Monday, May 02, 2016

Random Thoughts From A Wild Weekend At Talladega

Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Chess Players And Daredevils: Brad Keselowski continues to be one of the most eloquent, thought-provoking interviews in the sport, as evidenced by his post-race comments at Talladega. "Racing has always been a balance of daredevils and chess players," said Keselowski Sunday, just moments after winning the GEICO 500. "Some weekends we're chess players, some weekends we're daredevils. This has always been the more daredevil style of track.” He also served fair warning that his Miller Lite Ford team is feeling its oats after clinching their second victory of the 2016 campaign. “If you’re capable of winning here, I think you show a certain level of attitude and swagger that carries your way through the rest of the year.”

Photo: Getty Images
On-Track Intensity: While there's nothing worse than rain at the race track, there may be nothing better than impending rain. With thunderstorms skirting the speedway throughout Sunday’s race, drivers were “up on the wheel” all day, making for intense competition and creating multiple Talladega “Big Ones.”
"It's just Talladega,” said runner-up Kyle Busch, one of the few drivers able to bring his car home without major damage. “It is what it is. (With) these cars, you try to get a little bit aggressive, start bumping people and pushing people, they're real easy to get out of control.”
Plenty of people got “out of control” Sunday, including veteran Matt Kenseth and rookie Chris Buescher, both of whom got upside-down on the Talladega backstretch in separate multi-car incidents.
"I really have no clue (what happened)," said Buescher afterward. "It's not the way we wanted to finish. We just got clipped. I'm tired of superspeedway racing, I can tell you that. It’s miserable. It's a bummer. No fun. I’m ready to go home."

Comments like Buescher’s are not uncommon following restrictor plate races at Talladega and Daytona. They are also completely understandable. After all, no one climbs out of an upside-down race car with a smile on their face.

Bad Blood Continues: Among the many postrace storylines Sunday was the rekindling of a long-simmering feud between Kenseth and Joey Logano. The pair famously clashed at Kansas and Martinsville Speedways during last year’s Chase, with Kenseth ultimately earning a two-race suspension for on-track retribution. They butted heads again Sunday, after Logano appeared to force Kenseth below the yellow line in a late-race backstretch incident. The move plummeted Kenseth to the back of the pack, where he was eventually swept-up in a clash with Danica Patrick that saw his Dollar General Toyota flip upside-down into the inside wall.
“I don’t THINK he ran me off,” said Kenseth afterward. “He DID run me off. He ran me so far down that I couldn’t really lift. I couldn’t get back up the track. I thought we were done with (our issues), but maybe we aren’t.”

The rivals had a brief discussion following the race, with Kenseth doing a majority of the talking. Asked about Kenseth’s criticism, Logano quipped, “He can get in line with the rest of them.”
While much will be made about their continuing bad blood, it provides a welcome departure from the “we’re all friends” atmosphere that dominates the sport these days. NASCAR was built on guys like Richard Petty and Bobby Allison going head to head – and bumper to bumper – for the win, carrying personal grudges and animosity from track to track like so many spare tires. Today, on-track disputes are generally settled via Twitter, or over a glass of pinot noir in the oh-so-cozy driver/owner motor coach lot; a far cry from the times when Victory Lane ceremonies were regularly punctuated by a stiff right-cross to the chin.
Disturbing Trend: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. became the second Hendrick Motorsports driver in recent weeks to have his steering wheel come off in his hands. Shortly after returning to the track following repairs from an earlier crash, the steering wheel pulled loose while Earnhardt circled the track under caution. “I was trying to get it back on and the car was headed toward the wall,” he said. “I wasn't going to let it hit the wall, so I grabbed the column and steered with that. It tore my hands all up, but didn't hit the wall.” Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson had an identical situation in a qualifying crash earlier this season.
Encouraging Trend: NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France attended a meeting of the NASCAR Drivers Council Friday, for the first time in the history of the organization. France has said before that he believes the meetings go better – and are more candid – without him in the room; a stance that earned him criticism from Tony Stewart in January. France spent more than an hour in Friday’s meeting before leaving to honor a prior commitment, earning praise from all attendees. "It was great that Brian came," said Dale Earnhardt Jr. afterward. "It was just a good, positive meeting, a lot of good things moving in a good direction.  

For his part, France said simply, “We had a good discussion.” 

Rest In Peace: Earnhardt’s flirtation with the superspeedway car dubbed “Amelia” -- in honor of aviatrix Amelia Earhardt – is almost certainly over. Rebuilt after a grinding crash at Daytona International Speedway in February, Amelia was involved in two more crashes Sunday; one of them a solo spin with just 50 laps complete, that left her a twisted heap once again. She will likely be relegated to the “race car cemetery” Earnhardt has assembled on property surrounding his North Carolina home to rest (and rust) in peace.  

