Drivers on edge when it comes to Talladega

Sunday, October 2, 2005

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Mark Martin is the only Chase for the championship driver with a victory at Talladega Superspeedway.

Does that give him any advantage over his rivals in Sunday's race? Absolutely not.

"I am going to go out there and do the best I can. That's all," Martin said Saturday. "I can control the effort -- our effort, my effort. I can't even come close to controlling the outcome of it. If we take our hit tomorrow, then that's what it is."

Talladega is the wild card of NASCAR's 10-race title hunt, the one place where anything can happen and the points standings can shuffle dramatically. It's the only track in the Chase that requires carburetor restrictor plates, which sap horsepower and keep cars under 200 mph.

The plates prevent cars from breaking away, creating huge packs of side-by-side racing. One bump or bobble can trigger a huge accident, collecting cars at random. It happened to Jeremy Mayfield last year, when he was taken out in a four-car accident and finished 38th. It ended Mayfield's Nextel Cup title hopes.

"These restrictor-plate races are really intense," said Carl Edwards. "This place, you can't be too careful. You can't try too hard to watch out ahead. If there's a wreck, you can't stop too quick. You really have to be planning on what you're going do to stop that car as soon as you see some smoke."

It's become so tense, few drivers enjoy racing at Talladega. That includes Martin, who won there in 1995 and 1997. He's on pins and needles the entire time in his car. But he's the first to admit that if he were a spectator he wouldn't be able to pull himself away.

"I hate racing here in today's format," he said. "But it's one of the best ones to watch on TV. It's not about us, it's about television, it's about the fans. I think the competitors would rather see a race where you had more control over your destiny than this. But that doesn't matter."

Points leader Jimmie Johnson has failed to finish the fall Talladega race the past three seasons, and was victim to an overheating engine last year that dented his title hopes.

He knows Talladega again will be a crapshoot.

"In our sport, there are so many risks involved that you learn to deal with it in some ways and try to keep an open eye while you're on the track to avoid potential problems," he said. "Talladega is a huge risk. Martinsville (Va.) is a risk. So there's still a few out there.

"I think everybody is real nervous about Talladega, and hopefully everybody drives that way and we don't have any big pileups. But again, we're out there racing and trying to do our jobs at a high rate of speed and sometimes things happen."

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