After a moment of silence in memory of Dan Wheldon, who rode with every car at Talladega Speedway, and a hearty rendition of the National Anthem sung by the 82nd Airborne Chorus, here is what was surprising and not surprising from the 43rd running of the Good Sam Club 500.
[media-credit name=”Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images for NASCAR” align=”alignright” width=”257″][/media-credit]Surprising: It was surprising that the number 100 played such an important role in the restrictor plate race at ‘Dega this weekend. Clint Bowyer’s No. 33 race car, adorned in celebration of Chevrolet’s 100th anniversary, also scored team Richard Childress Racing its 100th win in the sport.
This was Bowyer’s fifth win in 213 Cup races and his first victory in 2011. Bowyer, who seems to have mastered racing at Talladega, scored his second victory and sixth top-10 finish in twelve races at the Superspeedway.
“What an awesome point scheme,” Bowyer said. “This is Richard’s (Childress) 100th race that he has won in the Cup Series.”
“I told him congratulations and I guess I am going to have to race his ass for the 101st,” Bowyer continued. “It meant a lot to me to get all these guys back in Victory Lane before we cap of this season.”
Not Surprising: To no one’s surprise, Bowyer had not just a little bit, but a great deal, of help from a friend to secure the win. Jeff Burton, who has had one of the most miserable seasons to date in his No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, pushed Bowyer to victory and scored a close but second place finish for his efforts.
This was Burton’s 14th top-10 finish in 36 races at Talladega. But it was just his second top-10 finish in 2011.
“Well, that is plate racing,” Burton said. “We put ourselves in position to win the race.”
“Clint did a great job,” Burton continued. “We had a great day and anytime you leave here and the car is in one piece, you should be happy.”
“Part of me wants to cry and part of me wants to cheer, but to come that close after the year we have had is pretty disappointing.”
Surprising: Thanks to one of the most surprising finishes, as promised, kids will eat free at Golden Corral. Dave Blaney scored that top ten required for the free meal, bringing his No. 36 Golden Coral Chevrolet home in third.
Blaney was most grateful to Brad Keselowski, who worked with him all day at ‘Dega.
“I can’t thank Brad Keselowski and that whole team enough,” Blaney said. “Man, he could really push me well.”
“It turned out good,” Blaney continued. “I’m happy for Golden Coral, finally get to feed a lot of kids on Monday and that is big for us.”
Not Surprising: While Blaney may have been playing the part of fairy godfather, the Cinderella story continued for that driver who worked so well with him at ‘Dega. Brad Keselowski, behind the wheel of the Blue Deuce, continued his fairy tale run with a finish of fourth, hoisting him up three spots to third in the Chase point standings.
“This is exactly how we needed to leave Talladega, with a strong finish,” Keselowski said. “I gained points on the leader; gained points on really all the Chase cars.”
“We put ourselves in contention.”
Surprising: In spite of having its windows confiscated on Friday after failing to pass inspection, the MWR teams, including Michael Waltrip, Martin Truex, Jr. and David Reutimann, rallied to finish ninth, tenth and thirteenth respectively.
“We were right where we needed to be,” Truex, Jr., the driver of the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota Camry said. “We’ve had good cars this season but not a lot to show for it.”
“I’m really happy,” Truex, Jr. continued. “We almost had the win.”
The driver of the No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota Camry, David Reutimann, echoed his teammate’s sentiments.
“We had good stops and a good strategy,” Rooty said. “The entire crew did their part to put us in contention at the end.”
Not Surprising: Although the Red Bull tandem, especially Kasey Kahne, had some struggles early in the race, the team took flight and finished top-10 at Talladega. Brian Vickers, behind the wheel of the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota Camry, finished fifth, while Kasey Kahne, piloting the No. 4 Red Bull Toyota Camry, finished right behind him in sixth.
“The Red Bull Camrys did a great job of working together today,” Vickers said. “Kasey and I had to go to the back four or five times, but we always got back to the front.”
“This race is nerve-wracking,” Vickers continued. “It takes about two hours to go to sleep after this because your mind is still going 100 miles-per-hour.”
