Okay, let’s get it out of our system so we can move forward. Sunday’s Campingworld.com 500 sucked. Well, to be honest, the finish sucked. Which goes up there with the “I told you so” list of Talladega bashing. Since Dale Jr.’s loss is the talk of the town, we are obliged to rehash what was said before the circus even pulled into town. The fiasco of the last race of the Contender round wasn’t really any particular driver’s fault—even if you really want to hate Logano and Harvick at this moment. The disaster was a direct result of an inability to race on the 2.66 monstrosity.
For the first 184 laps we had a perfect day at the track. No, really! The stands were packed, the Chamber of Commerce got the weather they ordered, and the cars spun round in a high-speed version of chess. I really enjoyed the stressful two-by-two parade. Drivers kept their machines inches away from competitors, the odd roof hatch detached, mechanical problems cropped up here and there, and the pits threatened everyone’s sanity.
With about 30 to go, I realized my hands had become glued to my cheeks. Of course I was hoping beyond hope that the No. 24 might steal a win. The tease of having Earnhardt win his way into the next segment of the Chase ignited those at the track and in their living rooms. Meanwhile, the Penske boys were driving another near perfect race. Like Jaws, they just kept creeping up front until Logano was in position to snatch the lead away.
The lure of a wreck-free Talladega race taunted me, and I knew better. Which meant I wrapped my arms around my knees ready to hide my head when the inevitable would happen. The mantra of “I love this, I hate this” hummed through the afternoon.
Then McMurray blew up and the fairy tale vanished in a puff of blue smoke. I moaned. There would be no magical ending today. That’s when it all hit the fan.
There is not a way to appease anybody with that mess of a finish. A restart that never got going, another that didn’t do much better, officials that waited an extra ten seconds to throw the caution the second time and a driver with a dying car standing in the middle of it all combined to create the Big One without all the flying sheet metal—just shredding emotions and the Chase line up in the process.
So, the caution flew with Logano inches in front of Junior’s No. 88. Crap. Somehow the No. 6 was not notified that the No. 4 would go to the outside when the green dropped. And while David Hoots couldn’t wait to scream, “Put it out,” the first time they tried to go, he struggled to release those words the second time.
Drivers climbed from their cars and blinked at the microphones thrust in their faces. Lots of “ummm” and “huh” were heard up and down pit road. A few even scratched their heads. Meanwhile, the conspiracy theorists blew up social media with more than a few colorful metaphors in regards to NASCAR, the apparently indestructible No. 22 and the heedless/hapless No. 4.
Nobody cares which eight drivers moved forward, simply because the ONE has been left behind in the mists of convoluted rules made up just for a track that is unable to deliver a worthwhile afternoon.
It sucked. The bulldozers can’t get moving soon enough.
1999 NAPA Auto Care 500
Part of the magic of Jeff Gordon’s early career was the team of crew chief Ray Evernham and Jeff Gordon. In 1999, Evernham made the announcement he was leaving Hendrick and the now fabled No. 24 to start his own team with Dodge. Gordon fans shook in their shoes, convinced that the Rainbow Warrior would never win again without the mentor on the pit box. Silly us. The first race after Ray’s departure Gordon beat out Dale Earnhardt Sr. in the October Martinsville race. Life continued, as did the winning and storied career.
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