TALLADEGA, AL – Under a picture perfect blue sky, the Aaron’s Dream Weekend at Talladega Superspeedway proved again why the “Biggest and Baddest” race track on the planet is also NASCAR’s Most Competitive venue.
Both NASCAR events – the Aaron’s 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and the Aaron’s 312 NASCAR Nationwide Series race – set season highs for lead changes and leaders. Denny Hamlin’s first career NASCAR Sprint Cup triumph at Talladega on Sunday – in front of a near capacity crowd – produced 48 lead changes, bettering the 42 set during the Daytona 500, which had been the season peak. Hamlin, who held off Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer, was the last of 28 drivers to hold the top spot in the 188-lap event. Daytona also held the previous mark for most leaders in 2014 with 18.
There were 27 lead changes (previous high in 2014 was 18 at Auto Club Speedway) in Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 in which Elliott Sadler took the checkered flag by a mere .124 seconds over Chris Buescher. 13 drivers exchanged the lead, topping this year’s previous high in the NASCAR Nationwide Series of nine set at Texas Motor Speedway.
“Not only did we have season highs for both leaders and lead changes, but our NASCAR events were filled with two, three and four-wide racing, with every driver desperately trying to get to the lead,” said Talladega Chairman Grant Lynch. “This is what Talladega was built for – great, heart pumping, side-by-side competition at incredible speeds.”
Speaking of incredible speeds – for the first time since 1988 when restrictor plates were mandated on the cars’ engines to reduce horsepower, fans got to see drivers “officially” eclipse the 200-mph barrier in the new “Knockout ” three-found elimination qualifying for the Sprint Cup drivers.
There were two “Big One” accidents that occurred during the Aaron’s 499. The first went down on lap 137 when Brad Keselowski ignited a 14-car altercation, eliminating the hopes of some race favorites like Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Trevor Bayne and pole sitter Brian Scott. The second major incident took place on lap 175 when Jimmie Johnson spun, wiping out an opportunity to win for the likes of Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and defending Aaron’s 499 Champion David Ragan.
Hamlin’s win all but guarantees him a spot in NASCAR’s new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. He becomes the eighth different winner in nine races, and is 12th in the title hunt. Gordon is still atop the standings, three up on Kenseth with Kyle Busch third, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fourth and Carl Edwards fifth.
Fans along the frontstretch grandstands during Aaron’s Dream Weekend were treated to the all-new Sprint Vision Video Boards. The towering screens – four times the size of old Sprint Vision boards – kept fans from missing any of the action no matter where it was on the 2.66-mile track. The high-definition boards are part of an International Speedway Corporation initiative, with Talladega Superspeedway serving as the test track. Plans are to implement the video boards at all ISC tracks in the coming years.
Bowyer, driver of the No. 15 Toyota, summed up the weekend after climbing from his car. “Great Crowd today and just a fun race track.” This is Talladega!
Fans that missed out on the all the action during the Aaron’s Dream Weekend have another opportunity to visit Talladega Superspeedway in 2014. NASCAR speeds back into the 2.66-mile venue October 17-19 with the GEICO 500 Sprint Cup Series race and fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola Camping World Truck Series event. Log on to www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 877-Go2-DEGA for more information.