NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2010 Talladega Fall Race Recap

The Key Moment: Juan Pablo Montoya pushed Clint Bowyer past Kevin Harvick just as the caution lights illuminated, freezing the field on the last lap of the race.

In a Nutshell: All the excitement NASCAR and plate racing can contrive with half the carnage. Call it Talladega Lite.

Dramatic Moment: When Jeff Burton got sideways in the pack, it looked like the wreck might decimate the field.

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

So why are TV ratings down? Well, let’s see. The race ended unexpectedly under caution on the final lap due to a wreck that put AJ Allmendinger on his lid. For the next five minutes, ESPN announcers seemed thunderstruck, admitting they didn’t know who won. They showed side-by-side photos of Bowyer and Harvick in their cars while asking that same question. Then… instead of trying to answer it, they showed Bowyer doing a burnout. Wait a second! Aren’t these the guys with all the cameras scattered around the track? Why didn’t the producer rewind some footage to show the exact moment the caution lights came on and who was ahead at the time? If such footage was missing (and they eventually found it), why not show the last lap wreck and how it started?

If I were Bowyer, I reckon I might have just backed my car into the fence doing my burnouts to make sure it didn’t end up at the NASCAR R&D center again.

Did Jeff Gordon’s engine actually lay down for a bit, or was Gordon just looking for a chance to break off as Jimmie Johnson’s wingman to go out and get the win for himself?

I leave today’s race with two great hopes; first, that I live long enough to see restrictor-plate racing ended, and second, that all the drivers do as well. It’s got to be tough for Ricky Craven to do Sportscenter and analyze a Talladega race. After all, it was a wreck at Talladega that basically started the sequence of events which eventually cost Craven a promising Cup career.

The finish to Saturday’s Truck Series race was about as exciting as any race in any series I can recall in the last decade, and was said to be the closest finish in any of the three top NASCAR touring divisions since high-speed electronics started keeping track of them. But to my jaded eye, Kyle Busch sure did look like he advanced his position from second to first with two wheels below the yellow line that marks “out-of-bounds.” Even Busch admitted it was “a judgment call” although I doubt Regan Smith would be as charitable. If I recall, the rule states a driver can go below that yellow line and advance his position if he is “forced below the yellow line” (again… I don’t think Smith would agree) but in this case, Busch drove up the track, hit the leader (who incidentally pushed him to victory in last year’s Truck race here) and got himself all catawampus in the process. Yes, Busch was out of control (a theme that seems to follow his entire racing career) but no, he wasn’t forced out of bounds. If nothing else, this controversy will only add fuel to the fire of the classic “Dale Earnhardt Jr. out of bounds win” theory. Let’s settle this one once and for all. On the final lap of a restrictor-plate race, drive through the infield care center if you have to. There is no out of bounds on the last lap, the true definition of “boys, have at it” (once we get done doubling the strength of the catchfence.) It sure beats an implied result that states, “If you’re Tony Stewart, Earnhardt Jr. or Kyle Busch, there’s one rule. If you’re Aric Almirola or Smith, well, we do have some lovely parting gifts for you.”

Maybe time will prove me wrong, but this whole new sponsorship deal with the No. 24 team and the AARP program to help stamp out hunger amongst the elderly strikes me as desperate. Wal-Mart and 7-Eleven left the table (no pun intended) so this agreement is what we’re left with. I do applaud the goals of the charity, though. During my mom’s last years of life, I’d frequently have to drive her to the drug store to pick up one of her few zillion prescriptions and all too often, I heard the lady or gentleman in line in front of us decline to pay for their prescription drugs and walk away because “I either get my meds or I buy food this week, and I’m hungry.” It really does happen even in relatively wealthy Delaware County, Pa., so I can’t imagine what things are like in West Philly or Appalachia.

The comment I’ve heard most often from fans and non-fans alike following the surprisingly subdued and little-covered media event to announce Gordon’s new deal is, “So if the problem is so bad, why isn’t the AARP spending their money to stock food banks rather than sponsor a stock car?” The contrary argument is this partnership is like using a little water to prime a well pump to produce greater quantities of water. We’ll see. In a tough economy with even kindhearted Americans having to scale back their charitable contributions, it’s sad to watch all these organizations they once supported fight to make their cause the latest “glamour” one in the public’s eye. Something has gone bad wrong here when, in the greatest nation on earth where GM, Chrysler and Wall Street got billion-dollar bailouts, any man, woman or child – no matter their age – goes to bed hungry at night. Vote on Tuesday for a candidate of either party you truly feel will help fix this mess.

