Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2007 Talladega Fall Race Recap

The Key Moment: A shove from the No. 22 car of Dave Blaney gave Jeff Gordon enough momentum to pass his teammate on the last lap at Talladega. Tony Stewart appeared to inadvertently seal the deal for Gordon, running into the back of him and forcing Jimmie Johnson to settle for second.

In a Nutshell: Hours of mind-numbing tedium punctuated by a few moments of sheer terror.

Dramatic Moment: Bobby Labonte‘s Dodge inexplicably got loose and set off the Big One.

12 drivers threw caution to the wind on that final lap to decide the race.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

I think in the future, I’ll just watch the last 15 laps of restrictor-plate races. Drivers either form a single-file parade or drop to the back to avoid trouble until those final 15 laps.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: Can Cup Drivers Bring Restrictor Plates to Their Knees?

Does it seem that team orders and strategizing by drivers in the same make of car is getting a little out of hand in the Cup Series? Indeed, our sport looks a little more like Formula 1 each week.

The Car of Tomorrow still needs plates at the big tracks… even though the original goal of the designers of the car was to eliminate plates. As a result, Sunday’s event featured the typical violence of a plate race, with everyone reduced to the least common denominator. When it comes to the CoT, I say, the Hell with these things.

What on earth happened to Labonte and the No. 43 car? It didn’t appear a tire was down, but Labonte’s car still suddenly snapped sideways.

The late Dale Earnhardt used to say that they should clear out the first 10 rows, dump the plates and go back to real racing. Well, we’re halfway there. There were a lot of empty seats at Talladega, particularly in the lower section.

For all that talk about the advantage the Dodge and Toyota engines have with the current aero package, it was the usual suspects in a pair of Chevys up front again.

Think there’s going to be some pink slips and “Help Wanted” signs at the RCR/DEI engine shop tomorrow?

With the Busch Series off this weekend, what did Cup drivers do to keep from getting bored on Saturday?

What with all the time zones and such, the Chinese Grand Prix took the green flag at 1:30 a.m. ET. The way FOX is heading, Cup races might be in that territory soon.

Isn’t it ironic the Truck Series has a barnburner of a title chase going on without the artificial machinations of the Chase system? (Ron Hornaday leads Mike Skinner by 14 points with five races to go). The Talladega Truck Series race featured the expected carnage, however; I really think it’s time that NASCAR makes the trucks run snowplows on the front end at Talladega.

Dale Jarrett is set to announce he’ll be racing part-time next year. Hmm… isn’t that what he’s been doing this year?

See also
Full Throttle: The Impact of Nationwide on NASCAR

Nationwide Insurance signed on this week to be the title sponsor of what is currently the Busch Series next season. Parties close to the negotiations say the insurer got title sponsorship at what amounted to fire sale prices. In a related note, Mike Wallace‘s Busch Series sponsor, GEICO Insurance, was told they had two years to pack their bags and get out of the new series, as it would seem NASCAR wants to avoid a repeat of the AT&T/Nextel fiasco.

So, once again NASCAR benefits while a race team suffers. This might be grounds for yet another lawsuit. I can see it now… the GEICO gecko giving Brian France the finger while a lawyer tells the jury NASCAR’s decision was so blatantly unfair even a caveman could see it. By the way, my BSC (Big Stupid Car, the low miles ’87 Lincoln Town Car) is insured by GEICO. They are cheap!

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

You have to feel bad for AJ Allmendinger, Boris Said and Scott Riggs. They posted the ninth, 10th and 11th fastest times in Saturday’s bizarre qualifying session but missed the race. Just another example of how this corporate welfare nonsense – locking the Top 35 into each race – has got to go. Go fast or go home, I say; and it’s not like qualifying at Talladega wasn’t already the most boring session of the season.

It might have been a matter of karma equaling out after Kansas, but every time there was a wreck Sunday, it seemed that Greg Biffle was in the midst of it.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a car that might have contended for a win at long last had the engine stayed together. Jeff Burton and Martin Truex Jr. were also eliminated from the race (and from title contention) by “blowed up” bowtie engines. Kevin Harvick finished the race running on seven cylinders… in fact, Clint Bowyer was the only DEI/RCR driver to finish with an engine running at full song.

Kyle Busch just doesn’t seem to have much luck at Talladega.

Juan Pablo Montoya seemed to have a top-five run in hand until the final two laps of the race. It seems the big dogs still don’t want to draft with a rookie.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Gordon overcame a penalty for a pit-road equipment violation to win the race. Of course, his strategy was to stay out back until late in the race, so it wasn’t too big a blow.

