Because it’s ‘Dega. Plain and simple. Denny Hamlin’s anticipated return comes to fruition at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend and, even though he’s likely just going to hang back until the first caution to collect some points, this is a big deal.
Why? Because Talladega has played host to some big, memorable crashes. I highlight a few here:
- Perhaps the first that comes to mind is Bobby Allison’s 1987 Winston 500 crash where he flew up the catch fence down the front stretch. The wreck isn’t as grisly as some of the others, but this was a different era and was enough to pave the way for restrictor-plate racing. Allison’s memorable quote: “You won’t believe the ride I just took.”
- Dale Earnhardt’s chilling crash at the 1996 Die-Hard 500. Earnhardt and Sterling Marlin got into each other and the Intimidator went into the wall at 200 mph. Save for a broken collarbone and bruised sternum, Earnhardt walked away unscathed.
- Just two years later in the same race, Earnhardt was again involved in a big wreck, this time starting with Ward Burton and ending with Bill Elliott. Burton got into Dale and sent the 3 car into Awesome Bill who found himself on the business end of this one.
- Skip to 2003 in the Aaron’s 499 where Kurt Busch clipped Elliott Sadler’s 38 car and sent him airborne flipping and rolling to a grinding halt. The wreck resulted in a mangled M&M’s car but an uninjured Sadler.
And of course, we come full circle by looking back just a few months to 2012’s 25-car pileup precipitated by Tony Stewart on the last lap. I save this one for last because it has been the Ghost of Talladega Past this year because of the Hamlin-Logano-Stewart controversy over a block Logano threw.
How ironic would it be were another crash to occur this time involving Stewart and Hamlin?
The reason I bring this up is because while Hamlin running to the first caution seems harmless enough, the nature of Talladega lends itself to some big wrecks as I’ve noted above. Granted, a number of these crashes came in the thick of the race but there’s no rule that says the first caution that comes out can’t be the result of a big wreck.
Hamlin is smart but he also drives with grit. I don’t expect he’ll put himself in a position to risk anything, but you never know what happens when he gets back behind the wheel after an unwelcome hiatus.
Stay safe, Denny.