Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2010 Talladega Spring Race Recap

The Key Moment: Kevin Harvick, running second, brushed leader Jamie McMurray’s rear bumper 50 yards from the checkers, getting the No. 1 car squirrelly and passing for the lead and the win.

In a Nutshell: Lots of passing, lots of lead changes, but still so contrived with the plates you hope none of the neighbors caught you watching the race.

Dramatic Moment: Three green-white-checkered restarts at the end of a Talladega race? The No. 42 car’s Tums sponsorship was perfect, because fans and crew chiefs had to be gobbling fistfuls of the tablets.

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

For fans watching Talladega races at home, there are two overwhelming questions: The Big One… when will it happen?, and the pre-race show… when will it be over?

The first plate race with the blade spoilers rather than the wings, and nobody gets turned over on their roofs or into the fence? I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

See also
What's Vexing Vito: Talladega Spoiler Test Bodes Well for Return to Track in April

Jeff Gordon does seem a bit annoyed with his protégé Jimmie Johnson right now, doesn’t he? Could things reach a boiling point at Richmond next week? If you see Gordon and Rusty Wallace consulting over a playbook this week, expect fireworks.

So Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a bit miffed Darrell Waltrip ran his mouth and spoiled the secret Earnhardt will be running the number 3 car with Wrangler sponsorship at an upcoming Nationwide race. That just means he’s joined the rest of us in disliking Waltrip for talking too much. Prior to the race, DW said to in-car reporter McMurray (alluding to his sponsor), “I hope you catch the big one!” What a thing to say to any driver at Talladega.

To coincide with our early spring here in the Northeast, this year seems to be featuring a premature silly season. Last week, we learned Kasey Kahne was leaving Ford and Richard Petty Motorsports for Rick Hendrick… in 2012. This week, it was announced that Harvick’s sponsor Shell/Pennzoil will bolt Richard Childress Racing to join Roger Penske’s organization as a long-term sponsor for Kurt Busch in the newly-renumbered No. 22 car. (No wonder they dumped Harvick from their TV ad campaign this season.)

Brad Keselowski will acquire long-term sponsor Miller Lite beer, with his number switching from No. 12 to No. 2. That leaves Sam Hornish Jr.’s Penske team without a sponsor, because Shell and Mobil are bitter rivals, and it also seemingly leaves Harvick with a diminished bargaining hand in the last year of his contract with RCR. Many expected Harvick to bring the lucrative Shell sponsorship with him to Stewart-Haas Racing next year as part of a third team (or seventh Hendrick team, if you want to be cynical) but now it’s widely believed that Kahne will fill that third seat.

Budweiser’s long-term sponsorship is apparently in play as well. As of now, Bud can’t follow Kahne to Hendrick because of Hendrick’s contract with Pepsi. But that doesn’t mean a team unofficially associated with Hendrick couldn’t snag Bud. Mark Martin starts his own team with Bud backing? That would be awkward, as Martin is an alcoholic. (Many, many, many years since sober.)

So where does that leave us? Kahne could always drive a JR Motorsports entry under the Hendrick umbrella, potentially reuniting Junior and his long-term sponsor while leaving a third seat at SHR open for Harvick. That would mean eight (or as many as 10) teams under Hendrick’s direct control, and you have to wonder if eventually NASCAR would have to stop being cynical and lay down the law.

See also
Voice of Vito: Kasey Kahne to Hendrick Motorsports - But for Martin or Earnhardt?

I’m sure that some of you expect me to tee off on NASCAR for deciding to cancel Saturday’s (April 24) activities at Talladega because of potential bad weather before the first bolt of lightning struck. Actually, I’ve pondered the situation and I feel bad for them. Talk about stuck between a rock and a hard place. Last year, I was among an army of folks who lit NASCAR up for saying they didn’t care about fan safety after Carl Edwards‘s Ford almost went into the crowd. Well Saturday, they had some high-profile events with the TV ratings disaster that was Monday at Texas still fresh on their minds.

