Talladega’s Spring Homecoming

Even a Tornado didn’t phase Talladega. She stood through the wind and the rain with her ever foreboding presence. She set the example for those that would compete on her legendary high banks over the next two days; the howling wind seemed to echo the secret of success here, as it blew down her straight a ways. Never give up. No Hesitation. No Fear.

[media-credit name=”(c) CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”229″][/media-credit]Although Friday night saw the drivers coach area evacuated to storm shelters at the track, Saturday morning brought Alabama Blue Skies and a day full of racing. The ARCA race would find a long time favorite coming oh so close to victory and losing it by a nose to ARCA rookie Ty Dillion, but Frank Kimmel showed the dominance on the day until the final 1000 yards.

The Cup qualifying would show historical milestone achieved with 1 through 4 starting positions for Hendrick Motorsports. It was only the third time in history that a single team would lock up the top spots to start a race. Owner Pete DePaolo’s cars started 1-5 at Concord, N.C., in 1956; cars owned by Jack Roush claimed the top four spots on the grid at Fontana in 2005, and now  Talladega in 2011 with HMS.

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Pole sitter Jeff Gordon stated that qualifying was a “snoozer” and that he could have walked faster than he qualified. The field would not break 180 mph in qualifying at NASCAR’s fastest track.

The Nationwide Series race would go off as scheduled on Saturday afternoon. It would be nothing more than a long drawn out wreck fest that would see an unlikely winner in Kyle Busch. Busch’s car which had been severely damaged in a lap 88 on track altercation had very little right rear quarter panel left on it and it was battered at both ends. The car in victory lane looked more like it had survived a short track race than won a super speedway race.

Second place Joey Logano, stated after the race, “I don’t know why we even go to the wind tunnel when we end up with cars that look like this.” Third place Joe Nemecheck laughed and said, “I haven’t been to the wind tunnel in 3 years.”

The race saw some very surprising finishers with Nemecheck and Mike Wallace leading for a short while at the end of the race. Wallace would end up on his roof and landing on all four wheels at the last “green -white -checkered” finish. Wallace said he wasn’t going to quit so he re-fired the car and drove around to an 18th place lead lap finish.

Wallace’s roll over would bring out the final caution on the white flag lap allowing Kyle Busch to win the race at the timing line just past the accident. Busch was leading at the time of the caution and the field by NASCAR rules is frozen by the yellow.

The race was a display of the two car draft and what can happen within it. The race was stopped twice for red flags and major accidents. Including the big one which saw 21 cars involved on lap 88.

The race on Sunday was more of the same with less wrecks. It’s finish was exciting and dynamic with Jimmie Johnson taking the lead half way through the tri -oval with a push from team mate Dale Earnhardt Jr. The finish which was the closest in NASCAR history saw the 48 beat Clint Bowyer by .002 seconds. The 4 pairs of cars wide finish was one of the most exciting in the history of the sport without exception.

Johnson who said he didn’t lift after the start finish line because he didn’t know whether it was the checkered flag lap or not found out he won when team mate Dale Jr came over the radio and said, “Damn I think the 48 won it.”  Johnson who gave the checkered flag of the race to team mate Dale Jr whom he worked with all day as a tandem, said Dale didn’t want to take the flag but did so reluctantly on pit road. “We definitely wouldn’t have won the race without Dale.”

Clint Bowyer finished second in the BB&T Chevrolet said, “We did everything we could do. The BB&T Chevrolet, she did everything she could do.” When asked if it was good to be second in the closest finish in NASCAR history Bowyer replied, “Hell, no, that sucks (laughing). It’s never very good to know you made NASCAR history by losing. Sooner or later I need to start making history by winning. (JJ’s) won enough (more laughing).”

Jeff Gordon who finished third stated, “The race is really only about 25 laps long. You spend the rest of the day setting up the finish.” Gordon who ran in the back with team mate Mark Martin for most of the day made his charge to the front with 22 laps to go and was leading on the back stretch of the final lap. He was passed by the tandem of Bowyer and Harvick out of three with Carl Edwards/Greg Biffle coming quickly on the outside setting up the dramatic finish at the line.

The race was not without it’s controversy. This one started and encouraged and in fact fueled by a member of the press. It would seem that it was felt by some that Jimmie Johnson passed Mark Martin below the yellow line in the process of taking the lead. Photo’s from AP photographer, Butch Dill, show the 48 and the 88 with left side tires on the yellow line. Neither car is below the double yellow line but both are on the double yellow line.

In post race media conference Johnson was asked about the situation, He said he was not even aware that they were that close to the yellow line and that he had been told before entering the media center about it. He stated that he had asked NASCAR and been told, “we were clear.”  NASCAR Vice President Steve Odonnell stated on Twitter, “Great finish, we don’t see any evidence of 48 gaining a position below yellow, Car needs to be below and tires are not even below, this is not close.”

Interestingly enough the controversy was spurred not by a fellow competitor but by a member of the media. It is interesting that in the unbiased can not applaud or shake hands with a winner world of “professional” journalism that one individual would go to such great lengths to try to discredit the win of a 5 time champion. This rule has been debated ad nauseum since it’s inception. We have seen it’s bad side. We have seen it’s good side. Not once has NASCAR ever hesitated to call the yellow line rule. Not for anyone. So it seems strange that they would be questioned to the extent of searching out photo’s to prove the reporter right.