Surprising: In spite of being ‘dateless’ for much of the early part of the race, Denny Hamlin actually managed to finally find a dance partner and finish the race in the eighth position.
The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing described his race this way.
“It was one of those races where it was just one of those days,” Hamlin said. “I was the odd one out for the whole race.”
“The best I can describe it is we were stuck without a date to the prom, so I was just hitting on everyone’s mom.”
Not Surprising: With such strange deals and partnerships evolving throughout the race, to continue Hamlin’s analogy, it was not surprising that some prom dates were left jilted at the end of the dance.
Probably no one was more surprised by a betrayal than four-time champion Jeff Gordon, who had agreed to work with Trevor Bayne at the end of the race, only to be jilted, finishing 27th.
Gordon, behind the wheel of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, had lost his wingman and dance partner Mark Martin after an on-track spin. Gordon agreed, or so he thought, to partner with his young plate protégé Trevor Bayne, behind the wheel of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, late in the race.
But to Gordon’s dismay, Bayne, following Ford team orders, ditched the champ, going on to work with Matt Kenseth, another Ford driver, instead.
“I just think it could have been handled better,” Gordon said. “If somebody is going to screw you, you’d like them to say it to your face, you know, or at least on the radio.”
“We already had a history of working well together and I thought it was a no brainer,” Gordon continued. “But I probably should have known better.”
“Politics play out sometimes.”
Surprising: It was surprising that the seemingly dynamic duo of Hendrick Motorsports teammates Junior and Johnson faded into such obscurity by race end. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., in the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew “Paint the 88”/National Guard Chevrolet, finished 25th and Jimmie Johnson, in his No. 48 MyLowe’s Chevrolet, finished right behind in 26th.
“On that last restart at the end, we had some issues with my car overheating,” Johnson said. “We lost our momentum there and got to the outside and kind of stalled out on top and finished far worse than we had hoped to.”
“We raced a little bit but not a whole lot whenever we thought they were getting a little bit crazy,” Junior said. “The cautions kept coming out and we ran over some debris.”
“We just didn’t have the track position at the end to make a run with two laps to go,” Junior continued. “Just not enough time.”
Not Surprising: Roush dominance, to no one’s surprise, continued to reign in the point standings even after the rough race at Talladega. Cousin Carl, who finished eleventh in his No. 99 Subway Ford, now reigns atop the leader board with a 14 point advantage.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever been so excited about 11th place,” Edwards said. “Even though it is not a win, it is a big battle in the war and a huge day for us.”
Now nipping at his heels, however, is Edwards’ teammate, steady Matt Kenseth, who finished 18th in his No. 17 Jeremiah Weed Ford , moving up one position to second place in the points.
“It was frustrating that we ran up there most of the day,” Kenseth said. “David (Ragan) was a great drafting partner but he broke something on the last restart.”
“I had to try to find somebody with two laps to go and that is hard,” Kenseth continued. “We made it through so I guess the damage could have been worse.”
Surprising: It was blessedly surprising how well all of the safety measures worked at Talladega, one of the sport’s fastest, and most dangerous, superspeedways. Just ask Regan Smith, who took one of the hardest hits of the day.
“Yeah, it was not a fun hit,” Smith, behind the wheel of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, said after crashing so hard into the safer barriers that they had to be repaired before the race could re-start. “It is what we do at restrictor plate tracks and we unfortunately get caught up in other people’s messes.”
To add insult to injury, Smith’s hauler suffered a fire after the race as a result of some fuel spillage.
“It is what it is,” Smith said with a sigh.
Not Surprising: With the wreck and death of Dan Wheldon in the IndyCar Series last weekend weighing so heavily on everyone’s mind, it was no wonder that many of the drivers were just grateful to come out of the Talladega race unscathed.
“I am alive, so that is good,” Marcos Ambrose, driver of the No. 9 Stanley Ford, said simply. “I am disappointed with the result but with everything that was going on out there and with as much stuff as happened, I am pretty thankful that we were just able to cross the finish line at the end.”
Perhaps Brad Keselowski summed up the Talladega race weekend best.
“It must have had something to do with the memory of Dan (Wheldon) on the back of the car,” Keselowski said. “I just want to say a shout-out to him and his family.”