Sunday’s run at Talladega will be the last performance of what we have watched evolve into the NASCAR stock car for the Nextel Cup division. The superspeedway will become the first restrictor-plate track to host the new Car of Tomorrow racing machine when teams return to Alabama in October.


The restrictor plate, a piece of metal issued by NASCAR to teams as a tool to reduce speeds, is only used at Talladega and Daytona. The safety invention became the standard operating procedure for NASCAR’s two-fastest tracks after Bobby Allison’s car came within inches of flying into the grandstand at Talladega in 1987.

That crash 20 years ago changed the way drivers would approach the runs at Daytona and Talladega. Gone were the days where a leader could lap the entire field. The restrictor plate reduces the horsepower of an engine and keeps the cars running in packs. The skill of finding the least air resistance for your car becomes the most important mission for drivers when the restrictor plates are used.

Friends and opportunists are important allies in the quest to a restrictor-plate victory too. Drafting and bump-drafting are part of the battle plan as well. Drafting is where a driver will try to stay close behind the car in front of him so that the first car creates the break in the air and in turn produces less wind resistance for the car following.

Bump-drafting is another practice employed by drivers as an effort to advance position. Drivers use their bumpers to push the car in front of them to go faster. The bumping game has come under fire over the past few years when some drivers pushed where they shouldn’t have and caused some spectacular crashes.

NASCAR now lays down the law to drivers in pre-race meetings about when they can and can’t use that practice. Drivers face the threat of being black-flagged now if they bump-draft in an area of the track where NASCAR has outlawed the practice.

I’m not a big fan of the Car of Tomorrow, but I think there could be a positive spin to the change if NASCAR can figure out a way to keep the new models under 200 miles-an-hour without the use of the restrictor plate.

I don’t expect we’ll ever see another 212-mph qualifying lap like Bill Elliott clocked at Talladega before the restrictor plate. I do hope that someday soon NASCAR researchers find a way to have a safe and competitive race at the two superspeedways without the use of the 20-year-old restrictor plate rule.

Talladega Tabulations: Jeff Gordon may have tied the late Dale Earnhardt on the NASCAR all-time winner’s list, but I really don’t think he will ever match Earnhardt numbers at Talladega Superspeedway. “The Intimidator” claimed ten wins at the 2.5-mile track and his son, Dale Jr., is already displaying five Talladega trophies at his house and he has claimed second-place pay twice.

Dale Jr. won four Talladega races in-a-row between 2001 and 2003. His last win there was in 2004 and he hasn’t registered a top-ten finish there since. The ground around Eastaboga shook when the crowds cheered as Junior led laps in both Talladega races last year, but he registered 23rd and 31st place finishes in the 2006 events.

He has been able to lead laps in 12 of the 14 Nextel Cup races at Talladega and he finished first and second in two of the four Busch Series races he has run there.

Gordon could match Dale Jr. in the Talladega wins category if he claims the checkered flag this weekend. Jeff has four Talladega victories that he has accumulated since 1996. His last Talladega win was in 2005.

Mark Martin, Sterling Marlin and Dale Jarrett are the only other active drivers with multiple wins at the Alabama speedway. Martin won in 1995 and 1997. Marlin’s wins were in 1995 and 1996. Dale Jarrett claimed his two wins in 1998 and 2005, before he switched from Ford to Toyota.

The active drivers with single wins at the speedway are Brian Vickers (2006), Jimmie Johnson (2006), Michael Waltrip (2003), Bobby Labonte (1998) and Ken Schrader (1988).

The top-five finishers on the 2006 Spring race at Talladega were Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers, Jeff Burton and Jamie McMurray. Twenty-two drivers traded the lead an amazing 56 times during the 188-lap race.

Jeff Gordon was the only driver to lead more than 50 laps of the race. Gordon collected the bonus points for leading the most laps (62), but he was running 15th when the checkered flag waved for the event.

The other drivers leading more than one lap of the race were Matt Kenseth (23), Elliott Sadler (23), Jamie McMurray (18), Tony Stewart (11), Kurt Busch (9), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (8), Carl Edwards (7), Brian Vickers (7) and Joe Nemechek (5).

Jimmie Johnson only led three laps of the race to claim the win.

There were eight caution flag incidents, including two of the famous “big ones,” as we have come to describe the multiple-car crashes that normally happen during the restrictor plate races. The race took exactly three hours and 30 minutes to complete.

Elliott Sadler was the Bud Pole Award winner with a speed of 188.511 mph. Sadler was still driving a Robert Yates’ Ford last year.

Georgia Boys: Peachtree City’s Reed Sorenson was the top-finishing driver in the Nextel Cup race at Phoenix. Sorenson started 27th and finished 15th in the 312-lap race in Arizona. Reed holds down the 27th spot on the point’s chart.

David Ragan was in a crash on the 44th lap in the Phoenix Nextel Cup race and was only able to complete 264 laps. The Unadilla driver collected 41st-place pay and dropped to 28th in the point standings. Ragan finished 35th in the Busch Series race at Phoenix.

Saturday’s 120 will air from 2:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. on Newstalk 750 WSB Radio and www.wsbradio.com. For more race information visit our Fastcar Newsdesk at www.captainherb.net.