What’s more, just canceling the races wasn’t going to ensure that fans were safe. They remained in local hotels and motels. Many were in either tents in the infield (they were advised to seek safer lodging) or motorhomes, and tornadoes seem to have a twisted sense of humor when it comes to RVs and trailer homes, whether it’s a double-wide, a $1 million Prevost coach or a Mini-Winni. In the end, erring on the side of caution was the only way to go, though it was a massive inconvenience for many and a financial disaster for others.

You remember the big “to do” last fall when Grand Am racer JC France (grandson of Bill France, cousin of Brian France) and his roommate got busted for street racing in a pair of ultra-expensive rides, then were found in possession of significant quantities of cocaine? Well, the good news (for JC and his buddy, at least) is that all charges have now been dropped.

WTF? Somehow or another, it’s now stated that the Daytona Beach police improperly pulled over France (who was driving at a high rate of speed, intoxicated at the time… what could go wrong there?) as the infractions happened outside their jurisdiction in nearby Holly Hill. I don’t get it. A uniformed, on-duty police officer makes a traffic stop, then finds the driver is intoxicated and in possession of a controlled substance… so what the Hell does it matter where they were racing?

Florida law must be way different than that of the U.S. outside that banana republic, because around here if an officer pursues a driver into another jurisdiction, once he makes the stop he radios for an officer from the neighboring jurisdiction, and based on the first officer’s statement the second cop makes the arrest. It would be setting a dangerous precedent to tell intoxicated felons that if you can make it to the township line by not slowing down, you can’t be charged. Such high-speed pursuits routinely end tragically.

There are men and women in Florida doing lengthy prison terms for doing exactly what France did. But of course they weren’t rich, they didn’t have a famous last name and they didn’t have a phalanx of high-priced lawyers at their beck and call.

One of the cornerstones of American society is that we have one legal system that is supposed to apply fairly to both the wealthy and the poor, the famous and the anonymous, but given the cases of Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, OJ Simpson (no wonder he fled to Florida) and now JC France, we see clear evidence there’s a two-tier justice system. Call it the “sh*t sandwich” version; the more bread you have, the less sh*t you have to eat.

I attempted to contact the DBPD via email to have the officers involved email me their reactions to this abomination, but got no reply. Of course, those cops must have been rookies. The Daytona cops showed their unofficial policy back when Brian France drove drunkenly at high speeds home from a bar, hitting several objects along the way, but never got charged with a DUI because he made it to his condo before getting apprehended.

I’ve learned not to develop ulcers fretting over stuff I can’t control, but I invite you to join me in my own silent sort of futile protest. If any team, car maker or sponsor decides to back JC France going forward, not only will I not buy their products, if I already have some in my home, I’ll throw them out. I’m sure the folks at Porsche are shaking in their boots.

Hey, guess what. Despite their protestations last February the track didn’t need to be repaved (despite the two-hour delay for potholes), Frontstretch broke the story first that Daytona track officials now say they will repave (which was last done in 1978) in time for the 2011 Daytona 500, with work commencing immediately after this year’s Firecracker 400 in July. Why they had to make themselves look like idiots denying the work needed doing a few months before finally admitting to the obvious is beyond me.

See also
Daytona International Speedway to be Repaved for 2011 Daytona 500

Let’s flashback to 1978, the last time Daytona was paved. Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors was the album of the year, and Hotel California by the Eagles was the song of the year. (It surely beat 1977’s Soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever by the BeeGees). Elvis Costello, Devo (don‘t ask), the Police and the Cars debuted. Bruce Springsteen released Darkness on the Edge of Town and started a massively popular tour to support the LP. (Some things never change, thank God, some things never change.)

The rock community was still coming to terms with the tragic plane crash that decimated the Lynyrd Skynyrd band on Oct. 20, 1977. I’d still cry every time I heard Free Bird. The Catholic Church lost two popes in 35 days, and Pope John Paul II began his long reign as Pontiff. Annie Hall won honors as Movie of the Year despite strong competition from The Deer Hunter.

