Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered with each week with the answers to six race day questions, covering all five Ws and even the H… the Big Six.
Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
After the chaos that is Talladega, a pair of shoutouts go out this week. One goes to Dave Blaney, who worked all day with Brad Keselowski, hanging back for much of the race only to close at the end and finish third. The finish was a career best for Blaney, who runs for a small-time team in Tommy Baldwin Racing. Speaking of the smaller teams, two others made some real noise at Talladega as Casey Mears and Landon Cassill raced at the front of the field all day until the late-race mess destroyed their hope for a great finish. These are three drivers fighting for the sponsorship just to race, and they showed this weekend that they can get it done when the playing field is truly level.
What… was THAT?
Really, Ford camp? Really? While the nature of racing at Talladega demands that drivers find a partner, by restricting the Ford drivers to pairing only with other Fords, the manufacturer could be setting themselves up for problems in the future. It’s hard to imagine drivers with other makes being willing to help someone who has been ordered not to help them if there is a choice to be made mid-race. That could potentially leave a Ford with race winning capabilities in the dust. Note to Ford: it’s all well and good when you have an even number of cars in the race. But such exclusivity could, in the long run, cost a win or even a championship. Be careful what you wish for.
Where… did the polesitter wind up?
To say it wasn’t Mark Martin’s best day is a small understatement. Martin took the pole with a blistering lap in qualifying and looked to be a factor in the race early, along with his dancing partner Jeff Gordon. But in the closing laps, Martin bobbled while racing in a large pack and turned down into the nose of Denny Hamlin, triggering the nastiest wreck of the day and ruining the chances of himself and all three of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates with the ensuing caution. Gone was any chance for the organization’s 200th win, as well as Hendrick’s last hopes for the championship this year. Despite getting some serious damage in the wreck he caused, Martin managed to finish 20th, ahead of all three of his teammates.
When… will I be loved?
There were a few drivers whose mistakes cost others, at least at the time. Robby Gordon, Brian Vickers and Martin all caused some issues, but really, is there anyone or anything to blame other than the nature of restrictor-plate racing? Talladega, even more than Daytona is a track where it doesn’t matter how good you are, because the race is based less on the skill of drivers and crews and more on blind luck. The real shame is that this track is still on the schedule.
I will say this: the two-car tandems make the racing much better. Yes, many teams still ride for much of the race in order to avoid trouble, but as long was there are plate races, this is going to occur because it’s smart racing. What the tandems do very well is to minimize the damage when the cars do get turned around-what were once huge multi-car pileups involving as many as 20 cars at a time are now generally much smaller, often involving only one or two cars. Yet race fans say they don’t like it. I don’t get that; it improves the racing in that there is a lot more passing throughout the field and the cars have more maneuverability. What’s not to like? Unless you’re watching for the wrecks, of course.
Why… do age and treachery beat youth and enthusiasm?
The feel-good story of the weekend unfolded on Saturday as a pair with a combined age of 106 dominated the Camping World Truck Series race almost from start to finish. At one point, the tandem of Mike Wallace and Ron Hornaday Jr. was racing a pair whose combined age didn’t equal either of their ages alone, and they took everyone else to school. Wallace is possibly the best restrictor-place racer driving today, and Hornaday’s legacy in the Truck Series is second to none. That combination of experience proved impossible to beat on Saturday, as Hornaday pushed Wallace to the win and Wallace pulled Hornaday to within 16 points of the championship lead with just three races remaining on the schedule. For a pair of veterans with uncertain futures, the champagne was extra sweet.
How… is the Chase picture developing with four races to go?
As it stands there is now little doubt that you will see a new champion crowned in 2011. It’s also becoming clearer that despite not winning since March, Carl Edwards is the favorite to take it home. Matt Kenseth remains his closest competition at 14 markers back, but you do have to wonder if the forgotten man to the media and fans is also the forgotten man at Roush Fenway Racing as well as Edwards edges ever closer to the title. Keselowski and Tony Stewart both reignited their hopes as well, moving back into the top 4 and sitting 18 and 19 markers back, respectively. Kevin Harvick sits 26 back, his hopes hanging on the fact that he won the spring race at Martinsville.
As for the rest? Might as well start working on 2012. Kyle Busch has never been able to keep it together in the Chase, and this year looks to be no exception, as Busch suffered heavy damage early in the race at Talladega and limped to a 33rd-place finish. Five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson got knocked around at ‘Dega as well and could fare no better than 26th, sitting 50 points behind Edwards in seventh. The rest of the top 12 (Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Gordon, Hamlin and Ryan Newman) will likely do no better than duking it out with Johnson for seventh place, best among the also-rans in a year when nobody has really looked like a true champion when it counts.