Non-Issues: Any controversy that lingers in the aftermath of Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series finish is attributable to people who are either intellectually incapable of understanding the rules, or psychologically unwilling to do so. 

Elliott Sadler won Saturday’s Sparks Energy 300 after a wild, final-straightaway melee triggered when he and Joey Logano tangled while racing for the win. The victory was his first of the season and locked him into the NXS Chase. Logano led off the final turn, but moved high to block youngster Brennan Poole, opening the inside lane for Sadler. When Logano darted back to the bottom, he and Sadler made contact, forcing the eventual winner below the double-yellow line and sending Logano hard into the outside wall. Poole crossed the finish line first, but was eventually credited with a third-place finish after a five-minute video review that re-wound the running order to the moment the caution flag waved. Justin Allgaier was credited with second, followed by Poole, Jeremy Clements and Brendan Gaughan.

Sadler's win took nearly five minutes to be confirmed by NASCAR officials, who used video tape to determine that he was ahead of Poole and Allgaier when the decisive caution flag flew.  

We use every resource we can,” said series director Wayne Auton afterward. “It took us a little time, (but) we feel 100% that we got it exactly right. We used every bit of film we had. We arrived at the finish we did by using every piece of technology that we had to our availability."

Auton confirmed that Sadler’s excursion below the double yellow line was legal, since, “The rule says you cannot go below the double yellow line to advance your position. (Sadler) did not advance a position, and he was also forced down there when (Logano) and him made contact. In our eyes, he did not gain any positions. He was already (in the lead). It was legal by the rules."  

Auton also explained the final-lap caution flag, saying, "Our No. 1 job is the safety of these drivers, crew members and fans. When you see a car turn hard right… it's pretty scary. Our No. 1 concern when (Logano) hit to make sure Joey was OK. Automatically, we put out the caution. Another car made contact with him when he come off the wall, and we needed guys to roll out of the throttle.” 




  1. Good article. I am like so many drivers in that Dega is just a mess. I know it has so much history and alot of people like it. I can understand that. I just hate that a track which is a crap shoot at best, and more like a carnival dare devil thing is one of the Chase tracks. My vote would be to place Watkins Glen in the Chase instead of Dega. I really enjoy hearing you and Bagley call a race.

  2. The controversy over the declaration of Sadler as the Sparks 300 winner has nothing to do with not understanding the rules - the controversy stems from the fact the rule is wrong, period. NASCAR needs to let them race to the line because freezing the field has accomplished nothing in terms of safety, all it's done is give the officiating tower too much control of the racing. To improve safety what NASCAR should do is what Mike Joy recommended back in 1990 - a red-yellow light that reverts to the last completed lap in circumstances where racing to the stripe may not be a recommendable option.

    Auton's explanation about the yellow-line rule reinforces that out-of-bounds rules don't work; if it's paved it's supposed to be fair game for passing, and having more room to race is always safer than being limited there.

    The two issues with the Saturday and Sunday races are it being too hard to pass with NASCAR's absurd dislike of push-drafting - this between the no-tandem rule that bit Aric Almirola and Brendan Gaughn on Saturday and the non-alignment of bumpers on the Generation Six so push-drafting is absurdly difficult; throw in the "beachball" aero effect the Gen-6 cars are generating that's hurting passing as well - and blocking becoming a serious issue with the racing. The Logano melee at the Saturday finish was started because Logano swerved all over the place instead of hold his line and try to sidedraft Sadler (I think Logano knew Sadler had him beat and it made him all the more foolishly desperate). The other melees came from drivers bulling through holes that weren't there and blocking looked to have something to do with it as well - the way the leaders were swerving all over has become a problem. Contrast with the ARCA General Tire 200 and how much more lane discipline those drivers seemed to show as they put on a terrific race.

    It all put a damper on what was a good Talladega weekend and reinforces that it can still be better.

    1. "If it's paved it's supposed to be fair game for passing?" One look at Michael Waltrip's journey to the apron yesterday should be all you need to see how patently ridiculous that statement is. Should we let them race down pit road? That's paved, too!

