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5 Points to Ponder: 2009 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Edition

A NASCAR induced near-disaster?

Like every single person watching the FOX telecast or sitting in the stands at the 2.66-mile superspeedway that has produced some of the scariest incidents in NASCAR history, I too held my breath waiting for the window net to drop on the No. 99 car after Carl Edwards went sailing into the fence. But as soon as Edwards climbed out of his machine and sprinted to the stripe Ricky Bobby-style, my emotions quickly turned from relief to anger. Like many, I immediately flashed back to Regan Smith’s “illegal” winning pass on Tony Stewart in last year’s event and thought to myself, “This was NASCAR’s fault. If there were no yellow-line rule, Brad Keselowski would have made that pass clean, and we’d be talking about one of the biggest upsets ever and not this near-disaster.”

But as time passed… my frustration did, too. Was the crash a direct result of the rule? Yes… but how many crashes has the rule prevented? I think that when all of the immediate emotions pass, everybody (NASCAR included) should look back and analyze whether or not this restriction is truly a necessary safety precaution. However, in the end, I don’t think the rule should be changed based on this one unfortunate incident. Dale Earnhardt Jr. said it best in his post-race press conference when he admitted, “I think you can’t blame what happened at the end of the race on the yellow-line rule… guys have been running over each other for years.”

Restrictor plates the problem?

In the same press conference, Earnhardt said that NASCAR needs to find a way to spread the field out and that with the combination of these cars and this restrictor-plate package, it’s essentially a 43-car IROC race. He stressed that handling needs to be at a premium like Daytona, and that as long as there are large groups of cars, anything can happen. Restrictor plates were brought about to keep cars out of the fence, but this weekend showed that not even they can prevent accidents like that from happening. So, what now?

I honestly think there’s no right answer to that question. Let’s face it: racing is dangerous, and you can’t get around it. Cars at Talladega will either be too fast or too bunched together… pick your poison.

Biggest upset since Gilliland?

In one of my first columns here at Frontstretch, I said that Keselowski’s three-race tryout with JR Motorsports back in 2007 would be his opportunity to showcase his talent and possibly turn his career and Earnhardt’s team around. Since then, Keselowski has continued to improve week after week to the point that it’s he, not Joey Logano, who is the most talented rookie driver on the circuit. This race will forever be known for Edwards’s flip, but in fact it’s one of the biggest upsets of the past decade, right up there with David Gilliland’s Nationwide Series triumph at Kentucky and Jamie McMurray’s shocking win at Lowe’s in 2002. It’s also possibly the start of a tremendous full-time Cup career.

NASCAR still deserves a hand

Last time the motorsports media congratulated NASCAR for its emphasis on safety was the infamous Michael McDowell crash at Texas a year ago. Well, this weekend saw a wide array of scary crashes, starting with Matt Kenseth’s flip on Saturday, the devastating Robby Gordon head-on hit on the backstretch on lap 180, then Edwards’s rough ride on Sunday. All three walked away, and for that, whatever hostility that fans may have towards the sanctioning body for the yellow-line rule “supposedly” causing the Edwards crash should be balanced out by the sport’s emphasis on safety which allowed all drivers to leave the track injury-free.

Frontstretch LIVE BLOG comment of the race

Each week, I will further expand on some of the more interesting fan comments from our weekly Frontstretch LIVE Cup race blog. This is one that caught my eye from Sunday’s race:

“Sadler struggles with a straight car, never mind a wrecked one.” – DougS on a radio report that Elliott Sadler was struggling with a damaged racecar.

Sadler has become fairly disliked by a number of NASCAR fans because of the whole offseason lawsuit debacle and subsequent rise in the popularity of AJ Allmendinger, the man who lost out on the No. 19 ride because of Sadler. Since a fifth-place run at the Daytona 500, it’s been all downhill for him, with a 19th-place run this weekend marking his highest finish since. The Virginian can still be a marketable driver and has an infectious personality; but at some point, performance is important, too, and right now he’s experiencing a double whammy of sorts.

P.S.: Don’t forget, our live blog pops up again this weekend! Check out the coverage beginning Saturday night at Richmond.

Notes to Ponder

  • Rookie success: Lost in the intrigue of Keselowski’s win is the fact that Marcos Ambrose, Scott Speed and Logano all finished in the top 10.
  • Fan injuries: At press time, it’s been reported that eight fans suffered relatively minor injuries with two hospitalizations.
  • Don’t forget Saturday: It’s easy to forget because of Sunday’s exceptional finish… but Saturday’s finish was just as good.
  • Weekend of firsts: In addition to Keselowski’s first career Cup win, David Ragan earned his first NASCAR win in the Nationwide event.
  • Gunselman Motorsports Withdraws: The No. 64 Cup team didn’t attempt Talladega because of the costs associated with restrictor-plate racing. And after two Big Ones and a handful of wrecks… chances are that was a smart decision for a program that could ill afford neither a DNQ nor a totaled racecar.

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