NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Becca’s Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2006 UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega

Each week, Frontstretch Staff Writer Becca Gladden looks at the prior weekend’s Nextel Cup race from a reporter’s point of view, covering the “Who, What, When, Where, Why and How” of the race, the drivers, the TV coverage, even the commercials. Check back every Wednesday for Becca’s fun and thought-provoking commentary.

Who? Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

All the post-race attention at Talladega was on Brian Vickers‘s uber-controversial last-lap punt of Chase contenders Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt – and understandably so. But Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. lit a few fireworks of their own when Jeff accused Junior of excessively rough bump-drafting. Replied Earnhardt: “I pushed Jeff Gordon into the lead five times, and every time I do that, he complains that I’m bump-drafting him in the corners and blah, blah, blah. So I’m just not going to push him anymore. Besides, every time I help him out, he never gives it back in return. That’s why he doesn’t have too many friends out there. I was trying to be his only friend besides his teammates, who are kind of paid to draft with him.” Ouch.

What? A new surface and smaller plates.

There were lots of questions about how the newly resurfaced Talladega track would affect racing, and that question was answered on Friday when Gordon posted a 198.689-mph practice lap. At 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning, NASCAR officials called a crew chief meeting to hand out smaller restrictor plates in order to bring down speeds, which they considered borderline unsafe. Many teams were upset by the move, particularly during an impound race like Talladega, where there are no practice sessions after qualifying… but the quality of racing Sunday was high, showing that the new restrictor plate did what it was supposed to do despite the craziness surrounding the change.

When? On lap 137.

You knew it was coming, and despite a very surprising 72 caution-free laps at the start of the race, the Talladega Big One was inevitable. 10 drivers were involved, including Chasers Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, along with Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Petty and Sterling Marlin. Hamlin had other problems as well and took the biggest points hit among Chase contenders, finishing 21st to fall from second to fifth in the standings.

Where? At Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

That’s the location of this weekend’s race, where track chairman Bruton Smith has had to resort to providing extra security for Vickers, stating, “We want to make sure Brian has an uninterrupted weekend here and that he is able focus on his driving duties. We will offer security escorts in and out of the Speedway and anywhere he feels he needs our assistance.” Come on, race fans – passion is one thing, but let’s keep it under control.

Why? Because of really bad race coverage.

Can there be any other explanation for the ongoing low TV ratings in the second half of the season? NBC/TNT’s race coverage is substandard at best and intolerable at worst. Even Talladega couldn’t beef up the sagging numbers, scoring an overnight rating of 4.3 and a 9 market share – 6.5% lower than last year’s fall race.

How? By setting a good example.

Earnhardt demonstrated an admirable level of sportsmanship on Sunday after being spun out on the final lap of the race. While Earnhardt was philosophical about the loss, many NASCAR fans were not. Involved in a verbal confrontation with Edwards just six weeks prior, Junior is to be commended for maintaining his composure when it counted. A more hostile response from him could have stirred fans into an even greater post-race frenzy than the one that took place; thankfully, he is aware of the power that his words possess.

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