Mike Neff · Monday October 21, 2013
Key Moment – Jamie McMurray took the lead with 15 laps to go and the pack suddenly decided to drive around in single file. When the caution flag flew, halfway through the final lap that was still the case, McMurray was still in front and declared the winner.
In a Nutshell – Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had the dominant cars of the race. Johnson led the most laps, but couldn’t get in the right spot at the end to make a run. Kenseth, meanwhile lost the handle on his car with 70 or so laps to go and never really got it back. Earnhardt was running second, with the field almost halfway through the last lap and a plan in his head. However, that’s when Austin Dillon spun and then got launched into the air on the back straight by Casey Mears, who had nowhere else to go — NASCAR had to throw the caution. As a result, Jamie McMurray took home the trophy by being in the right place at the right time.
Dramatic Moment – As the cars paraded around for the final 15 laps, anticipation was building as to who would make the move and when it would come. But as Dillon and Earnhardt prepared to do so, off of Turn 2 Dillon got loose, lost it, and the rest is history.
There was plenty of three and four-wide racing throughout the event… just not during the final 10 percent of it.
What They’ll be Talking About Around The Water Cooler
There is no manual for when to throw a caution and when to not throw one. Most of the time, in the Cup Series, they’ll let the drivers run to the finish line if there isn’t a wreck blocking the track near or shortly after the checkered flag. With a car being launched in the air, it certainly is a wise call to go ahead and throw the yellow, no matter the location but in hindsight, with Dillon and Mears both being fine, it would have been great to see how the race would have played out through the final corners and the front straight.
There were only five instances on Sunday of a driver leading more than nine consecutive laps. Two of them were Matt Kenseth and two were Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The final segment, 15 laps leading up to the finish, belonged to Jamie McMurray. Quite a bit of the race was loaded with three-wide racing even though the ending was about as anti-climactic as it could be.
Junior Nation has voiced their displeasure with Jimmie Johnson for several years when it comes to helping their favorite driver get to the front. Since Earnhardt pushed Johnson to the win at Talladega in the tandem draft, a few years ago they’ve felt like Johnson owes their driver one. However, he seems to refuse to give a hand to their beloved idol. This weekend’s race was no different. Johnson had several chances to help their man and he chose not to. One in-car camera shot actually showed Earnhardt waving for Johnson to get out of the way as he pulled up in front of the No. 88. In the end, Earnhardt was all alone waiting to make his move on the final lap and settled for the runner-up spot.
“Log some laps” should be on the flag at the NASCAR offices that means drivers aren’t giving 100%. The pack driving around the top of the track at Talladega, in a single-file line has to be one of the most mind-numbing things to see anywhere. NASCAR won’t be able to fine anyone, though because they can’t prove they weren’t giving 100%… so it is all lip service. The drivers should at least try to pass someone, once in a while at a plate track if they’re giving it all they have.
The Truck Series was developed to run on the short tracks that NASCAR had largely abandoned by 1994. The series was very popular in the early days, as they had mid-race breaks and no live pit stops. In 1997, that started to change when the series went to Fontana for a race. It completely changed in 2000 when the Trucks went to Daytona and ran superspeedways for the first time. The sanctioning body tried to kill Geoff Bodine that day and they continue to try and kill drivers to this day by not developing a better alternative to slow the Trucks down. The Truck race was definitely exciting, but seeing the carnage that was strewn across the front straight, leading up to the finish line is a stark reminder that this kind of racing is playing with fire and eventually, someone is going to get burned.
How in the world can the Nationwide Series have two weeks off within five weeks of the end of their season? While it isn’t as dumb as having a month off after your first race, like the Trucks do it is a close second. Nothing like killing the momentum of a tight points battle as it heads to the finish line.
The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune
Juan Pablo Montoya’s opportunities to win an oval race are quickly running out as he’s heading back to IndyCar racing next season. Sunday, his chance was destroyed through no fault of his own as Marcos Ambrose tried to move to the top lane in the tri-oval and lost control of his car. Ambrose slid down across the track and destroyed Montoya’s Chevy, ending his day after 78 laps.
Kasey Kahne tried to play it safe early in the race, lagging back with Kevin Harvick at the back of the pack. Unfortunately, he lost the draft and eventually lost a lap. Through the misfortune of a couple of other drivers (Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski) who also lost a lap during the race, Kahne stayed a lap down until green-flag pit stops around lap 122. Kahne sped on pit road, exiting from that stop and had to make a pass through, which cost him a second lap and killed any hopes of a good day. Kahne ended the event in 36th.
Austin Dillon drove a great race, finding himself in third place as the field spilled onto the back straight for the final time. Coming out of Turn 2, he looked to move down below Dale Earnhardt, Jr., pulled back up and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. moved across his back bumper, causing him to lose control. As he drove down the track backwards and turned up into the outside wall, Casey Mears drove into the back of his car and launched the No. 14 into the air. Fortunately, it came back down on all four wheels but it ruined the cars and the finishes of both Dillon and Mears. They wound up 26th and 27th, respectively.