After the No. 46 Whitney Motorsports team got caught with two front A-arms full of buckshot this weekend, I am expecting penalties to be announced Tuesday that are going to rock a lot of people clear out of their snakeskin booties. In this case, there’s no doubt the infraction was both intentional and severe. And for whatever reason, NASCAR really seems to enjoy hitting the little teams with huge penalties to drive them out of the sport. Whatever the consequences are, remember Darrell Waltrip’s team used to fill his frame rails with buckshot, where DW himself would pull a cable to release it onto the track during the pace laps. And Mr. Waltrip wonders what the delay is in getting him into the Hall of Fame before it goes Chapter 11? (Well, his brother’s appearance dressed as a woman Saturday ought to delay that eventuality another couple years.)

So what’s really going on at Richard Petty Motorsports? Have the creditors seized control? Is Budweiser refusing to make their final payment to the team because the contract specified Kasey Kahne would be in the car? How much of that ski resort did George Gillett own, and what did he earn from the recent fire sale? Hell, nobody who works there knows what’s going on, so how should the media? Pity poor Marcos Ambrose. It’s tough to hitchhike to Tasmania when your contract falls apart.

God save us from well-intended souls that think we tune into race coverage to be entertained rather than letting the racing entertain us. The less said about the SPEED team’s hour-long farce of a pre-race show before Saturday’s Truck race, the better. Apparently, last year’s Batman-themed debacle didn’t “learn them nothing.” This year, the pre-race “show” featured alleged professionals posing as characters from Gilligan’s Island. As an added bonus, they were a bit short of female characters, so we got to see Michael Waltrip dressed as an elderly woman (Mrs. Howell), complete with a dress and lipstick. Well, there’s one Weight Watchers ought to patent because I doubt I’ll eat this week. Somehow, they suckered truck driver Jennifer Jo Cobb into taking the role of Ginger (apparently, Waltrip nixed the idea of undergoing breast transplants) though she wasn’t allowed to speak a single word while in costume because she doesn’t have an actors’ guild card. The “theme” of the whole debacle was that the “characters” were trying to get off the “island” of landlocked Talladega. (Perhaps they should have studied the empty seats for the race. Apparently, emigration from the island isn’t that hard.) I found my own exit strategy, that little red button on the top right hand corner of the remote, after about five minutes of that mess. Last year, I was loudly castigated by the folks over on the Daly Planet for not getting into the spirit of the fun of Halloween. Stupid me. Here, we have a Truck Series where few fans recognize the names of three quarters of the participants and an increasing number of the trucks feature blank quarter panels. Maybe a little more time spent introducing the competitors and a little less time spent showing Waltrip in drag would have been in order? Note to Patti Wheeler: any non-lethal method of ending this stupidity before next year would greatly enhance SPEED’s credibility as a racing network and not an open mike (no pun intended) audition for the next generation of Hee-Haw.

OK, let’s get something out of the way before I go any further. As I write this column (draft three), the finishing order from Talladega has been shuffled once again… significantly. Typically, race results are not posted until Monday, but this ending is a worst case scenario, a final-lap caution flag at a plate track where timing and scoring loops are used to sort out who finished where combined with video if those answers are inconclusive. Eventually, I have to submit a column so I can have dinner, go to bed, and so that the editors can do their magic and post it. If the final results are shuffled again overnight, some of the comments below might be incorrect. I’m using the latest updated data I have available to me at this point. Editor’s Note: Final running order positions are up-to-date as of the information we had at 12:30 a.m. ET. Official results are released Monday afternoon and should be closely monitored, in particular the eighth-place position between Gordon and Denny Hamlin which could change hands once again.

How confusing are the results posted as of right now? The initial ones I had showed Allmendinger as finishing 32nd, the first car one lap down. He’d been on the lead lap prior to the wreck, and what was left of his car clearly was across the start/finish line. How’s that work? Why is that important? Because if Allmendinger wrecked on lap 187, there would have been a green/white/checkered finish. NASCAR’s decision to throw the caution on the final lap stands in sharp contrast to the call they made to let Martin and Harvick race back to the end of the 2007 Daytona 500 while carnage ensued on the frontstretch.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Burton had taken several turns at the front either pushing or being pushed in the lead pack. But an awkward bump from Earnhardt Jr. sent Burton for a wild ride that ended his race and left the third RCR car with a 41st-place DNF by his name – not a winner’s trophy.

