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Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2008 Talladega Spring Race Recap

The Key Moment: A 10-car wreck on the white-flag lap drew a caution and sealed the win for Kyle Busch just as the outside line was mounting a challenge.

In a Nutshell: It’s contrived excitement, but you just can’t look away.

Dramatic Moment: The last 30 laps of the race were all nailbiters.

The No. 20 and No. 88 car tangled to set off the customary Talladega smoking pig pile of a wreck on lap 173.

Had Tony Stewart not been able to keep his car up against the wall after cutting down a tire on lap 143 while leading, he almost certainly would have triggered a wreck that would have eliminated most of the field.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

Was Kyle Busch’s winning pass made with two tires beneath the yellow line? If so, was he forced out of bounds?

Dario Franchitti’s fractured ankle once again highlights the other side of the equation for the Buschwhackers. It’s tough to explain to your Cup sponsors why you can’t race on Sunday after getting hurt in the Little League race on Saturday. In Franchitti’s case – while he can use all the laps he can get in a stock car trying to hasten his learning curve – the two plate tracks shouldn’t be part of his schedule on Saturdays.

KEITH: NATIONWIDE SERIES BREAKDOWN AFTER TALLADEGA

With three Cup wins this season, Carl Edwards has become NASCAR’s head cheerleader for the new Fat Car. But other drivers are seemingly far less enamored of these pigs. Ryan Newman speculated this weekend that Michael McDowell’s barrel-roll crash at Texas was a result of the new car’s higher center of gravity. When asked why he chose to run in the Nationwide Series races, Stewart was typically blunt. “They’re designed to handle good,” he explained, “So for at least for 50% of the weekend, you get to drive a car that feels like a racecar instead of a car that feels like a dump truck. “

If you want some clue as to why Stewart is posturing as if getting ready to leave Joe Gibbs Racing, review the video of Stewart in Victory Lane. While he thanked the Old Spice people, he once again failed to mention Toyota. And yes, Stewart fans, I too was touched by his interaction with that Make-A-Wish child. He isn’t all bad.

With Stewart, Newman, Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr. and Edwards all considering their options, it looks like this year’s Silly Season game of musical chairs could get as interesting as last year’s Battle of the Earnhardts.

Today’s obscene gas prices seem to be cutting into ticket sales at most tracks. Perhaps that explains the uptick in the TV ratings this year? NASCAR’s not alone in facing the challenge of rising fuel prices. Despite spectacular weather, the crowd at the Carlisle Swap meet I attended last week was the thinnest I recall in decades. Friday and Saturday’s crowds seemed about the same as last year, in part due to the auction, but the number of RVs parked in and around the fairgrounds also seemed to have declined dramatically.

For those of you keeping score at home, Joe Gibbs-prepared Toyotas have now won six of the 10 Nationwide series events this season, including the last four consecutive races. There is no challenge so large that throwing cubic acres of cash at it can’t solve.

Is Jeff Gordon ever going to win one of these things again? Think Rick Hendrick is beginning to think a Busch in hand is worth two in the bird?

What was the point of FOX’s “All You Can Eat” segment with one of their production assistants? Was anybody else waiting to see the fat man hurl? FOX with an extra half-hour to fill in a pre-race program is more dangerous than a toddler with an automatic weapon.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Earnhardt Jr. looked poised to finally win a race again until he got run over from behind.

Michael Waltrip went from leading the race with four to go to a 27th-place finish.

Edwards was plagued by right-front tire issues all day, and finally managed to hit the wall. Combined with his hard crash on Saturday, it was a pretty lousy weekend for the young man.

Matt Kenseth’s race had barely begun before a tire problem put him into the wall.

Stewart cut down a tire, triggered the big wreck, and ended the day in the garage.

Jimmie Johnson and Gordon lost seemingly solid shots at a top-10 finish in the final laps of the race.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Winner Busch had an eventful day, losing a lap after problems getting to his pit and barely hanging onto his car after hard contact with the No. 26 car got both of them sideways.

Travis Kvapil showed up at Talladega with a new sponsor and managed a decent sixth-place finish to show for it.

Casey Mears got off to a rough start this season, but managed a decent seventh-place finish Sunday ahead of all three of his teammates, who had been considered among the favorites going into the race.

Last year, Brian Vickers was struggling just to qualify for races. Sunday he might have had a shot at a win had the race ended under the green flag.

While the weather forecast looked pretty dire on Friday, NASCAR managed to get both races in at Talladega with no delays or interruptions.

When Juan Pablo Montoya tangled with Paul Menard, sending the No. 15 car spinning, he was able to drive on with only a stern warning from NASCAR to a second place finish.

Worth Noting

  • Busch scored his seventh win in NASCAR’s top-three touring divisions this year.
  • Montoya’s second-place finish matches his best Cup result on an oval track. Montoya also finished second in last year’s Brickyard 400.
  • Denny Hamlin (third) has now strung together five consecutive top-10 finishes. He’s averaging a 3.6 average finish in those five races.
  • David Ragan (fourth) scored the second-best finish of his brief Cup career.
  • Vickers (fifth) scored his first top five since last year’s Coca-Cola 600.
  • Kvapil (sixth) managed his best Cup finish of 2008.
  • Mears’s seventh-place finish matches his best of this year.
  • Gordon (19th) has gone three straight races without posting a top-10 finish. That hasn’t happened to him since Michigan, Bristol, and Fontana last summer.
  • Menard (14th) enjoyed his best Cup finish of 2008 despite his tangle with Montoya. So did Scott Riggs (16th without the Montoya contact).
  • Biffle has finished 18th or worse in three of the last four Cup races. Kenseth is in an even tougher slump, with three finishes of 30th or worse in those same four races. For Kenseth, Talladega was his first DNF (41st) since Charlotte last fall.
  • The top-10 finishers at Talladega drove three Toyotas, two Fords, two Dodges and three Chevys.
  • Regan Smith in 21st posted the best finish by a rookie at Talladega.
  • Sunday’s race was only the second time since 1999 a Chevrolet driver failed to win a Cup event at Talladega.

What’s the Points?

Jeff Burton maintains the points lead, but Kyle Busch has narrowed the gap to just 22 points. Earnhardt Jr. remains third, 79 out of the lead while Johnson remains fourth, 102 points behind.

Kasey Kahne had the worst day in the points, falling two positions out of the top 12 to 13th after finishing 23rd.

Five drivers in the top 12 advanced at least one spot today; Hamlin (now fourth), Clint Bowyer (now seventh), Biffle (now eighth) and Newman (now 11th).

Three drivers in the top 12 lost at least one spot today: Harvick (now sixth), Stewart (now ninth) and Edwards (now 10th).

Drivers of note making progress in the points include Montoya (up five spots to 12th, now clinging to the final spot in the Chase by a point), Vickers (up three spots to 15th), Ragan (up three spots to 16th), and David Gilliland (up three spots to 18th).

Drivers riding the downbound train after Talladega include Kenseth (down four more spots to 19th), Kurt Busch (down four spots to 20th), and Truex (down a further three spots to 17th).

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give this one four well dented and worn out cans of generic stuff with a flaming Jack chaser. At least no one got hurt on Sunday.

Next Up: It’s Saturday night under the lights at Richmond, the first of four straight night races on the Cup schedule.

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