The NASCAR Sprint Cup series heads to "Sweet Home Alabama" this weekend, celebrating 40 years at Talladega Superspeedway with the running Sunday of the Aaron's 499.
Talladega always brings out a mixed reaction from fans. There are many out there who despise the restrictor-plate racing that defines Talladega. They say that it isn't really racing and that the plates have got to go.
While those critics make a good point, the restrictor plate is here to stay in NASCAR no matter how much noise fans make. NASCAR has no plans to do away with the plates because they say speeds would be unsafe for spectators without the plates.
As much as I hate to admit it, there are NASCAR races throughout the season where I could take a break to mow the lawn, return to watching the race, and not miss a thing. The same can definitely not be said for Talladega, where every lap is breathtaking.
And the greatest margin of victory at Talladega is a mere 0.388 seconds. That is some close racing.
Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon is the all-time leader in restrictor-plate wins, grabbing six at Talladega and six at Daytona.
"I don't know a single fan who has been to Talladega Superspeedway who doesn't want to go back," Gordon said. "After the event, they are usually in awe of just how spectacular the race was. They should have been where I was sitting.
"I've had races here where my eyeballs hurt afterwards," Gordon said. "Your head hurts just because of the high level of concentration you must have for the entire race. Mentally, you have to prepare yourself for this race. And, during the race, you have to know when to be aggressive and when not to be aggressive."
In 2005, Gordon led 139 of 194 laps en route to victory, while in 2007, he led only one lap -- the last one.
"We put on spectacular races here, but one little mistake can lead to the 'big one,'" Gordon said. "From the driver's perspective, you see a lot going on in the middle of those packs every single lap. And you're absolutely amazed there is not a crash."
Historically, starting from the top-two positions is a good beginning. Thirty-one of 79 races have been won from a top-two starting position. The furthest back in the field a race winner started was 36th, by Gordon in 2000.
There have been four green-white-checkered races at Talladega: May 2005, October 2005, April 2007 and April 2008.
And since this is Talladega, don't count out Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt Jr. has won five times at Talladega, including four consecutive victories (October 2001 through April 2003), the most ever by a driver there. He has led laps in 16 of his 18 Talladega races.
Ellen Siska writes about NASCAR for The York Dispatch. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.