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Talladega - Earnhardt
wins and that's No Bull
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When Dale Earnhardt, Sr. crossed the finish line at Talladega on Sunday, he gave the fans and competitors 1 million reasons why he is the "King of the Restrictor Plate". More importantly, Dale gave Richard Stertz $1,000,000. Embracing on the window frame of the black GM Goodwrench Monte Carlo in victory lane were 2 extremely happy men. The elder Earnhardt finally won the No Bull 5 $1,000,000 bonus which he was a contender for many times. Usually on the last lap there are, at the most, 2 or 3 cars that could really win the race, today there was at least 30 cars. "I got to thank Kenny (Wallace) for pushing me to the front", said Earnhardt after the race. Of course, Kenny Wallace said, "I think he ought to give us half of the No Bull money". Keep wishing Kenny.
What a difference 1/16 of an inch makes. Yesterday during morning practice NASCAR was extremely concerned with the 198 mph plus drafting speeds as well as the closing rates they were seeing. So, before happy hour, NASCAR handed out new plates that were a 1/16" smaller. When the cars went back out many drivers were happy with the changes that NASCAR had made and all said that it should be a great race on Sunday……….They were absolutely correct!
Before the green flag dropped, Joe Nemechek made a prediction that unfortunately for him would come true. He said, "I don't have a chance to lead the first lap". When the cars came around to complete the first lap, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., was showing the way. Joe Nemechek had dropped down to 15th. When the second lap was complete, I could not believe what I was seeing, Dave Marcis was out front and not by virtue of green flag pit stops! It was obvious at this point that this was going to be an incredible race. Several drivers called their crews complaining about the "dirty air" (turbulence experienced by the drivers). Partly due to the roof strips and other "air changes" that NASCAR had made in order to slow the cars by almost 150 horsepower. On lap 10, Earnhardt Jr. was pushing his dad around…the track that is. At 190 plus miles per hour, Junior's Budweiser nose was stuck right on the back bumper of his dad.
Jeff Gordon, who had one of the unluckiest days after Friday the 13th started the race in 43rd position in a backup car after loosing a tire and shock on his primary car during happy hour on Saturday. The DuPont Chevy was at the point by lap 13.
By lap 15 the 3, 18, and 88 cars were all complaining that they were running hot. This was due to the amount of tape on the front of the car used to make the car faster. The remedy was simple, drop out of line and get some air in the grill. While this was simple it was also costly, when you drop out of line at Talladega there is only one way you are going to go, backwards. But with drafting help you could get any number of positions back in a hurry.
By lap 30 there had been many lead changes and only 4.5 seconds separated 42 cars. There were 3 lines of cars going all the way around this 2.66-mile circular highway. Sometimes cars would be 4 wide. This kind of action was enough to keep 170,000 people on their feet.
Thanks to being caution free since the start of the race (never thought I would say that anytime soon) green flag pit stops started on lap 47. Most stops were pretty routine, 4 tires and gas. But thanks to seeing double, NASCAR invited Jeff Burton to hang around pit road for an extra 15 seconds. This was due to a crewmember that had seen the identically painted car that Elliott Sadler was driving and put a foot on pit road before realizing his driver's car was behind Sadler. NASCAR did not feel sorry for Burton and assessed the penalty. When the final pit stop was made on lap 51 it was Awesome Bill Elliott out front. Was this going to be Bill's day?
On lap 70, the guy with the worst luck in NASCAR lately had an engine problem, Jeremy Mayfield's day was over.
The second round of green flag pit stops had just finished when the first caution of the day came out on lap 105, for "Wing Tip" Dave Marcis, who lost an engine. What a day for Marcis, he started 9th and led the race. This caution was a break for Jeff Burton who would have went a lap down if he had to pit under green. Burton was just about to hit pit road when the caution came out. It was not so lucky for Jeff's brother Ward who's left front had made contact with a crewmember during his stop. While the crewmember was fine the front left fender was not. The crew pulled the fender away from the front tire and sent Ward back out. The green would fall on lap 109.
With 77 laps to go there was bad news for the 2nd and 3rd place in points, Winston Cup points leader Bobby Labonte was now in the 5th position. On lap 116, the caution would come out for the second time. This caution was for Ward Burton who lost the front left Goodyear on the number 22 CAT Pontiac. Apparently the crew was not able to get the fender off of the tire during the last pitstop. Hats off to Ward Burton, who at 190 mph had a tire blow out but kept the car under control while in heavy traffic. All of the drivers would come to pit road. Some would take 4 tires and gas while others would only take 2 tires and gas. When the green flag came out it was Mike Bliss out front. Bliss would not hold on long, Rusty Wallace did not waste anytime taking over the point. Wallace was the 16th different driver to lead at this point.
The 3rd caution flew when Bobby Hamilton got into the back of Mark Martin. Martin would spin and Hamilton would make the front of the Kodak Chevy several feet shorter. The restart came out on lap 174.
With 8 laps to go, there were at least 30 cars that had a chance to win. This had been an incredible race, could it get any better? YES!
The last laps seen cars trading almost every position on the track. It looked for a while that Little E was going to claim his first Talladega race. But Dad would not hear of that. Dad hung his boy out to dry with 1 to go. Kenny Wallace was quite possibly in the best position to win he had ever been in. If there was a race that you would rather be in second going into the last lap, this was it. I remember thinking, Kenny is going to win this race. How stupid I was, I had lost sight of the fact that there was a black Monte Carlo who at least to Kenny Wallace, was about 30 feet wide. No one is better at making a car "wide" than Big E.
When the checkers fell, the man who everyone claims, can see air, was a million dollars richer and had definitely gained a new fan (if he wasn't already) in Richard Stertz. Congratulations to both!
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