    2. The general principle of "if it's paved, it's fair game" means that the drivers should be allowed to pass below the yellow line at Daytona and Talladega. The fact that there is an out of bounds area at these tracks, let alone that this rule even exists in racing, is completely absurd. While in road racing I believe there is a penalty for cutting the course, using the apron to pass on an oval doesn't warrant a penalty. Other tracks see the apron as an area to pass, most notably Fontana, Michigan, and Phoenix, so why should it be different for Daytona and Talladega. Nearly every instance where the rule was invoked has seen questionable officiating from the tower. Waltrip's journey to the apron was a result of him being hit from behind, not because he was trying to pass. Why would anyone try to use pit road as an area to pass? That's a ridiculous counter argument to make. Monkeesfan has a valid point about the yellow line rule.

    3. Racing down pit road, no. Passing below the yellow line? The drivers did that a lot before that rule was put into place with no untoward effect.

    4. Anonymous9:09 PM

      They do it in All-Star Race qualifying and it's freakin' awesome!

  3. My comment is that Logano needs to stop his abrupt blocking actions. That is out of control. He just flat turns into folks.

  4. Restrictor plate racing is an enigma and always been. If guys like Gary Nelson can't figure it I don't know who can. Did the threat of rain enhanced drivers aggressiveness?

  5. Anonymous8:01 PM

    I especially liked the fact that in his post race presser Keselowski called his spotter Joey Meier an all-star. Apparently the 2-Crew counted Meier use the word "energy" to describe which lane of the pack was moving over 170 times. The wrecks be damned, that was my favorite part of the race. Watching Kes hold off the angry swarm of bees behind him lap after lap was a masterful piece of communication between the driver and the spotter.

  6. Anonymous5:00 AM

    Matt, I expect in the future with his embarassing actions and words post race Sunday, will now complain being behind P1 or P2 at the start of the race, the guy in front chokes the restart and Matty will blame him for the rest of the day for his bad day. Logano did nothing wrong to him on Sunday, and there is no rivalary or feud. Only in Matty's head it seems.

    1. Logano has a bad illness. It called Blockaholic.

  7. 1. The infield wall has a few wall projections and sharp angles. Wall projections and sharp angles could potentially cut through a car (at speeds lower than those at Talledega), and I am surprised these hazards are not protected with sand/water barrels or similar speed reducing devices.

    2. Danica, and one or two other drivers, were reported to appear dazed, shook up, or similar, immediately after their crashes. Does such a dazed appearance warrant evaluation for concussions (as such would in the NFL)? Indy cars apparently has a protocol for concussion evaluations based upon crash data; I am curious if Nascar has something similar.

    3. Danica commented on the cockpit fire. Did she comment on whether or not she activated the cockpit fire extinguisher, and did she activate the cockpit fire extinguisher?

    1. 1. A race car would actually have to turn and back-up in order to hit the blunt end of a wall at Talladega anymore.

      2. By the time you heard from Danica, she had already been evaluated by doctors in the Infield Care Center; an evaluation that includes administration of a standardized concussion protocol. It is mandatory for every driver who is unable to drive their car back to the garage. As far as appearing "shook up" is concerned, I'm pretty sure anyone would be shaken after a hit like that.

      3. Danica's fire self-extinguished very quickly. She climbed out even quicker!

  8. Anonymous2:38 AM

    The race gave everyone who hates NASCAR reason to hate it even more. There is no rhyme or reason to running a race where the outcome is two thirds of the field are wrecked. Either NASCAR eliminates restrictor plate racing or stops racing at these super speedways before someone is killed. Chris Buescher and Matt kenseth might agree with me.

  9. Speaking of Danica, has anyone else noticed that there have been virtually NO recent articles I can find anywhere on the fact that she continues to struggle after 3 1/2 seasons in Cup. Her average finish this year is 24.5, no better than she has done since she started. This after lord knows how many crew chief changes. Landon Cassill is now ahead of her in points. It appears to me there was some sort of directive laid down by the powers that be that no one shall speak ill of her in the media. Somebody prove me wrong.

    1. Anonymous3:41 PM

      Most fans don't need an article to know that the 26th-place driver in points is struggling. Lots of people are struggling, you've just chosen to highlight the only female in the group.

    2. Most drivers that far back in the results aren't as over-hyped as her, or only have a budget that is a small percentage of hers.

    3. Overhyped? The only one talking about her here is you! How can she be overhyped if you have seen "NO recent articles" about her? LOL

  10. Ok, Ok, I am sure I am the only one who feels this way. Shame on me. (Cue the rolling eyes)

  11. Anonymous4:56 PM

    Wrecks are what sell. no one wants to see cars go in circles 10 seconds apart. If they were smart, make the whole season Dega and Daytona.

  12. Anonymous5:35 PM

    I think Danica drove a smart and good race, right up till she got wrecked. She ran in the top ten and, I think, had a shot at winning the race. And did anyone notice that the race was led for awhile by a Roush car. First race in a long time. Looks like they are improving.