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Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: Aaron’s 499

*The Key Moment:* A ten car wreck on the white flag lap drew a caution and sealed the win for Kyle Busch just as the outside line was mounting a challenge. *In a Nutshell:* It’s contrived excitement, but you just can’t look away. *Dramatic Moment:* The last thirty laps of the race were all nailbiters. The 20 and 88 car tangled to set off the customary Talladega smoking pig pile of a wreck on lap 173. Had Tony Stewart not been able to keep his car up against the wall after cutting down a tire on lap 143 while leading, he almost certainly would have triggered a wreck that would have eliminated most of the field. *What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week* *Was Kyle Busch’s winning pass made with two tires beneath the yellow line?* If so, was he forced out of bounds?

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Sprint Cup Rookie Report: Regan Wrecks … But Still Finishes Strong

*Rookies in the Starting Lineup:* Jon Wood (12th), Patrick Carpentier (17th), Michael McDowell (24th), Aric Almirola (28th), Regan Smith (29th), Sam Hornish, Jr. (37th) *Unofficial Finishing Positions:* Regan Smith (21st), Michael McDowell (26th), Patrick Carpentier (31st), Aric Almirola (33rd), Sam Hornish, Jr. (35th), Jon Wood (36th) *Rookie of the Race: Regan Smith.* Smith had the precarious task of starting in the eye of the storm when he rolled off the grid 29th for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499. However, the first three quarters of the race were fairly uneventful as far as wrecks were concerned, and that proved to be a good thing for DEI’s rookie driver.

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Ten Points To Ponder … After Talladega

*1. Aye, Aye…Captain!* – The United States Navy has announced the formation of an 88-person Boot Camp as a recruiting gimmick dubbed the “Dale, Jr. Division,” in conjunction with the Navy’s sponsorship of the sport's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his JR Motorsports NASCAR Nationwide team. Dale, Jr. will drive the No. 83 JR Motorsports NASCAR Nationwide series Chevrolet at Lowe’s Motor Speedway on May 24th to kick off the recruiting campaign; selected recruits will then be sent to Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois in August, at which time Earnhardt, Jr. will commission the division. Following the completion of the seven-to-eight week course, Earnhardt, Jr. will again visit “his” recruits. All branches of the Armed Forces have or are sponsoring NASCAR race teams. However, no current full-time driver in the Sprint Cup Series has ever served in the active military ... including Junior himself.

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Top 35 Bubble Breakdown: If Only It Was The Aaron’s 498

As the NASCAR traveling circus made its way to Alabama last weekend for the running of the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, it was expected that the bubble drivers would do well entering Saturday's qualifying session. After all, the top eight spots for the Fall race were taken up by teams outside the Top 35; in that event, their qualifying setups easily outpaced those "safely" in the field, who were more focused on a winning combination for Sunday. While the "outsiders" didn't pull through a sweep, several of the bubble dwellers again made very strong qualifying runs this time around. A.J. Allmendinger, returning from a one month hiatus, put his No. 84 Red Bull Racing machine on the outside of the second row for Sunday's race. Next to A.J. in row two was Kenny Schrader, showing there is still life in the No. 70 team by qualifying in the third spot -- by far the team’s best qualifying effort of the year. The run was made all the more impressive by the fact it was Schrader's first go round in the No. 70 Chevrolet. Saturday’s biggest surprise, though, came courtesy of Joe Nemechek and his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevy, which took the pole position. That team, owned by Barney Visser, has had its share of tough times this year, as it came into the race 44th in owner points, 195 out of the 35th spot. But as we all know, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish the race at these restrictor plate tracks. So, let’s break down the Aaron’s 499, and see how our bubble dwellers fared at the 500-mile madness that is Talladega.

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Nationwide Series Breakdown : Aaron’s 312

*In a Nutshell:* Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 team continued its utter dominance of the Nationwide Series in 2008; this time, it was with Tony Stewart behind the wheel. The marquis driver in the JGR stable stayed out of trouble and held off good friend Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to win the Aaron’s 312 at Talladega Saturday afternoon. The win was Stewart’s third of the season and the fourth for the No. 20 team, both of which lead the series in 2008. Stewart was the fastest car all race long, leading five times for 81 laps. Earnhardt Jr., in his own No. 5 Chevrolet, was the only car able to seriously challenge Stewart, but could never get a good enough run to pass the No. 20 in the closing laps. Earnhardt finished sixth. The race was marred by the “Big One” on Lap 72, a wreck involving at least 15 drivers that changed the complexion of the event.

