TALLADEGA -- With the threat of rain looming for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega, drivers are going to have to decide when to be aggressive a little sooner than in previous seasons.
For example, the most recent race at Talladega last fall ran without incident until the final lap when the tension finally reached a boiling point and generated a 20-plus car pileup coming out of turn four. Matt Kenseth was the first car to escape the melee and he coasted to a slow victory over Jeff Gordon.
The preceding stages of that race were largely noted for drivers taking a more conservative approach, mostly avoiding side-by-side racing until the final 20 laps. Talladega is known for its disastrous multicar accidents and none of the drivers wanted to be responsible or caught up in it once it begins.
Sunday's forecast includes consistent rain throughout the afternoon and several delays are anticipated. The race will become official past halfway meaning that once a race is called off, the leader at the time of the red flag will be named the winner.
So if rain is present on Sunday, expect drivers to charge to the front early and try to remain there. At least, that's the plan for Martin Truex Jr. who will start from the outside pole after rain washed out qualifying on Saturday afternoon.
"I think based on what we learned at Daytona you want to be at the front," Truex said. "Coming in here my thought was I've tried the riding around in the middle of the pack, towards the back of the pack trying to stay safe until the end and it's never worked out.
So my plan coming in here was to be aggressive, to try to stay up front all day long ... I think a lot of guys based on what I've been hearing and reading throughout the week I think a lot of guys are on that same program. The chances here of getting in a wreck are great, so why not just go out and race and put on a show and try to run up front all day long?"
With so many drivers taking this approach, Sunday's race should see more side-by-side racing than February's Daytona 500. That race featured an early accident that involved Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick.
The rest of the field settled down as a result of that accident and stayed mostly single-file until late in the race. Talladega does not have lights and the notion that the race could end at any point after halfway should generate more passing for the lead.
Of course, the rain may not come or choose to halt the race before it gets to halfway. Choosing the right balance between an aggressive or conservative approach and correctly reading the forecast will be the most important keys to winning the already unpredictable Sprint Cup race at Talladega.