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The Talladega Big One

It’s time to think about apples and pumpkins, ghouls and goblins and of course the fall race at Talladega. Talladega is always a hot spot. You may start out near the bottom in points and after the dust clears, you may be in the lead. You may have led the most laps in the race and get passed on the last lap or you may end up in “the big one”.

“The big one” is defined by many as a wreck that involves the majority of the cars in the race. It can happen at anytime or anywhere during restrictor plate races at super speedway tracks. In the last few years there have been several times when more than half of the field has been slowed or stopped due to damage from one “big one” at Talladega. Unfortunately, sometimes there is more than one “big one” per race. So what causes “the big one”? Can it be predicted? Can it be avoided? Or as some people think has it become “a show within a show“?

There are two important factors in "the big one". The tri-oval track configuration makes it hard to negotiate turns, especially turn 2. The negotiation of turn 2 requires drivers to make constant steering corrections throughout the turn. In other races drivers say they have to look out their mirrors to see what other drivers are doing most of the time, but at a tri-oval track they can’t take their eyes off the mirrors, especially in the turns where even a minor miscalculation can cause “the big one”.

NASCAR requires the use of restrictor plates at super speedways in order to keep speeds under 200 mph. Because the cars are restricted, they are kept close to the same levels of performance. A large group of cars traveling at roughly the same speed, 3 or 4 cars abreast, as they enter the technically difficult turns of a tri-oval is a recipe for disaster.

“The big one” cannot really be predicted. Physically, the race is one of the easiest on the drivers. But, they take a mental beating worrying all day about “the big one” and trying to figure out a way to avoid it. Some drivers believe that it usually occurs somewhere between 8th place on back in the field. But that’s not always the case. In the race this week at Talladega “the big one” occurred with the 3rd and 4th place cars and took out most of the Chase drivers in the field, allowing Tony Stewart his first win this year and his first cup victory at Talladega. Carl Edwards had played it safe all day and then ended up being the one who caused “the big one” after all.

NASCAR knows that “the big one” is an inescapable fact of restrictor plate racing. It can’t be predicted and it is very hard to avoid. But, we as fans tend to flock to these kinds of races. We go to the short tracks because the tempers flare and it’s usually more than just the race we get to see. We go to restrictor plate races because the cars are fast, they are close together, and anything can happen. And as long as no one gets hurt, we like to see “the big one.” It provides “a show within a show”. One thing is for sure we haven’t seen the last of “the big ones” at Talladega.

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