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NASCAR Talladega Postscript

by Dave Grayson
Monday, November 02, 2009

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The Talladega Big One

CIA Stock Photo

Last Sunday's Amp Energy 500 at Talladega ran the full gamut. It began with the fans wondering when these NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers were actually going to start racing restrictor plate style. That was due to a NASCAR mandate on bump drafting in the turns. It ended with the customary Talladega action that was completely out of control during the final five laps of the race. That was due to bump drafting on the straightaways.

We also saw a would be four time NASCAR champion prove that he's equally as lucky as he is good. We also witnessed some really great runs from drivers and teams who seriously needed the boost from a great race. With those thoughts in mind, let's begin with:

THUMBS-UP to series points leader Jimmie Johnson who earned this week's making chicken salad out of chicken do do award. Johnson and company's game plan was to hang out at the back of the pack. This team's sterling performance levels doesn't apply to restrictor plate tracks and the idea was to run in the back of the field to hopefully avoid the big one, or multi car crash, that Talladega is famous for and then charge to the front in the final laps of the race.

When the first of two big one came, with five laps left in the race, Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, earned a THUMBS-UP for making a brilliant move. Knowing that the seriousness of the Ryan Newman crash was going to create a red flag stoppage, Knaus called his driver down pit road, while the field was still under yellow, for the extra fuel needed to complete the race.

With the field rolling under yellow again prior to the restart of the race, several cars in front of Johnson had no choice but to come to pit road because they were literally running out of gas and that allowed Johnson to pick up a ton of track position.

When the second big one occurred at the end of the race, Johnson new track position allowed him to witness that event from his rear view window. The result was a sixth place finish. The second big one involved Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon. They are, of course, Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports team mates and his chief rivals for the 2009 Chase For The Championship. Johnson arrived in Alabama 118 points ahead of Martin. He padded that lead to 184 points. It's probably time to notify the official engraver of NASCAR and tell him to start putting Johnson's name on the trophy.

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THUMBS-UP to race winner Jamie McMurray. This couldn't have come at a better time. NASCAR's new four team ownership cap starts next year. That forced Roush Fenway Racing to disband McMurray's team in order to comply with the new rule that starts next year. It also left the race winner in a position of looking for a job for the 2010 season.

McMurray has been heavily rumored to be taking over the #1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing ride that will be soon vacated by the departing Martin Truex Jr. But there were reports that this impending deal wasn't exactly locked in. His outstanding performance Sunday will likely accelerate this process.

THUMBS-UP to the Junior Nation. Did you hear them screaming when Dale Earnhardt Jr took the lead for the first time in the race? It was hoped by many that this driver's excellent record at Talladega would the be the catalyst towards turning around the horrible season this team has endured. Unfortunately, fuel issues at the end of the race forced him to pit road for a splash of gas which led to an 11th place finish. But, prior to that, the car was strong and it was good to see that again.

Double THUMBS-UPS goes out to Richard Petty Motorsports and their drivers Kasey Kahne and Elliot Sadler. Kahne had a strong run and overcame some early race adversity to finish second.

Sadler gave his team a badly needed top ten and was often a player in the early part of the race. He did that in a new Ford Fusion. Richard Petty Motorsports is in the process of completing a merger with Yates Racing that will require a switch from Dodge to Ford next year. Sadler ran the Ford Sunday to allow RPM to get a head start on 2010 and did a very good job.

On the subject of Ford, THUMBS-UP to their new FR9 engine. Created specifically for NASCAR racing by Roush Yates Engines and Ford engineers, this power plant was put in the cars driven by Matt Kenseth and David Ragan and ran strong all day.

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In a honesty and fairness it's only right to issue a THUMBS-UP to NASCAR for safety considerations that made them ban bump drafting in the turns. The concept can lead to frightful results. There was also a concern over bump drafting impacting the competitive level of the race. With the aerodynamics package in NASCAR's new C-O-T cars bump drafting can cause two cars to break away from the field and seemingly run away with the race.

The ban on bumping actually began during Friday's final practice session when NASCAR officials sent radio warnings to drivers advising them to cease the activity or they would be parked for the remainder of the session.

That leads to our first WHAT'S-UP which goes to Michael Waltrip for not getting the message. During practice Waltrip was observed bump drafting Jimmie Johnson in the turns and was quickly warned to cease and desist. Amazingly, approximately one lap later, Waltrip climbed on Johnson's bumper again and was parked with a very valuable half hour still left in the practice session. Apparently Waltrip didn't consider the fact that NASCAR was standing in their sky box with binoculars not to mention overlooking the presence of live television cameras. What were you thinking Mikey?

Following a pre race announced moratorium on bump drafting in the turns issued by NASCAR during Sunday's driver's meeting, the Sprint Cup drivers apparently decided to err on the side of caution and stay off of each other's bumpers. The message was clear: bump drafting in the wrong places will result in a drive by penalty and possibly a lost of position.