Bowyer not only managed to keep his engine in one piece, he did a nifty bit of driving to avoid Michael Waltrip‘s spinning car. His 11th-place finish leaves him in contention for the title.

The right-rear corner of Denny Hamlin‘s car looked like it had been used as a chew toy for a pack of pit bulls after a wreck. The team was forced to make extensive tape repairs during a lengthy pit stop, but Hamlin still went on to finish fourth.

Perhaps stung by criticism that he was a hazard making his first Cup start at Talladega, Jacques Villeneuve relinquished his sixth-place starting spot to start the race at the rear of the field. He finished 21st, but he did finish – and in the process, earned some respect from the other drivers.

Kyle Petty was uninjured in a savage wreck, during which he hit the wall driver’s side first.

Worth Noting

  • Toyotas claimed five of the top-six starting spots in the race on Saturday (presumably because in their desperation to make a race, they ran their cars in qualifying trim despite it being an impound race). The top-six qualifiers all had to make the race on speed.
  • Some folks claimed Waltrip turned the corner with his pole at Talladega. My pre-race calculations indicated that if Waltrip won the seven remaining races (including Talladega) and led the most laps in each, he might have been able to wind up 34th in points.
  • The win was Gordon’s 12th plate race victory. Earnhardt has 13 combined wins at Daytona and Talladega, but two of his victories at Talladega were earned in the pre-plate era. Gordon is also the first driver to sweep both Talladega races in a season since Earnhardt Jr. did so in 2002. The late Earnhardt Sr. won both Talladega events in 1999 and 1990. Chevys have won 17 of the last 18 plate races.
  • Gordon hasn’t finished worse than 11th in the last five races. He is the only driver to post a top-10 finish in all four of this season’s plate races.
  • Johnson has finished first, second or third in four of the last six races.
  • Blaney (third) scored his first top five of the season and his first such finish since Richmond last fall.
  • Hamlin managed his best finish since Watkins Glen (fourth).
  • Ryan Newman enjoyed his best finish since the first Pocono race in June (fifth).
  • Casey Mears scored his fourth consecutive top-10 finish (sixth).
  • Kurt Busch drove to his first top-10 finish since Richmond (seventh).
  • Stewart (eighth) has top-10 finishes in four of the last five races.
  • Tony Raines (ninth) scored his first top-10 finish of the season and the third such finish of his career. It’s the mirrors.
  • Reed Sorenson (10th) has back-to-back top-10 finishes for the first time in his career.
  • Earnhardt Jr. suffered his sixth blown engine of the season.
  • The top-10 finishers drove six Chevys, three Dodges and a Toyota. The top-finishing Ford driver was Carl Edwards in 14th.
  • Montoya was the top-finishing rookie in 15th.

What’s the Points?

Gordon leaves Talladega back in the points lead, nine ahead of his teammate Johnson. Bowyer remains third and is still in contact with the leaders, albeit now 63 behind Gordon. Fourth-place Stewart is 154 back; all others drivers involved in the Chase are more than a full race worth of points behind Gordon, and their chances at a title are dim.

Towards the back of those standings, there was some movement; Hamlin moved up three spots to ninth, Edwards advanced two spots to fifth, and Kurt Busch advanced two spots to seventh.

Kyle Busch, Truex and Burton surrendered two spots in the standings Sunday. They are now eighth, 10th and 12th, respectively, while Harvick fell a spot to sixth.

Four races into the Chase, we don’t know who will win the title yet but we know who will not: Burton, Matt Kenseth and Truex.

Earnhardt Jr. maintains the “best of the rest” spot in 13th despite his blown engine. He is now 111 points ahead of Mears, who takes over the 14th spot from Biffle. Biffle is two points behind Mears, and Newman is two points behind Biffle in 16th.

Meanwhile, the No. 21 team will have to make next week’s race on time or go home, as the No. 22 team is guaranteed a starting spot at Charlotte after Blaney’s third-place finish.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give this one three bottles of Maalox. All of the drivers left Talladega under their own power, and that counts for something. Those final few laps were exciting, but portions of the race were so sedate that Junior seemed half relieved to fall out of the event.

Next Up: The series returns to its spiritual home, Charlotte, for the Bobby Weir Invitational One More Saturday Night race for 2007. Unless, of course, Bruton Smith has gone and torn the place down by then to protest the city council denying him rights to build a drag strip. You never know with Smith.

About the author

Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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