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Talladega Postscript

by Dave Grayson
Monday, April 27, 2009

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Talladega turned into another crashfest
Make no mistake about it, there's going to be a ton of post race chatter regarding NASCAR's weekend at the Talladega Superspeedway. The weekend featured the Cinderella stories of first time winners, horrific accidents that left fans speechless and everything in between those two major points. With that thought in mind let's begin with:

THUMBS UP to young Brad Keselowski for winning his very first NASCAR Sprint Cup race in only his fifth start. His performance during the final two laps of the Aaron's 499 displayed a great deal of poise one would expect from a series veteran. The 25 year old driver is a protégé of Dale Earnhardt Jr and drives his Nationwide Series car. Clearly he's going to be a major talent in the future that's likely going to land him a Cup ride with Hendrick Motorsports.

An additional THUMBS UP goes out to team owner James Finch. Although largely noted for fielding a car in the Nationwide Series, Finch decided to go all in for his latest entry into Cup racing by buying a car, as well as leasing an engine, from Hendrick Motorsports. 

THUMBS UP to the latest safety innovations, regarding front stretch catch fences, that stopped Carl Edwards' Ford from landing in the grandstands at the end of the race. Granted, there were reports of eight fans suffering minor injuries, due to flying debris, but the catch fence did its job and sent the Edwards car back onto the track.

THUMBS UP for the extensive safety features in NASCAR's Car Of Tomorrow. These cars may still be a bear to set up and drive but it's the one thing you want to be in when a major accident occurs.

THUMBS UP to Carl Edwards for showing us that he was still able to keep his famous sense of humor despite the intensity of that wreck. After climbing out of a badly mangled and fiery race car Edwards ran down the front stretch and jumped on top of the start finish line. He just felt like he needed to finish this race.

A never before issued triple THUMBS UP goes out to Edwards for showing an extreme amount of class during a post race interview. Not only did he congratulate young Brad Keselowski for his first Sprint Cup victory he also made it clear that the young driver did his job and the wreck was not his fault.

However, from that same interview, WHAT’S UP with Edwards' statement that said "NASCAR puts us in this box, (referring to the aggressive nature of restrictor plate racing). I guess they'll keep it that way until somebody gets killed." The comment brought out a strong reaction from Jim Hunter, NASCAR Vice President of Corporate Communications, who said "this place is wide enough to race on. You saw that and, yes, there were a lot of accidents. Most of them were caused not by car failure, not by parts and pieces failure, but by over aggressive drivers or a driver making just one little slip. That's one of the things here. They run so close together here that one little slip can cause a chain reaction."

THUMBS UP for the safer barriers being placed on the inside of the straightaways at the Talladega Motor Speedway. The need for this became clearly evident following Jeff Gordon's accident during the 2008 race at Las Vegas. During Sunday's race the inside safer barriers played a huge role during the second "big one" of the race when Robby Gordon's Toyota slammed hard into the back stretch wall. The car sustained massive damage but the driver walked away from the wreck uninjured.

WHAT’S UP with the first "big one" that occurred on lap six? Excuse me? Lap six? That's way too early in the race for aggressive driving that had drivers racing four wide before the inevitable happened. The accident took out a lot of good cars including pre race favorite Jeff Gordon who left Alabama no longer the series' points leader.

THUMBS UP to Kurt Busch and his Miller Lite/Penske Racing team for overcoming adversity. The elder Busch brother sustained damage from the first "big one" early in the race. Then he lost a ton of track position following a single car spin. Despite that the team kept their sense of focus and scored a sixth place finish. Busch also left Alabama as the new series' points leader.

THUMBS UP to Dale Earnhardt Jr and his team for, to coin a phrase from Fox Sports, "finding their mojo again." It's no secret that 2009 has been dismal so far for this team. However it was widely believed that Talladega could be a turning point for the team and they responded to that belief in a very big way. Even the pit road service displayed vast improvement.

On the other hand WHAT’S UP with Dale Earnhardt Jr for missing his pit box during Saturday's Nationwide Series race? This is not the first time this has happened this year. My girlfriend, a card carrying T shirt wearing member of the Junior Nation, suggested that maybe he needs glasses.

On the subject of performance levels a THUMBS UP goes out to Jeff Burton and his Richard Childress Racing team for their refusal to bow down in the face of adversity. A reported alternator problem put the team three laps down. Not only did Burton get the team back on the lead lap, he also became a factor in the late stages of the race and led some laps. He brought the car home to a most impressive tenth place finish.

THUMBS UP to Ryan Newman for his third place finish in Sunday's Cup race. Despite being caught up in the Carl Edwards accident, Newman found a way to nurse his badly damaged car across the line for the top three finish. This was a finish that his Stewart Haas Racing team needed badly. It was also a finish that many said was just a matter of time. Newman came "this" close to winning Saturday's Nationwide Series race only to see David Ragan steal it in the final seconds.
 
So that leads us to a THUMBS UP to David Ragan for getting his first major NASCAR win in Saturday's Nationwide Series event. The young driver literally stole the race during the last 100 feet of the event following a last second push from Joey Logano. Additionally a THUMBS UP goes out to Fox Sports for making sure they did a live television interview with his extremely proud, and emotionally charged, parents.

THUMBS UP to the NASCAR mandated safety features, in their Nationwide Series cars, that allowed Matt Kenseth to walk away from the second worst wreck of the Talladega weekend. His Roush Fenway Ford literally barrel-rolled down the backstretch multiple times before coming to a rest.

WHAT’S UP with the sheer coincidence that the Edwards and Kenseth crashes included some involvement from two young drivers, Ragan and Keselowski, who went on to win their first ever NASCAR race? 

THUMBS UP to NASCAR veteran Tony Raines for an outstanding fourth place finish in the Nationwide Series race. This effort is a major shot in the arm that Raines and Front Row Motorsports seriously needed.

The final THUMBS UP of the week goes to Joe Nemechek for doing the "Dad" thing. Nemechek spent an extremely busy Talladega weekend driving his self owned Toyotas in both the Nationwide and Cup series races. On Friday he qualified the Nationwide car and then participated in practice sessions in the Cup car. Late Friday afternoon Nemechek raced to a nearby airport to catch a place to North Carolina because he had a special date with one of his favorite ladies. He attended a special father-daughter dinner dance that night and then immediately flew back to Alabama for a full Saturday race schedule. It's a safe bet that the young lady is going to remember this next Father's Day.

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