All the girls I went to school with wanted to dress and look like Annie Hall. All the guys wanted them to look like Farrah or Stevie Nicks, and the best bad girls did. The first episodes of the Dukes of Hazzard were being taped for release in 1979. All in the Family, Happy Days, The Rockford Files, Colombo, and M.A.S.H. were top-rated TV shows. Unemployment was at 6.1% and the price of a First Class stamp rose to 15 cents. The average American household earned less than $17,000 a year.

Sony introduced their first Walkman. (No, kids, no iPods… or laptops… or cellphones, much less an iPhone.) In fact, Wozniak and Jobs were still a pair of hippie businessmen trying to convince the world there was a need for a home PC.

Ford was touting the King Cobra Mustang with a total of 139 horsepower and perhaps the most sinfully ugly stripe and decal package ever conceived by a stylist bombed on Peruvian marching powder. A fully-loaded King Cobra would have set you back $6,400. That year’s 220 horsepower Trans Am was top dog on the streets. Most of us wanted one in the black and gold “Smoky and the Bandit” paint scheme with T-tops. Nowadays, pony cars feature more than 400 horsepower, but they’ll cost a bit more than $6,400.

The last VW Beetle was built in Germany and its replacement, the hugely popular Rabbits, were rusting away in the holds of cargo ships destined for America. Speaking of the U.S., the Chevy Chevette was purportedly the best-selling car in the country. Cale Yarborough was Cup champion, winning his third straight title for Junior Johnson. People wondered if one driver dominating was good for the sport, and Junior told them to hush up and hold their tongues.

Richard Petty failed to win a race that season for the first time since 1959. Johnson was three at the time, while Ryan Newman was enjoying his first birthday party. Dale Earnhardt the Original started just five races, with a best finish of fourth at Atlanta, but that was enough to land him a full-time ride for 1979. I was in my first year at Villanova and driving a Boss 302, a Cobra Jet Ranchero, a GS455 Stage One, a Pinto Cruising Wagon (don’t ask… I did intend to put a 289 in it) and a big old Kawasaki that attempted to kill me that December and damn near managed the feat.

My first Harley was two years in the future. A good portion of you reading this column hadn’t even competed in the Fallopian Tube 500 to be conceived yet, including my boss and the owner of this site Tom. But then again, Tom will never likely have the thrill of running a Boss 302 wide open through the pine barrens, making the trees look like a picket fence with “Racing in the Streets” blasting from the eight-track and a pretty little blonde girl by his side on the way to shore.

Call it a matter of semantics, but I don’t feel Johnson was the “pole winner.” He never turned a lap in anger to earn that spot. He was the “polesitter” based on points due to weather.

My take on the yellow-line incident at the end of the race? It’s a non-issue. Harvick already had the lead, so he couldn’t advance his position. McMurray was crowding him down the track, which is what the second-place driver is supposed to do, but it’s a matter of “no harm, no foul.”

Call it a Sixth Sense moment. I see dead people… and they’re selling gardening tools during Nationwide Series commercials.

Editor’s Note: If they want to continue running Billy Mays commercials, they may want to edit out the opening line where he says “I’m Billy Mays, and I’m back….”

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Nationwide officials, promoters and sponsors have got to be despondent their third straight race in a row was rain-delayed.

For the second weekend in a row, Gordon had a potentially race-winning car wiped out in a late-race crash. He wound up 22nd.

What didn’t go wrong for Kahne Sunday? He had a spark-plug issue, missed pit road and finally wrecked his car not once but twice en route to 21st.

Earnhardt Jr. had a solid top-10 finish in hand until the final restart, where he faded to 13th.

Newman just can’t seem to finish one of these plate races, wrecking for the third straight time at Talladega.

Joey Logano led the race and seemed to have solid car until he ran into the back of Newman while Newman checked up for an incident ahead of him. The resulting incident wiped out both cars and left them 35th and 36th, respectively.

