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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2011 Talladega Spring Race Recap

The Key Moment – It came right down to those final few inches when Dale Earnhardt Jr. pushed Jimmie Johnson across the line .002 seconds ahead of Clint Bowyer.

In a Nutshell – A nice payoff after a long afternoon of mediocrity.

Dramatic Moment – If Hollywood tried scripting a stock car race where eight drivers all finished within two car lengths of each other, nobody would buy the script.

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

If these guys aren’t going to race until the final five to 10 laps, then why is the race 188 laps long?

Did it look to anyone else like Johnson got his left front tire down below the yellow line trying to advance past Harvick in the tri-oval on the final lap?

Should drivers be able to talk to any other driver they want during a race? That seems to be the nature of the new beast. But they shouldn’t be looking down to search for a new frequency at 190 mph anymore than you or I should be texting on the Interstate. My recommendation is the spotters haul a big old radio up to the stand and when their driver asks to speak to somebody else, let those spotters dial in the new frequency.

So which is the worse evil, the new two-by-two racing of this year’s Daytona 500 or the old 40-car pack? Oddly, while most drivers seemed to hate the old pack racing, they seem to dislike the new style even worse.

What got into Kurt Busch Sunday? Or maybe I should ask what didn’t Kurt Busch get into? He was Talladega’s Top Gun… venturing near his car was a good way to end up in the Danger Zone.

I’ll tell you what bunch of folks must really hate this new two-by-two racing: the sponsors. When a driver is pushing another driver his car, and thus the logos on it, are all but invisible.

Earnhardt Jr.’s take on this new type of racing at Talladega and Daytona? Well, he was pretty succinct: “This is a bunch of crap.” At least he can afford the $50,000 fine he’s likely to secretly receive this week.

It didn’t appear Kasey Kahne’s car got hit hard enough to trigger the sort of blaze he was forced to escape. (Oh, and where were the fire crews?) Perhaps an unintended side effect of the new fueling system is it allows gas to be pushed out the filler cap when a car is struck in that area?

Michael Waltrip is apparently slated to drive some sort of Ferrari at Le Mans later this year. Why? It can’t be based on the two top-five finishes he’s managed in 42 Cup road course starts. The guy usually looks like a monkey trying to hump a football at the wheel of a Cup car on a road course.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Dave Blaney had a career run going and even led stretches of the race before getting wrecked out late by none other than Kurt Busch. He ended the day in 27th.

Trevor Bayne, Brad Keselowski, Kahne, David Ragan and Marcos Ambrose (all of whom had led the race) were gathered up in the “big” wreck on lap 90 when Keselowski’s teammate Kurt Busch hooked him.

Mike Wallace took the wildest ride of the weekend on the last lap of Saturday’s Nationwide Series race. Wallace, who had recently led, wound up rolling over onto his roof and back onto four wheels – at which point he drove off and finished the race in 18th.

Despite a great ending to his day, Jeff Gordon sounded miserably ill after the race and eager to depart after offering Mark Martin some kudos. (Did I see Gordon putting his kids into a minivan, and a Toyota minivan at that after the race?)

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

The winning duo of Johnson and Earnhardt managed to survive a close call early in the race when they collided trying to miss Brian Vickers‘ car. Earnhardt also had to overcome radio problems that plagued his team most of the day; in the end, helping Johnson left the No. 88 sitting fourth.

Ryan Newman made two incredible late-race saves after having his car knocked out from underneath him at speed in about as many laps. While he finished 25th, he did wind up still on the lead lap instead of on his roof or in the fence – what is often his fate in these type of restrictor plate events.

Jeff Burton also made a beautiful save after getting knocked sideways onto the apron.

Worth Noting

  • The victory was the first for Johnson since Dover last September.
  • The top-10 finishers drove seven Chevys (including the top six) two Fords and a Toyota. The top finishing Dodge was Kurt Busch in 18th.
  • Bowyer finished second for a second straight week.
  • Earnhardt Jr. (fourth) now has seven straight finishes of 12th or better.
  • Carl Edwards (sixth) has top-10 finishes in five of the last six races.
  • Martin’s eighth-place result was his best of the Cup season. On Sunday, he also led a lap for the first time this year.
  • David Gilliland’s ninth-place performance was his best since Daytona.
  • Joey Logano’s 10th-place finish was his best of the year.
  • Burton (16th) is still looking for his first top-10 of the season.
  • Tony Stewart (17th) is enduring a five-race absence from the top 10.

What’s the Points?

Edwards remains atop the championship standings. He’s five points ahead of Johnson, who moves up two spots to second. Earnhardt Jr. moves up three spots to third, 19 markers behind while Harvick moves up five spots to fourth. Kurt Busch rounds out your top five this week.

Further back, brother Kyle Busch fell four spots to sixth in the standings after getting wrecked by his teammate Logano. Newman sits seventh, while Matt Kenseth tumbled five positions to eighth. Juan Pablo Montoya and Bowyer round out the Chase spots, with Paul Menard on the outside looking in by three points. Stewart remains in the doldrums and fell another two spots to 12th.

By the way, everyone from ninth-place Montoya on back is already more than a full race’s worth of points out of the lead. That means Edwards would have to stay home, engage in a spirited game of trackside Frisbee or have his mom cook him lunch for them to catch up.

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 a four. Any plate race where nobody gets hurt and nobody gets into the fence is automatically awarded a can. The finish was a classic, but the first two hours were pretty tedious.

Next Up – The Cup series takes a week off as Christian fans celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Racing resumes at Richmond on Saturday night, April 30th.

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