First-time winners at Talladega don’t happen often
Talladega Superspeedway is known for big packs, big crowds and big wrecks. All are fueled by the restrictor-plate racing that’s been in place at the 2.66-mile track since 1987.
It’s the packs and the wrecks that ultimately jump-start the conversations about underdogs and the unexpected, with the word “winner” related to each. These conversations happen four times a year with plate tracks and the second time in 2016 comes this weekend with the GEICO 500.
But in the 93 Sprint Cup races run at Talladega since 1969 - two a year since 1970 - the number of times a driver has earned their first Sprint Cup victory in Talladega, Alabama, is slim.
It’s happened 10 times in 46 years, but only in four races since the introduction of restrictor plates 28 years ago.
The last time was seven years ago on April 26, 2009. That’s when Brad Keselowski, then a part-time driver for Hendrick Motorsports, won the Aaron’s 499 driving for car owner James Finch’s Phoenix Racing team. The race is remembered most for how Keselowski won.
While running in second place coming to the checkered flag, Keselowski made contact with Carl Edwards as he tried to pass the race leader. The contact sent Edwards flying into the frontstretch catchfence as Keselowski, who only led the final lap, took the win.
Three years prior, Brian Vickers claimed his first win in the UAW-Ford 500. His triumph also came after starting a crash. Vickers was running third on the last lap when he made contact with Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson on the backstretch while attempting to pass. The contact turned Johnson into race leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. and sent both spinning toward the inside wall as Vickers took the lead.
Vickers’ win came 18 years after Phil Parsons and Ken Schrader both became first-time winners at Talladega in 1988, the year after the introduction of restrictor plates. Parson’s win was his only victory in 203 starts.
The introduction of plate racing came as a result of a crash involving Bobby Allison at Talladega in the 1987 Winston 500. Allison’s son, Davey, went on to win the race, the first of his 19 career wins in the Sprint Cup Series.
Of the 10 first-time winners at Talladega, only four have gone on to victory in another race: Davey Allison (19 wins), Keselowski (18 wins), Schrader (four wins) and Vickers (three wins).
That leaves six drivers, counting Parsons, who had lighting strike their careers at the Talladega.
Richard Brickhouse was the first, winning the inaugural race at Talladega on Sept. 14, 1969. He only competed in 39 Sprint Cup races in six seasons.
In 358 Sprint Cup starts, Dick Brooks’ only win came in the 1973 Talladega 500. He beat out Buddy Baker and David Pearson, drivers who combined for 124 wins.
Five years later, Lennie Pond joined the club when he beat Donnie Allison, a 10-time winner, for his lone victory in 234 starts.
Ron Bouchard made 160 starts, but his only win came early. In just his 11th race, Bouchard passed Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte in the tri-oval on the last lap to grab the win in the 1981 Talladega 500.
It would be until 1986 when the next first-time winner took place at Talladega. Bobby Hillin Jr., led the last nine laps of the Talladega 500 to win his only race in 334 career Sprint Cup starts.