Greg Biffle never got up to speed on the penultimate restart, got hit by the No. 48 car and wound up 17th despite being a top 10 car most of the day.

Johnny Sauter (41st) became the latest victim of Kyle Busch’s legendary status in his own mind.

Johnson got overaggressive in traffic and wound up spinning himself into the wall en route to a 31st-place finish. Among his fellow drivers not rushing over to offer consolation were Gordon, Jeff Burton and Scott Speed.

Keselowski got a little aggressive entering pit road and it cost him big time. Marcos Ambrose got into Keselowski’s car and ended his chances at a competitive run. He slumped to 34th.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Harvick won for the first time in 115 Cup points races. (His last such victory was the 2007 Daytona 500.) I’m not sure how much gas the No. 29 car had left in the tank in victory lane, but on a dollar bet I’d drink it. Then again, I’d never heard a driver say “The best thing is, our sponsor is leaving.” I might have choked on that gas.

Kurt Busch’s car was damaged in the second incident of the day and later got nailed for speeding on pit road. He just missed the spinning No. 48 car late in the race, but he soldiered on to a top-10 finish anyway (eighth).

Denny Hamlin drove to an incident-free fourth-place finish despite an early spin and without getting caught in a wreck that could have further damaged his knee.

For the third straight race, Martin emerged out of nowhere to score a great finish (in this case, fifth).

Worth Noting

  • Hamlin (fourth) has top-five finishes in three of the last four races.
  • Johnson finished outside the top 12 for the first time since Daytona and outside the top 10 for only the third time this year.
  • McMurray (second) enjoyed his first top-10 finish since Daytona. He’s now finished first or second in the last three plate races.
  • Juan Pablo (is the Pablo optional now?) Montoya’s third-place finish matches his best result of the 2010 Cup season.
  • David Ragan’s sixth-place finish was his best of the 2010 Cup season.
  • Clint Bowyer (eighth) has top-10 finishes in three of the last four Cup races.
  • Mike Bliss (10th) scored his first top-10 Cup result since Bristol in Aug. 2005. Anyone want to buy a race team? I mean, anyone with friends that own a Native-American casino….
  • Tony Stewart (17th) hasn’t had a top-15 finish in the last four Cup races.
  • Greg Biffle (18th) missed the top 10 for just the second time this season.
  • Gordon (22nd) has just three top-10 finishes this season.
  • The top-10 finishers at Talladega drove six Chevys, two Toyotas, a Ford and a Dodge.
  • Kevin Conway (30th) was the top-finishing rookie at Talladega. Of course, he was also the only rookie driver to race Talladega. If you like the racing at Fontana, you’re going to LOVE the drama of this season’s Rookie of the Year chase.

What’s the Points?

Johnson maintains his points lead, but is now just 26 points ahead of Harvick, who advanced two spots to second. Biffle remains third in the standings, a further 60 points behind Harvick. Matt Kenseth fell two spots to fourth, with Kyle Busch rounding out the top five.

Martin had the best points day, advancing four spots to sixth in the standings. Kurt Busch jumped up two spots to seventh while Junior drops a spot to eighth. Hamlin is now ninth, while Gordon plummeted from fifth to 10th (and I’m sensing a Three Mile Island temper meltdown in his future.)

Bowyer jumped up three spots to 11th in the standings, while teammate Burton is now clinging to a top-12 position, dropping down to 12th. Former Chase bubble man Logano’s wreck cost him badly in the points standings. He fell four spots out of the top 12 and down to 16th.

Edwards lurks just outside the top 12, just 15 points behind Burton. Stewart is six points behind Edwards in 14th.

Eight of the drivers in the top 12 in points haven’t won a race yet this year.

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 four cans of Colorado Kool-Aid. At least it ran on a Sunday, not Monday.

Next Up: The circuit heads off to Richmond, arguably the best track left on the circuit, for a little Saturday night short-track racing.

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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