WHAT'S-UP with that massive line of cars all running on the speedway's upper groove? Drivers felt like they could not run a second, lower, line without employing bump drafting to they lined up single file on the high side with plenty of the mandated "daylight between the bumpers while racing in the turns." It actually resembled heavy traffic on a single highway lane returning home from the holidays. While safety was the primary concern, the result was some extremely tedious racing. It got so bad that a scheduled airing of an infomercial promoting a miracle mop was starting to look good.

The WHAT'S-UP for what can only be described as simulated bump drafting goes to Clint Bowyer who accidentally rammed the rear of A J Allmendinger's car entering pit road resulting in a spin out.

However, the tedious segment of this race, there are some THUMBS-UPS for some entertaining comments made by the drivers over their in car radio transmissions.

The first came from Tony Stewart who said "somebody tell me something interesting to help me stay awake." Crew Chief Darrien Grubb responded with "we heard they were selling No Doz in the grandstands do you want us to get you some?"

Kevin Harvick referred to the racing as being ridiculous and wished he would have packed his IPOD in the car so he could listen to his favorite tunes while just riding around.

Kyle Busch referred to the single line race as "B-S" and felt like he had joined some sort of driver's union. He backed that up with "if this is the kind of racing NASCAR wants then they should shorten it to 75 laps."

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With approximately 45 laps left in the race, the Amp Energy 500 finally started to resemble a Talladega style restrictor plate race. While the drivers were extremely careful not to bump draft in the turns, there was plenty of hitting on the straightaways and one could literally feel "the big one" coming.

It happened with five laps left in the race with that horrific sight of Ryan Newman's car going upside down in the air and then barrel rolling down the embankment. That creates a THUMBS-UP for the mandated safety features in NASCAR's modern day race cars as well as another THUMBS-UP for the presence of the energy absorbing SAFER barriers. Both allowed Newman to exit the badly wrecked car uninjured.

However there needs to be a WHAT'S-UP regarding the roof flaps and their failure to keep Newman's car on the ground as they were intended to do. When the car went up in the air the roof flaps were clearly deployed but instead of returning the car to the ground it instead flew backwards and landed on the hood of Kevin Harvick's car before continuing its upside down skid.

Later in the evening, during the Speed Channel's "NASCAR Victory Lane" program, commentators Kenny Wallace and Larry McReynolds shared a theory that made them wonder if the COT's rear wing design might be interfering with the intended purpose of the roof flaps function. They also noted that the old style spoiler, used on the previous car model, seemed to coincide with the flaps. It's a WHAT'S-UP area worthy of consideration and inspection.

Because Newman's car came to a rest on its roof, the radio antenna was rendered inoperative. During the process of the safety crews raising the car off of the ground, to gently set it on its wheels, the antenna snapped back in place and finally Newman was able to let us all know that he wasn't hurt. Relocating that antenna is another WHAT'S-UP worthy of consideration and inspection.

A THUMBS-UP goes out to Ryan Newman for saying what a lot of race participants and observers were thinking during a post wreck interview on live television. Newman was understandably angry and called the racing boring and not what the fans deserved adding "the more rules, the more NASCAR tells us how to drive the race cars, the less we can race and the less we can put on a show for the fans. They created a lot of boredom because we couldn't race. It was survival."

The second "big one" came during an attempt to stage a green-white-checker finish to conclude the race. Mark Martin got hit from behind and he ended up doing a rollover on the backstretch. A THUMBS-UP goes out to Martin for always being a class act. During an interview he said it was just a wreck that looked exciting to him, he had no clue exactly what caused it and then congratulated the race winner.

Another THUMBS-UP goes to the manufacturer of the in car camera that was located inside of Martin's car. It survived the crash and provided video footage that was breath taking.

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THUMBS-UP to Kyle Busch for winning Saturday's Mountain Dew 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Talladega. It marked his fourth win in his last four starts as well as his 14th series win.

THUMBS-UP to his team mate, Aric Almirola, who literally pushed Busch pass race leader Todd Bodine, in the final portion of the final lap, to give Billy Ballew Motorsports a one-two finish.

THUMBS-UP to Chrissie and Mike Wallace for making history by being the first father-daughter team to start a NASCAR national touring series race. The daughter, in only her second series start, finished a very credible 13th. Mike Wallace experienced some loose sheet metal conditions and finished 28th after making an unscheduled stop.

THUMBS-UP to truck series driver Todd Bodine for wearing a custom designed pink helmet to help promote breast cancer awareness and then donating the helmet to an EBay auction with proceeds going towards that very worthy cause.

The final WHAT'S-UP of the week unfortunately goes to NASCAR and raises the question: why weren't the same concerns and mandates regarding bump drafting so important in the Sprint Cup race not applied to Saturday's truck race? This race was loaded with bump drafting all over the track. In fact, the race winning move was a bump draft that started in turn four and went all through the speedway's quad oval area.

The final THUMBS-UP of the week goes to the Speed Channel for Saturday's Halloween format seen live on "The Set Up Show" prior to the truck race and then on the special Saturday edition of "NASCAR Victory Lane." The costumes and stage sets were amazing. The presentation was cute, clever and often very funny. By the way, how hot was Krista Voda in that Bat Girl outfit?

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