The Frontstretch: Fact or Fiction: How Martinsville Tempers Connect To That Talladega Wild Card by Mike Lovecchio -- Monday October 25, 2010

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Martinsville featured the usual close contact racing and frayed tempers, but perhaps surprisingly, some of the biggest dustups happened between Chase drivers.

Frustrations at Martinsville were a result of the upcoming race at Talladega

There is no denying the tempers short track racing can induce on a driver from the regional ranks to the national levels, but Sunday’s Cup Series event featured a number of intriguing spats between Chasers including a verbal disagreement between RCR teammates Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton, and a retaliatory maneuver by Kurt Busch on Jeff Gordon. In both circumstances it clearly appeared the aggressor was more than a tad bit out of line – Busch turning Gordon simply because Gordon got into the No. 2 entering the corner, and these interesting comments between Burton and Harvick who were racing for second:

Harvick: He’s out of mulligans…That’s the third time he’s done that now.

Burton: I have done nothing wrong. The hole was there, I filled the hole, and I will not put up with this. I’m a good teammate and I’m not going to let him run into me.

So what could be the reasoning for the shorter than normal tempers for drivers that have far too much on the line to get into a shoving match on the track? How about that big ole’ Halloween event at Talladega?

Of the four remaining tracks on the schedule, Talladega is the one crapshoot remaining, and given Johnson’s dominance at the other Chase tracks, it may be the last chance to get within striking distance of the 4-time champion. Martinsville was all about position. Position not just because the schedule is winding down, but because if any of the championship longshots were to have any shot whatsoever they needed to be close enough to capitalize on any hiccup the No. 48 may have at a track where an accident can easily happen.

Unfortunately for Burton, Gordon and Busch they’re too far back to make any run now. But for Harvick he needs to harness that aggression to make any progress on a driver and team that’s as steady as can be. He can’t put himself in those types of situations at Talladega, and if Johnson slips in the slightest bit he needs to pounce…it may be his last chance.

Talladega will rekindle championship hopes for those on the outside of the top 3

While Talladega may be a crapshoot, no driver outside of the top 3 made enough progress at Martinsville to truly have a chance to win the championship over the final three races. If you take a quick look at the standings you’ll see Johnson’s advantage over Hamlin is a mere six points, and 62 points over Harvick…but fourth place Kyle Busch is a whopping 172 points out and Jeff Gordon rounds out the top 5 203 points back. Now you may be wondering why I’m so quick to nail the coffins on the 2010 season for 4-12 in the standings with such an unknown on the schedule next week, but you’ve got to remember the role strategy can have in a superspeedway race.

Johnson and Hamlin have the cards in their favor and they can easily take a top 15 and settle the championship between two or three drivers over the final three races. You’ll see the No. 48 and No. 11 running around at the tail end of the lead pack, most likely together. They’ll watch as the start and parkers pull into the garage and collect a check, and they’ll watch the 20-car pileup from a safe distance. They won’t put themselves in a position to get collected in the Big One until the final laps and half of the field has been eliminated. This may open the door for Harvick who has as good of a shot as anyone to win and reel in the top 2, but will keep everybody fourth on back at bay. It may not be the best racing, but that’s what the Chase brings and either way we should have a great championship battle over the final month.

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Stephen HOOD
10/25/2010 06:33 AM

Why is Talladega always talked about as a wildcard? When you look at the winners of Talladega, its a who’s who of NASCAR royalty. The races seem to be won consistently by the top tier drivers in the sport or by drivers who make a specialty out of running at the superspeedways. I went on a tour there at the race in the spring, and the woman leading the tour was emphatic that “anybody can win.” But, when you look at the litany of race winners, there are only one or two names that I did not recognize. Even Keselowski’s win, as improbable as it seemed at the time, was an early precursor of “this kid’s got talent.”

I am a believer that winning at Talladega actually requires a specific skill set and a high level of bravery and concentration. I am not one of those who believe a win at Talladega is a function of luck. Getting wrecked, that’s another story.

Carl D.
10/25/2010 08:51 AM

That’s interesting reasoning about how Johnson and Hamlin will race conservatively while Harvick will go for broke at Talledega. It seems to make sense, but a front-row qualifying effort by either Johnson or Hamlin could change that. It makes better sense to try and stay up front ahead of the big one if your car is good enough. Still, anyone running up front will nedd a drafting partner, and a non-chaser might be willing to help out Hamlin or Johnson, hoping for a chance to be there and beat them at the end.

10/25/2010 09:28 AM

I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Johnson, Hamlin, Harvick, Gordon, Martin, Jr., Logano, and Bowyer form their own seperate draft and let the field leave them behind for the first 150 laps. Then charge at the end and let the chips fall where they may. They (Hamlin and Harvick) would love to leave ‘Dega ahead of the 48, but being aggressive for too long almost guarantees fate will knock you out. At least if the are together, they will (probably) share the same fate.

10/25/2010 11:36 AM

Martinsville problems might be remembered if we get a two car battle for the win. Don’t be surprised if the 24 is making a run on the 2 heading for the checkers, the 2 blocks and the 24 goes right through him.

Talladega is a great race, but it always ends up having too much impact on the Chase. Every year it seems a driver or two who is close to the points lead gets taken out in a “big-one”. Sometimes it’s their own fault (Edwards 2008) or their just a victim (Martin 2009). It’s like Chase elimination roulette. I say add 5 races to the Chase to diminish that effect.

10/25/2010 12:47 PM

Stephen HOOD-

Spot on. Certain drivers and teams always do well at the plate races and plenty of drivers who run well elsewhere tend to end up in a mess more frequently than not.

I’d expect attitude has plenty to do with it. If you look at Talladega as a wildcard free-for-all out of the driver’s hands, it will be. If you happen to circle this next weekend on your calendar, have a team that puts a little extra into this race, and see it as an opportunity to pick up a good finish if you play your cards right, well, that’s likely to happen, too.

McMurray and Kurt Busch have run well at plate tracks no matter their team, DEI always stepped up their game here, Michael Waltrip always ran better here than anywhere else, and Harvick and the Earnhardts can (or could) do anything in a plate race.

It’s not all about luck.

10/25/2010 02:07 PM

Burton’s got the speil of a politician down pat, “I’ve done nothing wrong”. “I“m a good teammate, I’m trying to help him” He’s as full of BS as any crooked politician that ever walked this earth.

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