The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. may or may not have hit Austin Dillon to cause him to spin on the last lap, but whether he did or didn’t, he still came home with his best Cup Series finish to date (third). Stenhouse has been the dominant rookie contender all year, but his finishes continue to improve. The first top 5 of his career is another feather in his cap.
During Tech Talk with Slugger Labbe this week, he told Frontstretch that the No. 27 car was going to have an experimental engine at Talladega this weekend. Well, not only did Paul Menard’s engine last all day, but it also pushed him to a top-5 finish. Menard finally brought home a solid result in a plate race after three disappointing finishes that were not of his making.
We seldom bestow the honor of a Seven Come Eleven on a whole organization, but for Sunday’s race, we’ll make an exception for Front Row Motorsports. As the caution flew at Talladega and the race was called, the two cars from Front Row were sitting in sixth and seventh places. David Ragan, who is no stranger to running well at Talladega, led his teammate David Gilliland to the top 10 promised land on lap 187.5. Even Josh Wise (30th) had his best finish since Daytona in July.
- Jamie McMurray has now scored seven victories at the Sprint Cup level. It took McMurray 398 races to snag his seventh win.
- This was McMurray’s second career victory at Talladega in the Cup Series.
- McMurray is now tied for 64th on the all-time wins list. One of the drivers he is tied with (and this will probably the only time McMurray will be on a list with him) is A. J. Foyt. McMurray is one victory behind Kyle Petty on the list.
- This was McMurray’s first triumph since his three-win season of 2010, where he took his third victory in the Fall race at Charlotte.
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s runner-up finish was his fourth top-2 result of the season. This is Earnhardt’s fifth second place in a plate race since he won his last restricted engine race, at Talladega in Fall 2004.
- Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.‘s third-place finish was his first at Talladega in two career starts. He was the highest finishing rookie once again.
- Paul Menard has finished in the top 5 twice in 28 races on restrictor plate tracks. Both of those finishes were at Talladega.
- Three caution flags is the least number of yellows in a Talladega race since there was a caution free event in 2002.
- Kyle Busch (fifth) has scored top-5 finishes in every Chase race except Kansas.
Top 10 by Manufacturer
Chevrolet – 4
Ford – 3
Toyota – 3
For the second week in a row, a non-Chase driver won a Chase race. It’s the first time since 2006 that back-to-back races were won by non-Chase drivers. In ’06, it was Tony Stewart going back-to-back at Atlanta and Texas. Interestingly, it was the same year (‘06) when Stewart and Brian Vickers went back-to-back, at Kansas and Talladega that different non-Chase drivers came out on top in consecutive events.
What’s the Points?
Jimmie Johnson scored the extra bonus point for leading the most laps and finished seven places ahead of Kenseth. As a result, he is now four points ahead in the standings after the “Wild Card” race that was going to potentially bring everyone else back into play. Now, it has turned this championship into a two-horse race. Kenseth is 22 points ahead of third place with four races to go in the Chase. No one is going to gain 26 points on both Kenseth and Johnson in four races, so your 2013 Champion will either be the No. 20 or the No. 48. Kyle Busch came home in fourth while Kevin Harvick finished 12th, one place ahead of Johnson. The resulting math puts Busch and Harvick in a dead heat for third, 26 points in arrears to Johnson. Rounding out the top 5 in points is Jeff Gordon, who continues to make the most of his gift of a shot in the Chase. Gordon finished 14th, directly behind Johnson, and is now 34 points from the lead. Gordon is the last driver in the standings that is mathematically eligible to take over the lead in a single race.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s runner-up finish vaulted him three positions, up to sixth in points where he is now 52 points out of the lead. Earnhardt is one point in front of Greg Biffle, who came home 11th on Sunday. Clint Bowyer is four points behind Biffle and 57 points behind Jimmie Johnson. Kurt Busch ran a strong race, but slipped back to 18th at the end which leaves him 61 points from the lead and in ninth position. Carl Edwards ended the race at Talladega on all four wheels and one place in front of Kurt Busch. Edwards is now 68 points behind Johnson and is the last driver that will be invited to the stage in Las Vegas.
Ryan Newman, another driver who’s had his fair share of tumbles at Talladega, came home in ninth which leaves him 72 points behind the leader and in 11th in points. Joey Logano’s 16th-place run leaves him 12th, 75 behind Jimmie Johnson. Kasey Kahne’s abysmal day ended with him two laps down and 101 points behind the leader. If Kahne loses 43 points at Martinsville, which would be another really bad day, he’ll be the first driver mathematically eliminated from the Chase.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – 52 lead changes, no “Big One” and only 50 or so single-file parade laps. As plate races go, it was an intriguing race, to say the least. Unfortunately, the final 15 laps going single-file, when that is the time that everyone expects the real racing to take place knocked a couple of brews off of the rating on this one. It is going to receive three frosty Budweisers because you can’t award any other brand for Talladega.
Next Up — From the longest track on the circuit to the shortest track on the schedule, the traveling circus heads to Martinsville, VA for another race that could dramatically impact the championship Chase. The action will be televised live, on ESPN at 1:30 next Sunday and broadcast on the radio on your local MRN affiliates.
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