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Tracking the Trucks : O’Reilly Auto Parts 250

*In a Nutshell:* Ron Hornaday, Jr. took the checkered flag ahead of Jack Sprague to win the O'Reilly Auto Parts 250 at Kansas Speedway Saturday evening. The defending series winner led the final 55 laps in a caution-filled race, holding off his teammate during the final restart with two laps to go. Colin Braun, Johnny Benson, and Mike Skinner rounded out the Top 5 finishers. *Who Should Have Won: Hornaday, Jr.* Hornaday, Jr. and teammate Jack Sprague were fast straight off of their haulers. The driver of the No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet led the first practice, and followed that up in qualifying with a pole-winning run. That strength carried over to the race itself; Hornaday, Jr. led 136 of the scheduled 167 laps.

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NASCAR’s Baddest Boys Steal Rectrictor Plate Racing’s Biggest Stage

They say the Car of Tomorrow is built to withstand bumper-to-bumper contact far better than any stock car in history. Well, I have two words to say to that: Thank God. Sunday’s race at Talladega resembled the atmosphere of a short track slugfest, with cars exchanging punches at a cool 190 miles an hour across NASCAR’s fastest facility. While the restrictor plates were still in place, the excitement they produced was unrestricted, as drivers didn’t hesitate to bump and bang their way to the front in the third race with this current package. While a single line freight train was a legitimate fear – the Fall race resembled a parade for the first 300 miles until drivers started taking chances – it turned out there was no reason to worry as the car came into its own.

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Tearing Apart the Trucks : Cobb and Theriault Debut

After a four week break, the Craftsman Truck Series returns to the track at Kansas Speedway. Along with the seasoned veterans and rookie of the year contenders, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Michelle Theriault will make their Craftsman Truck Series debuts. Driving for Derrike Cope's newly founded team, Theriault will pilot the No. 73 Derrike Cope Inc. / RMR Dodge Ram, and Cobb will be behind the wheel of the No. 74 Providence Medical Center Dodge Ram. "I couldn't be more excited. I love racing at Kansas Speedway and am looking forward to climbing behind the wheel in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and kicking off Derrike's new race team," said Cobb. "I remember when Kansas Speedway was merely the dream of a few, and now look at the magnitude of the support from the community and the corporations both here in Kansas City and nationally."

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Fanning the Flames : Fishin’ For Some Answers to Stewart’s Likely Defection

Although no one asked, we did catch a few bass last weekend, even with a stiff wind and temps in the 40s. (When I mention fishing at the end of a column, it’s your cue to ask me how I did so I can talk racing _and_ fishing in the same article — and what’s better than that?) The truth was, my uncle and I couldn’t resist the call of the water on a Cup off-weekend despite the nasty weather forecast; and all was well, too, until the engine died as we were heading home for the morning. It’s like Grandad always said, “A boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money.” Looks like we found the hole early this Spring. Big news is breaking, so let’s get to it. Here’s the hole into which you can pour your questions. Let's start with the Big One: *Q: What are the odds that Rick Hendrick is able to put together NASCAR's version of the "Dream Team" by adding Tony Stewart to his team of Dale Jr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson? In the big picture, would that team be good or bad for the sport?* _— Dale Petty_ *A:* This question appears to be a moot point, my man (nice moniker, by the way).

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UPS Could Deliver My NASCAR Fantasy

As a motorsports journalist, I am repeated told by my editors, that I must remain impartial. As a motorsports commentary journalist, I am repeatedly telling my editors, don’t worry about it! To my way of thinking, being a writer of a commentary piece provides me a few loopholes. They are after all, paying me to write my opinion, not theirs. Unfortunately, their value of my opinion, has not kept up with the rising price of gas. Values of gas and opinions aside, when things get really messy, writer/editor wise, I am sometimes forced to drop the dreaded journalistic F bomb!

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