Marlin finds his groove on plate tracks

Sunday, July 23, 1995 – It took Sterling Marlin 279 starts to record his first win in NASCAR’s premier series. Once that was out of the way, Marlin has been almost unstoppable on the series restrictor-plate tracks. The Columbia, Tenn., resident picked up his fourth career victory, his third on a restrictor-plate track, when he captured the DieHard 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Marlin, driver of the No. 4 Morgan-McClure Motorsports Chevrolet, led 57 of 188 laps and edged Dale Jarrett for the win.

Marlin’s first two career wins came at Daytona International Speedway, the other track where the use of restrictor plates was mandatory, in 1994 and ’95. He added a spring race win at Darlington prior to winning at Talladega.

A 13-car accident that unfolded on lap 139 wiped out several contenders, including Rusty Wallace, Bobby Labonte and Ken Schrader. Schrader’s Chevrolet went airborne after contact from teammate Jeff Gordon, and flipped several times before coming to rest on its roof. Other than a knot above his right eye, Schrader was not hurt. “We came off the corner and I saw Schrader sideways; it was kind of a scramble after that,” Terry Labonte said. “Everybody was trying to miss him. That was hard to do.”

Only one caution flag had flown prior to the ‘Big One,” for debris on lap 112. Otherwise the race had been under green and was being run at a record pace.

Marlin collected the Unocal bonus of $121,600 for winning the race from the pole.

Getting rid of restrictor plates?

Monday, June 24, 1991 – NASCAR officials, along with five Cup Series teams, began a two-day test at Talladega Superspeedway in an attempt to develop an aerodynamic package that could allow the sanctioning body to potentially eliminate the use of carburetor restrictor plates at its two superspeedways. Use of the horsepower-reducing plates kept speeds under 200 mph but many drivers complained that the plates also keep the field bunched too closely together, often leading to dangerous, multi-car crashes.

A 20-car pileup, which left driver Kyle Petty sidelined with a broken left leg, occurred in the May 6 Winston 500 at Talladega a month earlier. The bulk of the blame for the crash was placed on driver Ernie Irvan, who tried to squeeze in between Petty and Mark Martin, igniting the crash, and the 7/8-inch restrictor place, which kept cars running closely together.

Drivers taking part in the test at the 2.66-mile track were Dale Earnhardt (Chevrolet), Bill Elliott (Ford), Brett Bodine (Buick), Harry Gant (Oldsmobile) and Bobby Hillin (Pontiac). Gant had won the May race at Talladega; Hillin was filling in at the test for the injured Petty.

Officials tested with changes to the rear spoilers as well as smaller pieces along the top of the car, down the C-post (alongside the rear window) and across the rear deck lid, all on the driver’s side. A “reverse” spoiler underneath the rear of the cars was also expected to be tested.

Cup Series director Dick Beatty said if officials found anything they felt could make the racing at the two tracks safer and more competitive it likely would be implemented in time for the summer race at Daytona.

Rain on the following day cut the test short and officials called the results “inconclusive.”

Pre-double Donnie scores at ‘Dega

Sunday, May 16, 1971 – Donnie Allison won what amounted to a one-lap drag race with brother Bobby Allison and Buddy Baker to capture the Winston 500 at Alabama International Motor Speedway for his sixth career victory in NASCAR’s premier series. The one-lap shootout was set up when Dave Marcis blew an engine while leading with less than 10 laps remaining.

Donnie Allison won in his first start at the massive 2.66-mile speedway in a race that featured 42 lead changes and a 50-car starting field.

It was the fourth 1-2 finish for Donnie and Bobby Allison; Donnie had won all four. Bobby would beat his brother for the win for the first time later that same month in the World 600.

A day before the Winston 500, Donnie Allison had been in Indianapolis where he qualified 20th for the Indianapolis 500 as a teammate to A.J. Foyt.

Foyt was handling most of the driving duties for the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing winning team that season, having won at Ontario and Atlanta. However, Allison was filling in while Foyt focused on the Indy 500.

