The Headline(s): Having survived three big ones on Monday afternoon (Oct. 14) after an uneventful first stage Sunday, Ryan Blaney bested Ryan Newman by less than a foot coming to the line to score a season-saving victory that locked the No. 12 team into the Round of 8. It wasn’t without controversy, however, as Blaney appeared to duck below the yellow line coming to the checkers.
So there’s not enough room to fit a car between Newman and the yellow line but heck it cuz Blaney won let him keep the win even though he put himself into a position that places him bellow the yellow line. #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/AFGj43rtER
— GeorgeTheDev (@GeorgeTheDev) October 14, 2019
How It Happened: Much like the Daytona 500, Hendrick Motorsports’ flexed its muscle in qualifying, sweeping the top four starting spots. Then the race started. The pair of Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer combined to lead the first lap, but proved unable to hold the lead, as a mash-up of drivers including the Busch brothers and Austin Dillon took turns in the lead. By lap 30, the field began to sort itself out, with Blaney leading a line of Fords that held the lead until green flag pit stops on lap 34.
Green flag stops completed on lap 37, only to have the caution fly immediately afterwards when Spencer Boyd came to a stop in turn 2. Keselowski would lead the field on the restart at lap 41, and though he and Bowyer would put on the fastest display of tandem drafting seen since the 2011 Daytona 500, it would be William Byron that would best the Ford conga line to win stage one. Rain would stop the race for good on Sunday (lap 57), during the stage break yellow.
Blaney re-assumed the lead on the lap 63 restart as Alex Bowman made a banzai move to pick up the Chevrolet line. The move up top saw the Camaros drop like a rock on lap 65, but by lap 77 were back up front. Keselowski held the lead until around lap 89, when the Chevy line of Chase Elliott and Bowman took the lead. Green flag pit stops occurred between laps 90 and 94, and though the Fords got out ahead of the Chevrolets after their lap 94 stops, Jimmie Johnson would assume the race lead around lap 96. With the Fords and Chevys trading punches coming to the second stage end, the big one struck for the first time on lap 107 when Bowman threw a late block on Joey Logano entering turn 3.
THE BIG ONE at @TalladegaSuperS!
Alex Bowman goes around and several drivers wreck.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 14, 2019
The ensuing yellow handed the second stage win to Bowyer.
Keselowski won the race off pit road under the stage break, and led the field back to green on lap 117, though by lap 122 Bowyer had gotten back to the front. The caution flew again on lap 122, when Bubba Wallace cut across the nose of Blake Jones on the backstretch and slapped the wall. Yellow would fly again on lap 132 when Martin Truex, Jr. shredded a tire and dropped debris all over the backstretch.
A no-tire pit stop handed the lead to Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on a lap 138 restart, which saw the field go single-file shortly thereafter. The calmest stretch of the race’s final stage carried on until lap 153, when Bowyer cut a tire and found himself wedged between the apron and the banking, unable to move his car. It would take the safety crews two laps to get Bowyer’s machine moving again, removing his stout Ford from contention.
Restarting on lap 158, Byron found himself back up front and leading the Chevrolet brigade, but the party was short-lived. The big one struck again on lap 163, and Byron found himself square in the crosshairs when an accordion wreck saw Kurt Busch send the No. 24 into oncoming traffic.
CAUTION: Another big pileup takes out frontrunners at @TalladegaSuperS!
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 14, 2019
The race went green briefly on lap 170 only to fall back under caution on lap 172 for a Daniel Suarez spin in turn 4. The final big one of the day came on lap 182, a violent wreck that saw playoff contenders Kyle Busch and Keselowski demolished, while Brendan Gaughan was sent into orbit before he stuck the landing.
After a red flag for cleanup, the race was restarted for the final time on lap 187, with Blaney clearing Almirola for a push to the lead. As several Fords stuck together on the bottom lane, Newman jumped out of line with Hamlin to charge to the lead exiting turn 4. Despite that charge, Blaney was able to get back underneath Newman coming to the stripe, winning by .007 seconds, the sixth closest finish in NASCAR history.
Drivers Who Accomplished Something
Despite doing it by getting a favorable call from NASCAR after going below the yellow line, Blaney’s victory put a silver-lining on a day that saw Team Penske’s powerhouse drafting duo of Logano and Keselowski both taken out in wrecks, and moved the No. 12 team from the playoff bubble to the Round of 8. Blaney’s victory was his first on a traditional oval in the Cup Series, his others coming at Pocono and the Charlotte Roval.
One of the most vocal critics of superspeedway racing that NASCAR has had in recent memory was within inches of winning at Talladega. Newman’s late-race charge saw him do everything right, capitalizing on the team’s deliberate strategy to run in the back having no need for stage points. What’s more, props to Newman for breaking the corporate line and going with Hamlin to try to score the win on the last lap.
