If there is a NASCAR track with the greatest propensity to provide surprising, upset winners, it’s Talladega Superspeedway.
It has a long and interesting history of first-time winners, some of whom were raw rookies and others long-time veterans that were considered journeymen at best.
Of course, a sizable number of NASCAR greats, past and present, have been victorious at the giant, 2.66-mile track – some more than once.
And we don’t have to delve very deep into Talladega’s history to discover its tendency for surprise.
Last spring, in the Aaron’s 499, David Ragan and David Gilliland pulled off a one-two finish for Front Row Motorsports, a competent team but not a powerhouse.
Jamie McMurray won last fall for his first victory in three years. He’s now in his fifth season with Chip Ganassi Racing.
Perhaps the biggest shock in Talladega’s spring race came in 2009. Brad Keselowski was a distance behind the leaders when he hooked up with Carl Edwards in the draft.
As they sped toward the checkered flag Keselowski went inside and clipped Edwards, who was promptly hit by another driver and sent into the catch fence.
Keselowski led only the final lap. The story goes that his team owner, the personable but underfunded James Finch, had left the speedway and had to motor his way back to victory lane.
Keselowski captured the eye of another, more substantial team owner, Roger Penske, and won the championship in 2012.
Such victories are not rare at Talladega. They are plentiful. The numbers prove it.
There is an astonishing record for the fall race, known as the Talladega 500 and scheduled for Oct. 10 at part of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The first one was held in September of 1969. It was the inaugural event at the track built by Bill France Sr., the founder of NASCAR.
The days leading up to the race were controversial. Tires shredded at unusually high speeds. Drivers complained to France that it was too dangerous. They said they would boycott because of very unsafe conditions.
France, always known as a stubborn man determined to get his way, declared the track safe.
The drivers, including such greats as Richard Petty and David Pearson, left.
France formed a rag-tag field of cars from other, lesser divisions and the race was run.
The winner was Richard Brickhouse, who has hardly been heard from since.
Understand, all of this is a very, very abridged re-telling of the story.
But Brickhouse became the first of 18 different winners in 21 years of fall events at Talladega.
Some of the victorious drivers who were so totally unexpected that many would have bet they would not even finish, much less win.
James Hylton, perhaps NASCAR’s most well-known journeyman driver whose career spanned decades, won in 1972, largely because 32 of 50 starting cars ended up in the garage area.
Just a year later the late Dick Brooks was the winner – and, as hard as this may be to believe, he didn’t even have a ride until four days before the race.
Brooks occupied the seat in Jimmy Crawford’s Plymouth. He took the lead on lap 181 of 188, which was the 64th lead change of the race, and went on to win by 7.2 seconds over Buddy Baker.
When Lennie Pond won in 1978 to give himself and owner Harry Ranier their first victory, he won with an average speed of 174.700 mph – at the time the fastest 500-mile race ever run.
Ron Bouchard was a rookie racing for Jack Beebe when he slipped past Terry Labonte and Darrell Waltrip on the last lap to win in 1981.
Bobby Hillin Jr. was a mere 22 years old when he won in 1986 while driving for the Stavola Brothers. He was in the right place at the right time, ahead of a massive crash that took place on the last lap.
Drama is not reserved for the fall Talladega race.
Note that in the last 11 spring races there have been seven different winners.
All of this seems to be a very good indication that if we are going to see the eighth different winner of the 2014 season, well, odds are good it will happen this weekend.
Really, should we be all that surprised?