Ranking the 10 Greatest NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Cup Moments at Talladega
The name itself strikes fear into the heart of Chase drivers, and while we’ve seen great performances at this track throughout the years, 10 Chase moments at Talladega stand out above the rest.
The drivers in this year’s Chase will have to face the same Talladega troubles we've seen throughout the postseason. All will go in hoping to survive, and only a handful will come out with championship hopes still intact. It’s been the major theme throughout Talladega Chase races and has helped in creating some of the best performances at the track.
The track has even played a role in improve NASCAR' driver safety and health.
We’ve seen crazy crashes over the years and side-by-side finishes just as the caution flag came out.
We could see just as much action this year, as well, but so far, these are the 10 greatest NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase moments at Talladega.
10. The Chase Tightens
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When NASCAR leaves Talladega, the Chase standings usually get a little mixed up. 'Dega, after all, is somewhat like a lottery in the Chase; drivers need to be lucky enough to survive it to keep pushing toward the championship.
2010, though, was different.
Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin went into Talladega battling for position in the standings, and 'Dega seemed to be the only thing that could separate the two drivers.
During the race, both drivers ran into separate issues, with Hamlin losing a drafting partner at one point and Johnson having to take a longer pit stop to fix a bumper as the race started to come to an end.
And with eight Laps to go, both drivers pushed toward the front hoping to get an advantage in the standings once the race ended.
Both drivers would also avoid the wreck caused by A.J. Allmendinger and finish the race with Hamlin in seventh and Johnson in eighth. The Chase standings grew even tighter after 'Dega, and Hamlin only sat two points behind Johnson.
Both drivers put on a fantastic performance during the race and overcame major challenges.
Even though Talladega is known for separating the standings, in 2010 it made them even tighter, showing fans that Johnson and Hamlin truly were the sport’s top competitors.
9. Proving He Can Still Compete
The Talladega race in 2007 was one of the first plate-races that the “Car of Tomorrow” would see. For Jeff Gordon, though, it was also one race where he would prove he is still one of the top drivers to beat.
The Big One happened a little earlier than usual, as Bobby Labonte lost control at Lap 44.
Drivers would come back from the caution flag ready to race, and as the Laps counted down, Hendrick teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon would lead the pack.
On the final Lap, Gordon ditched Johnson and took the lead, trying to hold back his competition. He would get a little help from Tony Stewart, and when Johnson tried to make a pass, Gordon was already in front of him.
His win at Talladega also put him in front of Jimmie Johnson in the standings that year, and even though he didn’t win the championship, he put on one of the best last lap performances seen at 'Dega.
He also proved that, though Johnson emerged as the top driver in NASCAR , he still had a thing or two to learn from Gordon.
8. Where There's Smoke
Tony Stewart has been involved in quite a few big moments at Talladega.
In 2005, though, Smoke was lucky enough not to be involved in anything big.
The Chase race during the 2005 season was much like other Talladega races; it ended with an accident.
When NASCAR entered Talladega, there were several drivers still battling for the championship. When the race ended, though, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman were the only two left standing.
A big reason for Smoke’s 2005 championship victory is, in part, thanks to his performance at Talladega. Smoke ran up-front at different points of the race and managed to finish his day in second place.
He saw his competition get caught up in wrecks, and even as things were crashing around him during the final laps, he managed to race against Dale Jarret until the very end and stay side-by-side with Jarret through the final backstretch.
Stewart didn’t win at Talladega, but his fantastic performance at the plate track is a big reason he would eventually become the 2005 champion.
7. Learning to Survive
Sandbagging at Talladega can be hit or miss. In 2011, it paid off for Carl Edwards but didn’t have the same results for Jimmie Johnson.
Both drivers stayed in the back for a majority of the race, hoping to avoid getting caught in the Big One. When it came time to race, though, both drivers began to push forward.
Edwards didn’t push his luck and settled for an eleventh place finish. Johnson, though, ran into problems and finished in 26th.
It ended his Chase hopes.
2011 was one of the better moments at Talladega because it showed the good and the bad of drivers choosing to hide out in the back for a majority of the race.
"If I had to do it over again, I would do the exact same thing," Edwards said after the race. "And I bet you the outcome would be wildly different, better or worse. At the end of the day we had a shot at it. Our car was intact and we could drive up there and that was our mission. It went well for us." (h/t ESPN)
While it did help Edwards avoid disaster, he wouldn’t win the championship that year.
And, you have to wonder what would have happened if Edwards did try to push toward the front instead of settling for 11th.
Still, his 'Dega performance is one of the best and proved that it’s better to live and drive another day by settling for a top 15 finish than put everything on the line and come up short.
