the end battling for the win. That could mean battling lap-after-lap for the lead, or it could mean staying a safe distance back and watching the race unfold. It could also be a mixture of the two.
“We’ll just have to wait and see once the green flag is waved.” Tandem racing has become the norm at restrictor-plate tracks (Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Talladega), but Gordon does not yet know how recently announced changes to the pressure release valve and size of the restrictor plate will affect the racing.
“I don’t expect a whole lot different, but we won’t really know until we get into Friday’s practice and start drafting,” said Gordon, who has a record 12 restrictor-plate victories. “I think you’re still going to see two-by-two, but the cars might have to swap more frequently.
“But we are going to try to do everything we can to not have to swap.”
Along with his six victories, Gordon has two poles (including one earlier this year to extend his streak to 19 consecutive years with a pole in NASCAR’s top series), 14 top-five finishes and 18 top-10s in 37 starts at the Alabama track. The style of racing has certainly changed since he first raced here in the early 1990’s.
“When I first started racing here, we were racing single file and you had to work lap-after-lap-after-lap for just one position,” Gordon said. “If you didn’t complete the pass, you could be shuffled out and lose 20 or 30 spots.
“Then we began racing in huge packs where you could race from 20th to first back to 20th in the span of a few laps. Now, it’s evolved into this two-car drafting, and it’s not as easy as maybe it looks on TV. It takes some skill but, most importantly, it takes getting two cars and two drivers and two spotters and two crew chiefs to work together. You have to watch your gauges a lot, you have to be really aware of what happens around you, and then you still have to put yourself in position as a two car tandem to win the race.
“It’s not an easy thing.”