Race Weekend Central

Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2010 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega

Who… would have thought the 24/48 feud would continue?

Last week’s race in Texas teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson raced hard against each other as they battled for position. Johnson pushed the No. 24 down the frontstretch at one point, then hit him in the door after Gordon got him loose and made a pass.

When asked about the situation this weekend, Gordon said the two “communicated” playing phone tag and doing so through text messages. Johnson joked with the media, saying he and Gordon slugged it out and he “caught him good with the right hook.”

Judging by the way the two raced each other on Sunday, this battle is just heating up. Late in the race, Gordon got a huge push down the backstretch with his sights set on the lead, that is until Johnson shot down the track and shut the door. The No. 24 was forced to drive on the apron going into the third corner as the field stacked up behind them.

On the radio, Johnson justified the move by saying he did not see Gordon’s run on the bottom.

After trying to brush off last week’s incident as just hard racing, Gordon’s tone following the race was different.

“We got a huge push down the back straightaway,” Gordon said. “I was coming 10 mph faster than anybody. The 48 is testing my patience, I can tell you that. It takes a lot to make me mad and I am pissed right now. When a car’s going that much faster – I don’t know what it is between him and me right now. You know whatever.”

Saying he did all he could to avoid hitting Johnson, Gordon added, “Yeah, it’s disappointing. I don’t think it was a very smart move…But he’s been testing my patience and it’s about reached its boiling point.”

These two have a lot to work out over the next few weeks, and judging by how hard they have been racing each other as of late this story doesn’t seem like it will go away anytime soon.

What… does this win mean for RCR’s sponsor search?

Less than a week after announcing Shell/Pennzoil would be leaving Richard Childress Racing, Kevin Harvick drove their colors to victory lane at Talladega. After climbing from his winning car, Harvick waited to thank Shell/Pennzoil last of all his sponsors. Harvick added, “I think the best part about it is our sponsor is leaving, and the best part about it is they can leave while we’re winning. So that’s the best part of the whole thing.”

There are still a lot of unknowns around what sponsor will be on the No. 29 and whether or not Harvick will even be back with the team next year. Scoring the win on Sunday and sitting second in the standings after the first nine races has made this team more attractive for potential sponsors.

Whether or not Harvick returns will be the biggest game changer in this deal. Over the last few seasons he has been frustrated with the team’s performance, but thus far in 2010 the RCR cars are strong. Winning races and running of front each weekend feels good, but will it be enough to keep Harvick at the organization?

Where… did the frontrunners finish at the end of the day?

While there was no clear cut favorite in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499, a number of cars hung around the front of the pack for much of the day. Harvick was able to take home the trophy, but did so by leading only two laps. Jeff Burton, on the other hand, led a race-high 28 laps but was caught up in a wreck and finished 32nd.

One of the best cars pushing in the draft was the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Lined up fourth behind Tony Stewart for the first green-white-checkered attempt, Earnhardt Jr. was in position to strike if all went well. As wrecks set up two additional GWC attempts, all the planning and strategizing in the car went out the window. Earnhardt Jr. was not able to make a charge in the closing laps and finished 13th.

“I was working with everybody out there,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I was hoping me and Tony Stewart were going to hook up there and get to settle it between ourselves, but we got shuffled around late on a couple of those restarts and split up.”

Carrying the colors of the University of Alabama, David Reutimann had the fans on their feet and the No. 00 at the front of the pack much of the afternoon. When it came down to the finish, Reutimann wound up 14th.

“A lot of guys would work with you and then hang you out,” Reutimann said. “That’s just how it goes – no big deal. We should have finished a whole lot better than 14th today. We had a good car. At least we didn’t tear anything up and we have something good to bring back.”

When… were the old record set for most lead changes and leaders?

On Sunday, two new records were set for lead changes and race leaders. There were 88 lead changes among 29 different drivers. Only 14 cars did not lead a lap. The old record for lead changes took place on May 5, 1984 when there were a total of 75. On October 5, 2008 there were 28 different leaders throughout the race. Both took place at – you guessed it – Talladega.

Why… do people complain about the racing at Talladega?

Each time the series heads to Talladega, the debate rages about the style of racing. Is running in a large pack, two-, three-, and even four-wide really racing? Is the track too dangerous? The same questions have been asked since drivers boycotted the first race in 1969.

The track is not the favorite of guys like Mark Martin and Ryan Newman, but when you wreck more times than not, that will leave a bad impression. For other drivers, the racing at Talladega is among some of the best all season.

“That it is a real easy weekend,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “The race is really where the work begins. But it is not a very difficult race physically. Mentally it is kind of touch because of the decisions you are making all the time, it is really almost as close to having a weekend off as you can get.”

“If you don’t want to be here, then don’t be here,” Juan Pablo Montoya said. “I think it’s cool, and I think the fans love it. It sucks when you wreck, but the show isn’t going to get any better than this. It’s pretty exciting, pretty crazy.”

How… competitive was Sunday’s race?

Perhaps quieting some of the naysayers, Sunday’s race at Talladega was among one of the most competitive in NASCAR history. Throughout the event, there were 88 lead changes (a new record) and 29 different leaders (also a new record). The race for the win came down last second pass in the tri-oval for 0.011 seconds (eighth closest since electronic scoring). There were also a total of 144 green flag passes for the lead (a new race record). Thanks to three attempts at the GWC the race was also the longest at Talladega.

The ‘have at it, boys’ attitude of NASCAR, a new superspeedway package and the rear spoiler added to the competitiveness of the race. Throughout the day there was no clear favorite as drivers shuffled back and forth in the pack.

“I’ve put the responsibility for all the racing we saw and the lead changes due to the fact that NASCAR created a certain package,” Johnson said. “So from there, we saw the lead changes.”

Harvick agreed, saying, “It’s a lot easier for us to race when we’re not trying to figure out the rules. We just kind of do what we do, and everybody is pretty good at the bump-drafting stuff now, especially here because the grip is so high.”

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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