Marcis gave up his own ride to drive the No. 71 K&K Insurance Dodge. That team’s regular driver, Bobby Isaac, was hospitalized just days earlier with kidney stones. Isaac was released in time to watch much of the race from the press box.

The race was the first for the series with Winston naming rights.

Cornelia Wallace, wife of Alabama Gov. George Wallace, was the honorary pace car driver for the race.

Isaac finds trouble, Pearson nets win

Sunday May 7, 1972 – Davie Pearson managed to swing around trouble when it struck race leader Bobby Isaac and the result was a victory in the Winston 500 at Alabama International Motor Speedway for the Wood Brothers Racing driver. Pearson was trailing Isaac with two laps remaining when the leader hit the wall after contact with the lapped entry of Jimmy Crawford.

Isaac, who still managed to finish second in spite of his skirmish with Crawford, had ignored a black flag from NASCAR due to an unattached gas cap as the final laps wound down. He was allowed to keep his runner-up finish but fined $1,500. NASCAR president Bill France Jr. said afterward that officials had the option of penalizing, disqualifying or suspending Isaac for the infraction. “It isn’t easy inspecting a car going 190 mph,” France told reporters.

Asked how the call could have differed had Isaac won the race instead of finishing second, NASCAR Vice President Lin Kuchler said, “I guess we’d still be meeting.”

Richard Petty finished fifth and earned a $10,000 bonus for leading the points standings after the season’s 11th event. Another $10,000 was split among the drivers second through fifth in the standings after the race.

Country music star and sometimes racer Marty Robbins finished 18th in the race to earn Rookie of the Race honors. However, officials stripped Robbins of his finish for an improperly installed carburetor, leaving him last in the 50-car field.

The race saw the debut of Darrell Waltrip in NASCAR’s premier series. Waltrip qualified 25th and finished 38th in the No. 95 Terminal Transport Mercury. It was the first of 809 career starts in the series for the three-time champion and NASCAR Hall of Fame member.

Gant gets win, Mast gets assist

Sunday, May 6, 1991 – It was the 12th career win for the ageless Harry Gant. Might have been won while going slowest, too. Gant used “drafting” help from the lapped entry of fellow driver Rick Mast (and perhaps a bit of a push) to stretch his fuel and take the checkered flag in the rain-hampered Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Gant, the series’ oldest winner at 51, made the winning move with two laps remaining, then saw his fuel cell run dry on the final lap. Mast remained tucked behind the No. 33 Oldsmobile, keeping Gant ahead of a fast closing Darrell Waltrip (second) and Dale Earnhardt (third).

The start of the race was delayed two hours due to rain.

The race was delayed 33 minutes following a 20-car pileup on lap 70 involving eight of the top 15 qualifiers; among those taken out by the incident were race favorites Davey Allison, Rusty and Mark Martin.

Kyle Petty suffered a broken leg in the multi-car crash; the driver of the No. 42 Pontiac for team owner Felix Sabates missed 12 races because of the injury but returned before season’s end.

Tragedy strikes at Talladega

Sunday, May 4, 1975 – Tragedy struck at Talladega when a pressurized water tank explosion claimed the life of Randy G. Owens, a crewman on the No. 43 team of Richard Petty, during the running of the Winston 500 at Alabama International Speedway.

Petty had pitted with a fire in his left-front wheel on lap 141 of the 188-lap race; Owen, 21, turned on the pressure on the tank to put out the fire when the explosion occurred, throwing him into the air.

The brother of Petty’s wife Lynda, Randy Owens worked with the Petty team for approximately four years. He left a wife, Jan, and two sons – Travis, 2, and Trent, 1. Trent Owens is currently crew chief for the No. 37 JTG-Daugherty Chevrolet of driver Chris Buescher in NASCAR’s premier series.

Also injured in the explosion was Gary Rogers, a crewman for driver Benny Parsons. He was treated for minor injuries after being struck by debris from the tank.

Buddy Baker won the race, holding off David Pearson to score the victory.