The real story of Talladega had nothing to do with the finish but in truth the other 350 laps of Surrey racing with cars. Drivers from Jeff Gordon to Dale Jr and Kevin Harvick all expressed their dislike for the new two car draft. Dale Earnhardt Jr went so far as to call it, “crap” . In post race Jimmie Johnson said, “It was fun. But if I had been in a wreck I would probably be bitching and moaning about it.”

The truth is honestly how safe is it to drive 180 mph with 42 other cars while driving blind folded? That is essentially what these guys were doing. You can not legally text and drive due to the dangers of accidents while you do it. But these drivers are trying to change radio channels and talk to different drivers and spotters and drive blind half the time.

When you add in to the mix the instability of the race cars themselves when being pushed down the straightaways and tri ovals you have a disaster waiting to happen.

Constantly we will hear about the 88 lead changes and the closest finish in history, but in truth those statements and results are skewed. There were 88 lead changes between two car tandems so realistically you must actually divide that number by two.

The closest finish in history was very exciting yes. But the finish doesn’t make for a good race in it’s entirety. Frankly, it was a snoozer to borrow Jeff Gordon’s word for the first 320 laps. Cars were strung out in 2 car pairs. And most passing was as the cars switched positions and went backwards because of the lift factor to allow the pass. The pass has to be made to avoid blowing an engine up due to over heating because of the NASCAR grill mandates.

Then lets add the smaller restrictor plate. Frankly, Big Bill built Talladega to be the fastest track in the world. This weekend he would have been looking for a fix because the laps turned at Texas, where the pole speed was 189.820 mph, were in a lot of cases faster than the laps turned at Talladega, The world center of speed, where Jeff Gordon’s pole speed was 178.248 mph.

When we add all these things together, the common denominator is NASCAR. Again it appears that there are attempts to manipulate the competition and then tell us this is better. “You must not be a race fan if that finish didn’t excite you.” The finish did excite me. It was the rest of the race that was the problem.

“How can you not like 43 cars changing positions at 180 mph?” I do like to see cars making passes for position at 180 mph. But these passes are meaningless passes of survival.

Fox TV called it one of the most exciting races in NASCAR history. Really? For the last 22 laps it was pretty good. But it wasn’t as good as Richmond in 1991 when DW and Rusty Wallace raced side by side for the last 32 laps without ever touching one another. That was exciting. It wasn’t the 1998 Daytona 500 when the Intimidator finally won the big one. It wasn’t even as exciting as Bristol in 1991 when Rusty Wallace came from 4 laps down to win from the pole. Yes 4 laps down and there was no lucky dog. That was racing. That was exciting. This is surrey racing with cars. This is a winner who by himself would finish last.

Dale Jarrett said it best, “You can’t really race you have to have a dancing partner.” But this is not prom. These are not young men on shaky knees asking a pretty young girl to dance. These are 43 of the greatest stock car drivers in the world. And they need to be able to see where they are going. NASCAR would never let a blind man race. But they blind good men and ask them to dance in pairs at high speed. This is not racing. This is manipulation and a poor solution to ratings, empty seats and a kit car that the more changes they make to it the worse it becomes. NASCAR can measure a chassis that is off as close to half the thickness of a quarter, but they can’t seem to see where the real problem is. I guess there is truth to the cliché of the blind leading the blind. The problem is the teams, drivers, engineers and fans are not all blind.

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Congratulations to Ty Dillion on his first career ARCA win. Congratulations to the pairing of  Kyle Busch/Joey Logano of JGR on their NNS win. Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson/Dale Earnhardt Jr on their Sprint Cup Victory for Hendrick Motorsports. Also congratulations to HMS team on making history with their 1 – 4 starting positions for the race. Especially congratulations to the Spotters on the roof who guided two car teams to the best of their ability without being able to remotely control the cars. You may not be driving them, but you did an awesome job of guiding them.

That said, to all the competitors in all the series thanks for giving us everything you have to give, you are our heroes. Most importantly, thanks to all the families who shared their loved ones with us so we could cheer our favorite driver and favorite teams. You are the true heroes of the sport and we are forever in your debt.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

1 COMMENT

  1. Awesme article. Yes, I heard they had to take shelter. I am glad everyone was ok. I agree with you. I do not like this 2 pack racing, that is not racing. To me it was like follow the leader and then leap frog when they had to switch spots. This type of race has to be hard and very tiring to the drivers and the spotters. I have spotted for a track in my area. I can not imagine spotting for two cars at once. More power to the spotters this week. You surely deserved your pay and then some. I did not realized until they said something on tv, but it does not sense. That the car pushing can not see anything it is like driving blind. That has got to be very stressful and you are right we are not allowed to text and drive, not sure how they allow our drivers to drive blind in a race. To me that is very dangerous. NASCAR has got to figure something out about these races. They will continue to lose fans. The races are very boring and I am sure very long for the drivers and spotters and the whole team. Was nice to see the first two rows HMS and to see a HMS driver win.

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