NASCAR – Amp Energy 500, Talladega Superspeedway – Sun Oct 5

Talladega always jumbles things up, and the starting line-up did the Chase favourites no favours. And then the race started and things got even more interesting, with not one but two major wrecks.

The early part of the race saw an assortment of leaders and constant side-by-side racing for 33 laps caution-free. There was the opportunity to make some big gains – and Dale Earnhardt Jr worked his way up from the back (put there because of work to his engine) to the lead by the time the first yellow came out. But by contrast, Jimmie Johnson lost touch with the pack early on and lost two seconds a lap, so that by the time the yellow came out he had been lapped despite the team scrambling Ken Schrader to try and support him.

The first yellow for debris came out on lap 33 and was quite incident packed, from Kenny Wallace, Bobby Labonte and Ken Schrader all penalised for speeding, to David Ragan having a collision and a spin on pit row requiring a second stop and Travis Kvapil’s crew having a problem fitting a rear tyre. Carl Edwards – who had also found it easy to slice through the field nd briefly take the lead – chose to stay out while everyone made their stops, then come in the following lap – putting him to the back of the pack but apparently planned to avoid any Ragan-esque problems in the overcrowded pit lane.

Johnson didn’t get the free pass – that went to Robby Gordon, who promptly lost it again with a penalty for taking fuel twice. But any fears that Johnson’s car was ailing were disspelled when he found himself running at the very front of the pack – despite being a lap down – and easily maintaining position. When the next yellow came out on lap 45 (again for debris, which Johnson’s own pit chief Chad Knaus was quick to point out to NASCAR officials) Johnson got the free pass that finally put him back on the lead lap.

The first ‘proper’ yellow of the day came on lap 53 when David Reutimann blew a tire and spun. Jeff Gordon immediately behind turned to avoid Reutimann and ended up hitting the wall hard, nose-first. The car was a sad sight as it limped back to the garage. Also affected was Jimmie Johnson, who collected a large lump of rummer from Reutimann’s blown tyre and it damaged one of his splitter braces, requiring repairs but still able to get out on the lead lap.

After the restart we lost Ryan Newman, whose engine shut off; and also Kurt Busch who had been running at the front but seemed to have engine problems with the crew popping the hood and checking spark plugs during the pit stop and then taking the car back to the garage, eventually returning to the fray 10 laps down.

The cars were running three wide now and were very tightly packed – one small mistake could trigger a chain reaction wreck. And it came on lap 68 when Brian Vickers – running at the front of the middle channel –  had his front right tyre simply explode without warning, very unusual as there had only been ten laps since the last yellow and tyre change. He caught Martin Truex Jr who had been having a strong race, who was thrown into the wall and then rebounded into the oncoming traffic, he along causing a good half dozen subsequent collisions before he came to a halt against the infield wall. As well as Vickers and Truex, the crash caught up David Gilliland, Kasey Kahne, Terry Labonte, Aric Almirola, Mike Skinner, Jamie McMurray and Tony Raines all of whom had no where to go. Other cars including Greg Biffle had picked up souvenir debris – including a whole stray front windscreen tear off – that needed attending to once the pits were opened. Jimmie Johnson was one lucky devil as he threaded his way through the chaos and smoke, but overall not one of the Chase contenders was actually put out of the race by this wreck.

A red flag for NASCAR to clean up the mess was necessary, and is was 17 minutes before things got rolling again. No one was able to run in the lead for very long – as soon as they made it to the lead, the effort of pushing through the air made them a dead weight again and quickly shuffled back: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson all had brief moments in front, and Juan Montoya briefly took the lead before getting a thump from David Ragan and only just controlling the car across the infield apron to prevent the second major multicar wreck of the afternoon.

Mike Wallace was the next person to have a tyre blow out, on lap 81, but he controlled the car superbly and dropped to the infield apron without causing any collisions – although Michael Waltrip’s car got hit by a large lump of rubber causing considerable bodywork damage. The yellow came out for the inevitable debris all over the track, and all the cars came in for yellow flag pit stops – especially given the serious rate of tyre failure on display, which Goodyear were at a loss to explain – whether manufacture problems, over-pressurised, debris on track or anything else.

At the halfway point we’d had 40 lead changes involving 23 different drivers. Among those jockeying for the lead the midpoint were Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Juan Montoya – and Dale Earnhardt Jr who got a brilliant push to the front from Aric Almirola to briefly take the lead on lap 91. But it was Denny Hamlin, while in the lead on lap 98, who was also next to suffer a front right tyre failure. It sent the car up from the inside groove in turn 2 right into the outside wall with a very heavy impact. Hamlin, shaken, was carefully removed by the marshalls and sent to the local area hospital.

The lead meant very little at this point, and more interesting in many ways were the drivers opting to keep their powder dry and intentionally run toward the back of the lead pack for now – including Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle. Would they have enough left when it came to the last dozen laps to blast their way through the remaining cars and take the win?

After all the tyre problems, it was nice to get a lengthy period of trouble-free green flag racing with no tyre failures, with the track staying green from lap 104 through to 138 (equalling the first stint of the race for the longest green session of the afternoon). The yellow finally flew for smoke and fluids erupting from the back of Jeff Gordon’s reconstructed car; it was also a good way of ensuring everyone pitted for tyres under yellow before anything else blew. Carl Edwads has a Keystone Kops spin as he tried to get out of his pit box and came out at the back of the line of stoppers.