Davey wins, Bobby flips, NASCAR reacts

Sunday, May 3, 1987 – Second-generation racer Davey Allison charged to his first career victory in NASCAR’s premier series when he captured the Winston 500 at Alabama International Motor Speedway (now Talladega Superspeedway). Allison led 101 of 178 laps in a race that was shortened 10 laps due to a 2 hr., 38 min. delay caused by a crash involving his father, 1983 premier series champion Bobby Allison.

The win came in the younger Allison’s 14th start in the series and was the first of 19 he would earn before his death six years later. His No. 28 Ford, fielded by owner Harry Ranier, crossed the finish line 0.65 second ahead of runner-up Terry Labonte.

Bobby Allison’s car became airborne on lap 22 while running through the tri-oval at the 2.66-mile track and tore down approximately 150 feet of fencing along the frontstretch. Debris thrown into the grandstands injured several spectators – three were transported to areas hospitals with non-life- threatening injuries. Others were seen and released by safety personnel at the track. Bobby Allison was not injured nor were any of the nine other drivers involved in the incident.

Bill Elliott had established a series qualifying record only days earlier at the Talladega track with his lap of 212.809 mph. Lap speeds were consistently in the 208-210 mph range throughout the race.

Because of the Allison incident, NASCAR required the use of smaller carburetors at remaining Talladega and Daytona races that season, a move to slow the cars down. At that time, those were the only two tracks where cars exceeded 200 mph.

When teams returned to Daytona the following February, NASCAR had mandated the use of carburetor restrictor plates to slow the cars. That process remained in place until the completion of this year’s Daytona 500. Engines are now equipped with tapered spacers, which also restrict horsepower, instead of the plates.

Parsons breaks through, Foyt suspended

Sunday, May 1, 1988 – Phil Parsons, younger brother of 1973 NASCAR premier series champion Benny Parsons, scored his first career victory in the series with a win in the Winston 500 at Alabama International Motor Speedway (now Talladega Superspeedway). It was the 111th career start for Parsons, 30. Third-fastest in qualifying, Parsons led 52 laps in the 188-lap race in his No. 55 Oldsmobile, including the final 15. Bobby Allison, Geoff Bodine, Terry Labonte and Ken Schrader completed the top five.

A.J. Foyt, an infrequent NASCAR competitor through the years, was suspended for six months by the sanctioning body and fined $5,000 for “conduct detrimental to the sport.” Foyt was involved in an on-track incident with fellow driver Alan Kulwicki under caution, ignored NASCAR directives, was black flagged and allegedly swerved at officials when coming to pit road and the garage.

NASCAR officials eventually lifted the Foyt suspension, however his fine was increased from $5,000 to $7,500. In addition, he was placed on probation for two races.

Parson’s Talladega victory, which came with car owners Richard and Leo Jackson, was his only win in the premier series although he made 92 more starts through 1997.

At Talladega, it’s the lure of the unknown

Looking back on an interesting Geico 500 weekend from Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway:

Folks said they didn’t know what to expect when the field took the green flag for Sunday’s Geico 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway but when has that not been the case at NASCAR’s biggest track?

Talladega has forever been the “unknown” when it comes to the top series, from the first race there in 1969 (PDA boycott) right up until today.

It’s part of its, well, charm sounds too nice.

There’s always been the danger factor and the speed factor and today the folks down there between Atlanta and Birmingham really push the party factor, too.

As long as the racing fits the bill, party on.

NASCAR has been known to change the rules to fit the situation and the situation was no different this time around. When speeds began to climb on Friday (eight cars were clocked at 202-plus during opening practice), adjustments were made. A one-inch wicker bill was added to a spoiler that was already just three inches shy of a foot tall.

The next time on the track, the cars went even faster. Maybe they were more stable …

What happened?

Well, a good race for one. Which wasn’t or should not have been a surprise. After all, it was Talladega and it’s a rare occasion when the 2.66-mile track offers up a dud. Lead changes and three- and four-wide packs and a few crashes that always seem to occur were the order of the day.

In other words, a typical Talladega race. Competitive, interesting and so different from races contested elsewhere.

The series will return to Talladega in October and chances are folks will arrive once again suggesting they don’t know what to expect.