Earnhardt led a race for the second straight week, a statistical oddity this year, and clearly had a strong car before getting collected in the wreck he initiated with Burton. The No. 88 did make it back on track, but settled for a disappointing 39th.

Lately, Jamie McMurray has proven to be a threat on the plate tracks, but he was the third car involved in the Earnhardt-Burton incident and limped to the line 36th.

Stewart rallied back from two laps down after cutting a tire but got caught up in the last-lap wreck. He finished 31st.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Harvick’s former pit crew had to feel a sense of vindication helping Bowyer not only win, but beat their former boss. Just two weeks earlier, Harvick insisted his crew be swapped with Bowyer’s because he felt his own team was far too slow and had cost him too many race wins. As it turns out, the former No. 29 pit crew was fast enough today while Harvick, well – he found new stuff to moan about on the radio once again.

Maybe Harvick’s mood improved a little after the race. When the No. 29 car slid into the side of Ambrose’s stricken Toyota, it appeared not only were his chances of a win eliminated, so were any remaining title hopes. The team still wound up second, though, Harvick posting the best finish of any of the three remaining title contenders in an impressive comeback. Richard Childress is a pragmatist, but I bet he has to be wondering why he’s spending all those millions on wind tunnel time when a car with its nose restyled with duct tape’s handier younger cousin can still finish second at Talladega.

There’s laying back to avoid trouble ahead, then there’s laying back to your own hurt. Hamlin lost the draft not only of the lead pack but of the second pack as well and found himself a sitting duck, running three seconds a lap slower than the leaders as they put him a lap down. It took until late in the race for the No. 11 to finally get back onto the lead lap, although he made the most of it with a finish somewhere in the top 10 (ninth as of this writing).

Gordon felt he had an engine letting go when he smelled oil smoke, but the mill held together well enough to drive him to a finish somewhere around eighth.

Worth Noting

  • Bowyer’s win was also his 17th top-10 finish of this season, matching his previous career best in that statistic. He’s also the lone multi-race winner in this Chase despite sitting 12th in the standings.
  • Harvick (second) now has five consecutive top-10 finishes.
  • Montoya’s third-place result was his best since he won at the Glen.
  • David Reutimann (fourth) enjoyed his best finish since Bristol in August.
  • Joey Logano (fifth) has strung together three consecutive top-10 finishes for the first time in his fledgling Cup career.
  • Martin Truex Jr.’s sixth-place finish was his best since Martinsville this spring.
  • Is he cracking under pressure or just backing into a title? Johnson’s seventh-place finish was his worst since Loudon in September.
  • Gordon (eighth) has led the last five Cup races.
  • Hamlin’s (ninth) average finish over the last four Cup races is 4.5.
  • Brad Keselowski finished 10th for the second week in a row. Those are his best two results of the 2010 Cup season.
  • Smith’s 12th-place run matches his best of the 2010 Cup season. Smith also finished 12th at Kansas.
  • Earnhardt Jr. (39th) led the most laps in a race for the first time since May 2008 at Charlotte.
  • The top-10 finishers at Talladega drove five Chevys, four Toyotas and a Dodge. Paul Menard’s 13th-place finish was the best by a Ford.

What’s the Points?

Who the hell knows? They keep changing the finishing order. Here’s what we do know for certain: Johnson still leads the points. Hamlin remains in second, somewhere between two and (more likely) 14 points behind. Harvick should wind up 38 points behind Johnson in third.

Barring a Texas tornado, those three are the sole remaining title contenders. Gordon takes over fourth spot in the standings, relegating Kyle Busch to fifth, but neither of them have a sno-cone’s chance in hell of being this year’s champion.

Carl Edwards and Stewart remain sixth and seventh. Burton’s wreck dropped him two spots in the standings to 10th, with Matt Kenseth taking over that eighth-place points position Burton abdicated. Kurt Busch held serve in ninth, while Greg Biffle and Bowyer round out your top-12 playoff participants.

Further back, McMurray’s misfortune leaves Mark Martin just 39 markers behind him for 13th.

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 two shots of Maalox. Honestly, I get sick to the stomach watching plate races.

Next Up: Expect a veritable tsunami of Cowboy metaphors next week as the circuit heads off to Dallas/Fort Worth, the southern-most precinct of New York City. What are the chances of a great race there? How do you like the Cowboys’ chances of making the Super Bowl?

Share this article

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com

Frontstretch