6. One Race to End Them All
One of the greatest moments at Talladega during the Chase might not be considered one of the most positive.
As the Chase headed to 'Dega in 2009, Mark Martin was having the best Chase run of his career. He was a solid contender and just needed to get through Talladega to have a real shot at the championship.
The race started out good for Martin, as he avoided trouble for most of the day.
Then the Big One happened. Mark got caught up in the wreck that ended the race. Martin would get flipped in the crash and would see his championship hopes disappear.
And as Martin got knocked out of contention, Jimmie Johnson clinched the 2009 championship with his sixth place finish. Martin would sit 184 points behind Johnson.
2009 was a critical year for Talladega in the chase. It’s a prime example of how 'Dega can make or ruin a drivers' championship hopes.
5. Helping Driver Health
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Dale Jr. was forced to sit out two races after getting his second concussion of the 2012 Chase.
It was the result of the huge 25-car wreck at the end of the race.
And while it wasn’t something positive for NASCAR’s favorite driver, it did help shed some light on driver health.
Drivers might walk away from wrecks, but concussions are a another issue. If someone were to drive while they suffered from the symptoms of a concussion, it could impair their skills and potentially put other drivers in danger.
This is something Dale Jr.'s concussion shed light on.
Not every driver agreed with Dale’s decision to sit out a couple of races, but his concussion from the Talladega race brought major attention to concussions in NASCAR, making it a great moment for driver health.
4. Lock It Up
The 2008 Talladega Chase race might be mostly known for its controversial finish, but one of the greatest Chase performances also happened during the Race.
'Dega is one track where drivers pray not to run into problems. For Jimmie Johnson and the 48 team, they had been dealing with problems before the race even began. They ran poorly at practice, and when it came time to race, Johnson would eventually go one lap down.
As the race continued and started to come to an end, Johnson and the 48 team fought back, but it looked like their luck had run out.
Carl Edwards had started the infamous Big One, and Johnson had been caught in the middle of it.
Amazingly, though, he avoided getting caught in the wreck and ended up finishing the race in ninth.
Talladega was a huge part of why Johnson won the championship that season as not only did he finish in the top 10, his two main competitors, Edwards and Biffle, were knocked out of contention.
Clint Bowyer would end up winning the 2010 Chase race at Talladega, but it was much more than just his first win on a restrictor-plate track.
It was about redemption.
Bowyer had won the first race of the Chase in 2010 but was fined 150 points after NASCAR deemed his car illegal.
To add to the redemption at Talladega, it came down to a photo finish between Bowyer and Kevin Harvick as A.J. Allmendinger flipped his car and caused a big wreck during the last lap.
Bowyer and Harvick crossed the finish line as the caution came out, and it would take NASCAR officials several minutes to figure out who won.
It didn’t impact his Chase standings that year, as Bowyer still remained in 12th, but his photo finish win made for an exciting finish at Talladega during the Chase.
2. Controversy Strikes 'Dega
In 2008, Talladega turned out to have one of the most controversial calls in the Chase.
As Tony Stewart led the race for the last several laps, he battled Regan Smith, who tried desperately to pass Smoke.
Eventually, Regan would slide down the track, and as Stewart moved down to try and block him, Regan went below the yellow line and came back up in front of Smoke.
Smith crossed the finish line in first place but didn’t win the race.
NASCAR had determined that Smith made an illegal move by jumping down across the yellow line.
Of course, Smith didn’t agree with that decision, saying (h/t NY Daily News):
"I totally disagree with them 110 percent. I clearly moved to the outside, moved back to the inside. Tony made a move to the high side and made a move to the bottom side ... My nose was in there. The only other option I had was to wreck him."
Was Regan forced down by Stewart? Did NASCAR make the wrong call? Regardless, it’s already in the history books as a win for Smoke and made one of the greatest, and most controversial, moments at Talladega during the Chase.
1. A Little Too Reckless?
When it comes to Chase moments at Talladega, none were more breathtaking than the crash during the 2012 Chase season.
As drivers were competing with only a couple laps to go, Tony Stewart found himself out in front when he decided to dive down and try to block Michael Waltrip from passing him.
Then, all hell broke loose.
It looked like more than half the field was taken out in the big crash, with Stewart himself flipping over as the cars piled up.
Matt Kenseth would take advantage and managed to get out in front as Stewart made his bold move down the track that caused the accident, and he would finish the race as the caution flag came out.
The crash during the 2012 season was one of the biggest and worst wrecks seen at Talladega. It’s such a breathtaking moment that the footage from the race was shown across major news networks the next day.
Thankfully, no one got seriously hurt, and NASCAR had its greatest Talladega moment in the Chase.