Don’t listen to them though. They know. After all, it’s Talladega.

Chase Elliott became the season’s sixth different race winner when he captured Sunday’s Geico 500. There’s a playoff spot with his name on it, along with ones for Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. (all of Joe Gibbs Racing) as well as Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano (both of Team Penske).

All six of this year’s race winners were playoff participants a year ago.

Where does career win No. 4 put Elliott? At No. 79 on NASCAR’s all-time win list, along with former racers Bob Flock and Chargin’ Charlie Glotzbach and Bobby Hamilton.

Morgan Shepherd, the 77-year-old who still makes the occasional Xfinity Series start, and Ken Schrader also had four career Cup wins, as did Michael Waltrip and Wood Brothers Racing patriarch Glen Wood.

Elliott is one of four drivers to win four times for Hendrick Motorsports – joining Schrader, Kyle Busch and Ricky Rudd.

There’s a four-driver lineup when it comes to wins while working with crew chief Alan Gustafson as well. Elliott (4), Mark Martin (5), Busch (4)) and Jeff Gordon (11). That’s win No. 24 for Gustafson.

The win was the first for Chevrolet this season; dating back to the 2018 Daytona 500 the automaker has five victories and four belong to Elliott.

After sweeping the top three spots at Daytona, it was something of a surprise to see Toyota teams off the mark at Talladega. Kyle Busch was tops for the manufacturer with his 10th-place finish. Truex Jr., led 11 laps, most for the group. He finished 20th.

Busch and teammate Hamlin combined to lead 67 laps at Daytona, where Hamlin won.

The most obvious difference, aside from the rules package – Joe Gibbs Racing drivers worked closely with Hendrick (Chevrolet) teams at Daytona; at Talladega, Chevrolet organizations were practically under orders to work only with one another.

NASCAR penalized the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing team Tuesday for a violation found during opening-day inspection at Talladega.

According to the official penalty report, body filler was used on the rear deck lid of the Chevrolet. Per the rule book, the deck lid must be used as supplied by the manufacturer.

Crew chief Danny Stockman has been fined $25,000 and car chief Greg Ebert has been suspended for one Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points race. The team was also docked 10 championship owner and driver points for the L1 infraction.

The only other penalty noted from Talladega – Jeremy Bullins, crew chief for Ryan Blaney, was fined $10,000 for a missing lug nut on the No. 12 Team Penske Ford.

NASCAR officials also noted that Austin Wayne Self, a competitor in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, has completed the sanctioning body’s Road To Recovery program and his suspension has been lifted.

Driving for his family-owned team, Self finished ninth (Daytona), 27th (Atlanta) and 15th (Las Vegas) this season prior to his suspension for a failed drug test.

A two-day Goodyear tire test scheduled for Tuesday/Wednesday, April 20-May 1 at Chicagoland Speedway, was scuttled due to weather concerns. The test has been rescheduled for May 7-8. Drivers listed to participate are Brad Keselowski (Team Penske No. 2 Ford), Ryan Newman (Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 Ford) and Paul Menard (Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford).

Elliott sizzles at Talladega with record lap

Friday, April 30, 1987 – Bill Elliott didn’t go as fast as many had predicted but the Dawsonville, Ga. native still managed to win the pole with the fastest qualifying lap ever run in NASCAR. Elliott toured the 2.66-mile Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in 44.998 seconds for an average speed of 212.809 mph to break his own track qualifying record set the previous year (212.229 mph).

The Winston 500 pole was Elliott’s third of the season and his fifth consecutive pole at the Alabama track.

Temperatures in the 90-degree range slowed qualifying speeds – most expected Elliott to run as fast as 215 had conditions been cooler. In testing earlier that year, Elliott had run an unofficial fast lap of 214.206 mph,

Bobby Allison and Davey Allison qualified second and third, respectively, while Darrell Waltrip (fourth) and Dale Earnhardt (fifth) completed the top five.

Thirty-two years after his accomplishment, Elliott’s pole winning speed remains the fastest official qualifying lap ever turned in NASCAR.