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10 Craziest NASCAR Moments at Talladega


2001: The Case for 200 mph

It was the first big plate-race wreck following the untimely passing of Dale Earnhardt. Sterling Marlin was an unwitting participant in that event, and was in this one as well. Bobby Labonte blew over on the backstretch, while Johnny Benson Jr. got hooked head on into the wall. Sterling, as eloquent as always, explains what was needed to make the plate racing safer. The cars now go 200 mph, still wreck, and still go flying through the air — but they’re safer, at least.

by Vito Pugliese

1986: Dude, who stole my car?

OK, so this wasn’t in the plate era, but who could forget the guy who stole the pace car and took it for a hot lap prior to the 1986 Winston 500? And why in the hell wouldn’t we post it regardless of when it happened? Folks, gaze upon the glory of what an all-nighter in the Talladega infield will drive a man to do. Wonder if they got him for grand theft auto and DUI?

by Matt Taliaferro

1987: The One that Started it all

The one that started the Restrictor Plate Era: Bobby Allison about parked it in the front row at Talladega in 1987 after losing the starter off his car, running over it and puncturing the tire in the process. That blew the quarter panel off the car and allowed gobs of air to pile under it at 210, sending it skyward. Had the catchfence and arrestor cables not done their job, it very well would have been the end of NASCAR. How’s this for irony: Bobby about takes out the flagstand while son Davey wins his first Cup race just a few hours later.

by Vito Pugliese

2003: NASCAR's No-Call

Matt Kenseth about pulled a Tony Stewart here, swerving towards Dale Earnhardt Jr., causing him to go below the yellow line in what was a pretty blatant non-call in advancing your position. The yellow line rule was supposed to stop guys from trying to pull off a pass before the transition from the flat backstretch to the banking in Turn 3 … which is pretty much where Junior pulls off the pass. Replacement valences, duct tape, bent sheet metal … and they still were able to actually race on a plate track. This was plate racing at its best.

by Vito Pugliese

2010: Plate Racing as an art form

As slick and calculating of a move as you’ll ever see at Talladega. In the “pod racing” period at Daytona and ’Dega, the Earnhardt-Childress engines were all but unstoppable. In this classic, Kevin Harvick executes a masterful tri-oval bump ‘n’ run of Jamie McMurray (both equipped with ECR powerplants, of course) to earn the engine shop a sweep of the plate races in 2010. A finer move may never be seen — well, except by the guy that once piloted Harvick's car.

by Matt Taliaferro

1996: One Tough Customer

One of the scariest Talladega crashes, and one that looked fatal at first glance, was this grinding mess in 1996. Ernie Irvan and Sterling Marlin get together, sending Dale Earnhardt head-on into the non-SAFER Barrier frontstretch wall at nearly 200 mph. Earnhardt then suffers a T-bone hit to the roof by Derrike Cope, as an engine goes tumbling down the frontstretch. The toughest SOB in the garage emerged with a broken collarbone, holding true to his “One Tough Customer” persona and, two weeks later, put it on the pole at Watkins Glen. Naturally.

by Vito Pugliese

1998: Earnhardt Singes ’Stache

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A near-replay of the 1996 crash was this one between Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott, the two drivers who pretty much defined both eras of plate and non-plate racing at Talladega. Elliott got banged up pretty good in the crash, while Earnhardt singed his moustache. He ended up shaving it for a little while, which just looked downright awkward. Thankfully, the cookie duster returned a few weeks later. Right, like he’s going to up in a tree stand without it …

by Vito Pugliese

1993: Who goes higher, Rusty or Jenkins?

I will go on record as saying this is easily the best single race of the restrictor plate era. This was the race that started the advent of running three-wide, 15-rows deep in the field. This race had everything, from Mark Martin’s team having to hot wire his car to get it started, a constant threat of rain, and a ridiculous finish that didn’t need a green-white-checker gimmick to make it happen. Watch as Martin peels the paint off the wall coming to the white, and then as Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett, Ernie Irvan, Jimmy Spencer and Rusty Wallace dice for the win. Earnhardt launches his buddy Rusty skyward, which ushered in the roof flaps we still see today. Rusty ended up with a broken wrist, which the team would Velcro to the shifter for the next week’s race at Sonoma. The early-mid 1990s was the Golden Era of modern NASCAR. If only they could catch lightning in a bottle once again …

by Vito Pugliese

Cole vs. Ricky

Talladega, Darlington ... close enough.

by Matt Taliaferro

2003: Sadler’s Pirouette

The Car of Tomorrow is a pretty hearty beast, but the old car was no slouch either — as Elliott Sadler proves by bouncing it off the pavement several times at Talladega. Sadler executed a similar test at Michigan in 2000. The camera angle used at the 4:08 mark really shows the speed and violence of the wreck, and how much ground they’re actually covering. Wish the networks would use this angle more often. Worst part of this clip? The longing it stirs to hear Benny Parsons in the booth once again.

by Vito Pugliese

1996: Eight Miles High & Falling Fast

This one brought to you by Depends. Ricky Craven is likely relishing his new role as an analyst with ESPN after this four-story horror in May 1996. Huntsville Rocket City, USA? It seems Craven went Saturn V in Eastaboga, as five cars pass underneath him as he careens down the banking. Again, the old car held up rather well even in wrecks such as these that look absolutely lethal. Interesting to see how much faster and unstable these cars are going at 195 mph versus 205 mph today. They’re barely turning 7,000 rpm and making less horsepower than the GT500 Mustang pace car was at the race this Sunday.

by Vito Pugliese

2006: Cole Trickle to the rescue

Sorry, couldn't help ourselves.

by Matt Taliaferro

2009: Catchfence Carl

You knew this one was going to top the charts. This race was significant for a number of reasons. Many didn’t think the original CoT could get airborne, ungainly sled that it was. Turns out that wings create a lot of lift (who knew?), and that, as Tony Stewart found out the hard way on Sunday, blocking on the last lap when leading usually turns out bad. Brad Keselowski got his first career win in James Finch’s ride, which would propel him to his current position of leading the points leaving Talladega just three and a half years later. Ryan Newman gets a windshield full of Cousin Carl, which could have ended much worse. And not everybody escaped unscathed; a fan sitting in the grandstands had her jaw shattered when a PA speaker mounted on the fence was jettisoned free as 3,500 pounds of Ford Fusion clobbered it at 190 mph. Edwards, ever the classy guy he is, visited with the young fan before the fall race.

by Vito Pugliese