The same credit gets extended to Elliott, Hamlin and Kyle Busch, who all visibly made moves to break away from their manufacturer teammates for the entirety of Monday’s race. And in the case of Elliott and Hamlin, for scoring top 10 finishes despite incurring heavy crash damage.
Stenhouse’s ninth-place finish was his first top 10 since the Coca-Cola 600 in May, and came courtesy of a performance that saw his No. 17 control the draft in the lead with surprising composure and power. The Dillon brothers both scored top 10 finishes, the first time both have finished in the top 10 in a Cup race since the Daytona summer race last season. It also marked Ty Dillon’s first top 10 at a track other than Daytona.
Lastly, to Gaughan, not only for a strong run, but for sticking the landing.
"THE NO. 62 UPSIDE DOWN!"
Brendan Gaughan flips in this MASSIVE CRASH at @TalladegaSuperS! pic.twitter.com/HXNYWD7ksx
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 14, 2019
Drivers Who Accomplished Nothing
Let’s get the drivers not in a Chevrolet out of the way. Bowyer had possibly his strongest car of the year become a non-factor thanks to a fluke of physics in turn 3. The powerful Fords of Keselowski and Logano were both removed from contention in wrecks not of their own making. Kevin Harvick was a non-factor in this race a year after Stewart-Haas Racing stomped the field in it, never recovering from yet another mid-race pit issue that saw him have to back up his car on pit road to correct a tire issue. Lastly, Truex was caught up in the first big one after incurring a pit road speeding penalty during green flag stops in the second stage. Of these drivers, only Logano finished in the top 15.
Apparently General Motors sent the same negotiations team that’s failed to break a weeks-long UAW strike to enforce team orders at Talladega, because the vaunted meeting from Sunday’s rain delay resulted in a disaster. The first big one was triggered by Bowman throwing an ill-advised block that collected fellow bowties Kyle Larson, Johnson and Elliott. Kurt Busch was smack center of both the second and final big ones, the final of which destroyed his No. 1 Chevrolet. Byron’s wreck in the second big one was triggered by an accordion involving the Chevrolets of Kurt Busch and Chris Buescher. Even the Chevrolets at the back of the field weren’t immune to this trouble; Wallace’s lap 122 incident with Blake Jones was entirely driver error and robbed the No. 43 team of a real chance at a top finish given the attrition at Talladega.
Lastly, there was Boyd, who followed up an ill-gotten victory in Saturday’s Truck Series race (more on that later) with a run in Rick Ware Racing’s No. 52 that saw the team warned to pick up the pace during the first stage before coming to a stop that brought out the first yellow of the race on lap 37. Boyd finished dead last.
Insights, Opinions and Fake News – Inside the Playoffs
NASCAR was consistently inconsistent with the yellow line rule (YET AGAIN), as Blaney kept the win despite visibly going below the yellow line on the last lap in a move that made his last second pass of Newman possible. I’m going to let an expert speak for himself on this matter:
Evidently we’ve entered a new yellow line era? 🤷♂️
— Regan Smith (@ReganSmith) October 14, 2019
Hamlin, Logano and Keselowski were just a cross section of the drivers that lost hood flaps off their cars well before crash damage took its toll. This followed a Saturday truck race that saw contender Stewart Friesen’s rear decklid flap upright for much of the race. The rationale for the flaps is solid, and NASCAR handled it correctly in allowing teams to replace the flaps without penalty during the race.
Without being a physicist, it seems that the high speeds and violent pack racing that current generation race vehicles produce are overwhelming the ability of these flaps to stay in place. As it stands, they’re bordering on becoming a safety hazard of their own, be it through limiting visibility (Keselowski’s blocked part of the windshield before it finally broke off) and the inherent debris the flaps create when they fly off the cars. There was certainly some irony that Hamlin’s flap coming off his car and dropping on the racing surface in full view of the telecast during the second stage didn’t bring out a debris caution.
If social media is any indication, Kyle Busch is not NASCAR’s most hated driver when racing tackles the superspeedways. Despite Bowman owning up to his part in causing the first big one, and Bowman’s spotter Kevin Hamlin further owning the incident, there was no shortage of vitriol for Logano’s (non-existent) fault. NASCARcasm was appropriate in summation:
— nascarcasm (@nascarcasm) October 14, 2019
One more note on that incident; Remember all the hubbub Keselowski stirred in Daytona this July when he said, “I’m not lifting?” Bowman’s block is EXACTLY what he was expressing frustration about. And though Byron was not at fault in the second big one that all but destroyed Logano’s Ford, it’s got to be said that Hendrick Motorsports cars are kryptonite to Team Penske Fords entering turn 3 at superspeedways.
Lost in the humor/uproar over Elliott’s deflection of questions related to the super-top secret Chevrolet team meeting during the rain delay that every single media member observed happening was that in hyping Chevrolet’s new Corvette. Elliott had nothing to say about the Camaro that he was actually racing on the track (and won Talladega with in the spring). And Chevrolet wonders why both the Mustang and Challenger are running circles around Camaro sales…
Insights, Opinions and Fake News – Outside the Playoffs
Continuing in that same vein, win on Sunday, sell on Monday (or in this case win on Monday, sell on Tuesday) is dead. Given that the auto manufacturers are probably the biggest and most reliable source of funding for Cup race teams in 2019, this is a major problem.
