As for the non tallent part. All of these guys have gone through intense training. In racing there is something called the traction circle theory. A tire has only a certain amount of traction and in order to go fast and win races you have to keep it on the edge of traction at all times. This means when you brake you have to brake as hard as you can without spinning the tires, then you back off the brakes and wheel it into the corner, eventually you are going to have to combine turning out of the corner and accelerating at all times not breaking traction. A good car certaintly helps to win races. Thats why Hendrick Motorsports is doing so well because they have fast cars. But you couldn't walk out there and hop in a fast car and win a race. You guys are used to BS driving on the highway and stuff like that, not pushing the car to its true limits. From that perspective I can see where you are coming from.
Now for the athlete side of things. Those cars average around 120 degress inside. You must have the mental ability to be able to concentrate on driving at all times and pay attention to several things at all times. You have to keep the car on the edge of traction, feel what the car is doing to improve it, watch other cars, anticipate those cars moves and where to go in a crash, as well as listen to your spotter or crew cheif. No sport out there requires as much knowledge as NASCAR. Many of the drivers now are actually engineers and all of them have great mechanical know how and are versed in most of the race car engineering theories.
I always use this example when people say NASCAR isn't a sport. SI writer Pat Riley was once one of those people who talked bad about NASCAR. Until he went to do the Richard Petty driving experience. He said it was the hardest and most athletic thing he'd ever experienced. Those cars in the turns are turning 3 G's, thats 3 times your weight! Your muslces are all tensed just trying to hold onto the steering wheel. Everything in the car is hard in order for you to be able to feel every move the car makes and ever sound, smell, or noise it creates. Riley went onto say that he believes NASCAR drivers are every bit as good as athletes as bikers if not better due to their ability to withstand heat that the average person could not stand for over 4 hours. CNN went on to do a report that found Carl Edwards averaged 10 pounds of weith loss in a race throughout the 2004 season and the report went onto say that "NASCAR drivers are the most fit athletes when it comes to withstanding extreme conditions." They also found that the drivers had "an unordinary mental capacity and ability to process many things all at once and instantly make a decision." That explains why most drivers are control freaks. Keep in mind this isn't your average Saturday night short track racer. Many of those guys don't feature these things. But the ones that make it to the top in NASCAR NExtel Cup racing are found to be very unordinary.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Feb, 2004 - A top and upcoming contender in the Nascar Nextel Cup Series (formally the Winston Cup Series)
This is Bagwell after a flip in 2002. He is not dead in this pic, just fainted.
Casey Atwood (Busch Series) Daytona 1999
Talladega. October 1998.
Dale Jr. Flipping in his first Busch race
Flip in the Busch Series
Chad Little's John Deere Ford, rudely taken by Kurt Busch.
The Race at California Speedway!
Nascar of Talladega, Alabamo
Elliot Sadler's take off
Robert Pressley's wild ride in the 1997 Daytona 500
nascar goody's dash series flip..
Stupid White Redneck 2: Yup, sounds fun.