The next green stint was an intense blur of position changes, with everyone involved in drafting, pushing and bumping, and cars improving or falling back by half a dozen spots at the blink of an eye. With 44 laps still to go it would have been a big ask to make it to the end without a further fuel stop, and it was probably just as well that Kevin Harvick spun on lap 164 onto the grass without collecting anyone to allow everyone to ake one last set of tyre changes and take on a final fuel top-up. After some breathless racing, it was nonetheless still only now, in the last 20 laps, that it was time for prologue to be over and the real racing to begin. Everything till now was practice, fine-tuning and endurance.

We thought we’d seen the Big One back on lap 68, but it turned out to have been merely a warm up act – the Real Thing came on lap 174 with 14 to go, and ironically involved two cars that had been religiously staying back to avoid any pile-ups: Carl Edwards tapped Greg Biffle into a spin, collecting Dale Earnhardt Jr. and then setting off a passive chain reaction catching Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Travis Kvapil, Michael Waltrip, Dave Blaney and Juan Montoya. A massive wipe-out of Chase contenders – but Tony Stewart had been out in front and saw the whole thing safely in his rear view mirror, while Jimmie Johnson for the second time of the day navigated through the mayhem flawlessly and emerged without a scratch.

The red was out for a second time.

When the green came out once more, Tony Stewart was in the lead and with the assist of a push from Joe Nemechek the two of them pulled out a lap of 5-6 car lengths. But as quick as that lead developed, it faded again and the chasing pack was right on their tail, the depleted field now running in single file for almost the first time this afternoon.

A final yellow came out on lap 184 with just four laps to go, after Jamie McMurray’s rear tyre went down causing him to spin harmlessly. The race would finish under green-and-chequered conditions, and at the final restart Tony Stewart led the field away once more – with Regan Smith now on his tail and determined to get past.

He finally did – on the last corner, going for the finish line. But he did it by going onto the inside apron under the yellow line, forbidden territory as far as NASCAR’s pre-race instructions were concerned, and the pass was disallowed. Tony Stewart was awarded the win, his career first at Talladega – and to add insult to injury, Regan Smith got a penalty for the pass that dropped him to 18th!

It was certainly one eventful day, backed up by the stats: there had been 28 different leaders – a NASCAR record – and 64 lead changes. And a lot of wrecks. Yet with so many Chase contenders hitting trouble of one sort of another it didn’t actually make that much difference long term to the Sprint Cup Standings – except for Tony Stewart who got a very nice boost from the afternoon, thank you very much!

Revised race result:

Pos  Driver              Car        Laps
 1.  Tony Stewart        Toyota      190
 2.  Paul Menard         Chevrolet   190
 3.  David Ragan         Ford        190
 4.  Jeff Burton         Chevrolet   190
 5.  Clint Bowyer        Chevrolet   190
 6.  Bobby Labonte       Dodge       190
 7.  Scott Riggs         Chevrolet   190
 8.  Robby Gordon        Dodge       190
 9.  Jimmie Johnson      Chevrolet   190
10.  Elliott Sadler      Dodge       190
11.  Joe Nemechek        Chevrolet   190
12.  Kenny Wallace       Toyota      190
13.  Aric Almirola       Chevrolet   190
14.  Casey Mears         Chevrolet   190
15.  Kyle Busch          Toyota      190
16.  Ken Schrader        Toyota      190
17.  Terry Labonte       Dodge       190
18.  Regan Smith         Chevrolet   190
19.  Michael Waltrip     Toyota      187
20.  Kevin Harvick       Chevrolet   179
21.  Kurt Busch          Dodge       177
22.  Dave Blaney         Toyota      176
23.  Reed Sorenson       Dodge       176
24.  Greg Biffle         Ford        174
25.  Juan Montoya        Dodge       173
26.  Matt Kenseth        Ford        173
27.  Travis Kvapil       Ford        173
28.  Dale Earnhardt Jr   Chevrolet   173
29.  Carl Edwards        Ford        173
30.  Mike Wallace        Chevrolet   169
31.  Mike Skinner        Toyota      160
32.  Jamie McMurray      Ford        159
33.  Jon Wood            Ford        154
34.  Tony Raines         Chevrolet   148
35.  Brian Vickers       Toyota      134
36.  Kasey Kahne         Dodge       112
37.  David Reutimann     Toyota      110
38.  Jeff Gordon         Chevrolet   104
39.  Denny Hamlin        Toyota       98
40.  David Gilliland     Ford         68
41.  Martin Truex Jr     Chevrolet    68
42.  Sterling Marlin     Chevrolet    68
43.  Ryan Newman         Dodge        48

Chase For The Cup – Points Standing:

Pos  Driver              Change  Points
 1.  Jimmie Johnson               5718
 2.  Carl Edwards                 5646  + 72
 3.  Greg Biffle                  5641  + 77
 4.  Jeff Burton                  5619  + 99
 5.  Clint Bowyer          +2     5566  +152
 6.  Kevin Harvick         -1     5547  +171
 7.  Tony Stewart          +4     5515  +203
 8.  Jeff Gordon           -2     5486  +232
 9.  Matt Kenseth                 5473  +245
10.  Dale Earnhardt Jr     -2     5469  +249
11.  Kyle Busch            +1     5387  +331
12.  Denny Hamlin          -2     5383  +335

  1. 1 The Twitter-isation of the news « andrewlewin: let me think about that …

    […] have a hybrid piece as well, which is what I end up doing for my own race reports – you can compare motorsportind’s Talladega race report with the above to see what I’m getting […]

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