Perhaps in response to this, it was announced this week that hybrid cars are coming to NASCAR by 2022. I’m all for keeping motorsports relevant to modern automotive technology, but I can only hope that NASCAR learns from Formula 1 and does what’s necessary to maintain the roar of the engines. My unscientific poll finds a strong correlation between engine noise and crowd size.
Coming to the checkers, despite both Buescher and Parker Kligerman going hard and headfirst into the frontstretch wall, the yellow flag did not fly prior to the checkered. The racing gods got confused and thought Mark Martin was still driving the No. 6.
If NASCAR is going to continue committing to later afternoon starts that leave no cushion for delays, be they red flags, rain (or both), it should be mandated that tracks hosting Cup races have lights to ensure races can be finished the day they start. As Bob Pockrass accurately noted, adding lights not just to the monstrous Talladega oval, but also the acres of infield and exterior parking, would be enormously expensive. But between the real prospect of having a playoff race shortened (and considering how many people roam the Talladega campus at night in darkness already), maybe lights would have been a better purchase than an infield bar. It’s not like the fan experience in Talladega’s infield has ever been lacking.
So much for the “uncontrolled tire” rule being fixed. Ryan Preece’s team was penalized for an uncontrolled tire that never left the team’s pit box and impeded the entry/exit of exactly ZERO cars on pit road.
I don’t know where to start with the travesty that Saturday’s Truck Series race ended up being. For one, the Brett Moffitt/Friesen “locked bumper” call that saw both drivers penalized mid-race was a laughable display of officiating that even had the ultimate NASCAR homer in Michael Waltrip wondering what the call was for. I can only assume that seeing good racing break out after a snoozer of a weekend in Dover, NASCAR decided they needed to spoil the party, just like at the Roval.
And spoil the party they did. Johnny Sauter is now officially a member of the Regan Smith club after being robbed of a win when NASCAR decided that he blocked a competitor below the yellow line. Sauter’s truck was advertising the “Quarter Horse Congress” on it’s hood… maybe NASCAR figured if they choose to officiate their races like the Kentucky Derby they’ll get a Derby-sized crowd?
That’s the only (semi) logical reason for ending Saturday’s race in the fashion they did. Besides the obvious problem that the race winner didn’t cross the finish line first, the call is just the latest chapter of inconsistency relating to the yellow line rule. But it’s true, Sauter is not spelled Earnhardt. What’s more, Sauter’s move was only made possible because Riley Herbst ignored what Keselowski taught a generation of racers on this same track in 2009… hold… your… line. I’ve got nothing against Herbst or declared winner Boyd, but both were flat out-muscled by Sauter. The better man did not win on Saturday.
Of course, this could all be solved if NASCAR took the money they spent putting TV screens above every pit stall and spent it on a couple hundred gallons of paint to get rid of that ugly yellow line.
Best Paint Scheme: Ty Dillon. Throwbacks (and simplicity) are sexy.
— Germain Racing (@GermainRacing) October 12, 2019
O Brother, Where Art Thou? Toledo Speedway. The 2020 ARCA Racing Series schedule was released earlier this week, and while there’s plenty of short tracks (and both the Illinois dirt races) on the slate, nowhere to be found is ARCA’s home track in Toledo. That’s a shame for all involved… short of Martinsville, I’d argue Toledo is the best paved track for stock cars in the country.
Jim Cantore Lifetime Achievement Award: Spire Motorsports.
— Spire Motorsports (@SpireMotorsport) October 13, 2019
The Oscar for Best Cinematography: NASCAR on NBC. For capturing the blizzard…
— Xfinity Racing (@XfinityRacing) October 14, 2019
Extra, Extra! Your Dewey Beats Truman Moment:
Nope Utter said it that counts no take backsies pic.twitter.com/nrhF11VNEj
— Roush Fenway (@roushfenway) October 14, 2019
Where It Rated: I wanted a Corvette, I got a Camaro. Just like the spring, the action at Talladega was fast, furious and thrilling to watch. It’s a damn shame that the asinine yellow line rule has cast a shadow over the finish and legitimacy of what was a thoroughly entertaining show.
What’s the Point(s): Leaving Talladega, Bowman, Elliott, Bowyer and Byron find themselves on the wrong side of the cut line. Bowman trails Logano by 18 points for the final spot in the top eight. After winning their first races of the season, Larson and Blaney have locked themselves into the Round of 8.
Dust Off the VCR: The circus masquerading as professional stock car racing heads to the heartland for a return to the Kansas Speedway. Coverage from the second best BBQ home in the country starts at 2:30pm eastern on NBC.