Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
OK, so Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished 40th, and that’s not usually praiseworthy, but he drove his car using just the steering column after the steering wheel came off in his hands. He had a moment of shock, then grabbed the column and held the car steady as he put the wheel back on during a caution. It was a move reminiscent of his father, who once cleaned his own windshield while his car was moving because he couldn’t see to his satisfaction.
— John Morris (@JMorrisTV) May 1, 2016
While Earnhardt, Jr. wouldn’t have been able to steer the car the way he did at any other racetrack, it was still an impressive move by the driver to not only control his car, but to have the presence of mind to fix the problem without missing a beat. Driving a stock car, even under caution without a steering wheel? Badassery Level: Insane.
What… is the takeaway from this race?
There a couple of things this week. The big crashes we saw this week were not fun to watch, and they weren’t fun for drivers to try and avoid, or for teams to try and fix the resulting damage. NASCAR and the broadcast media will say the crashes are something that needs to be addressed and aren’t something to glorify, but all the while, guess which footage will be playing in the commercials for the next race at Talladega? If that’s not glorifying wrecks, what is?
The other thing that I found bothersome this week was seeing a part-time driver (and full-time TV personality) wrecking full-timers, whose best chance of winning a race and getting their teams into the Chase with the money and airtime that go with it, was this race. Opinions are split on whether Michael Waltrip could have kept his car on the apron after getting sent down there by contact with Martin Truex, Jr.
It certainly looked as if Waltrip had recovered from his spin, but he was still at full speed, which isn’t a good thing on the apron. What’s for certain is that Waltrip cost Aric Almirola plenty of positions, putting him in the line of fire for later incidents and cost Casey Mears any hope of a decent finish. Mears and Almirola are full-timers. Waltrip takes a couple of joyrides a season at the restrictor plate tracks. He was a good plate racer in his day, but he’s not in the car every week, and it’s entirely possible that his reactions aren’t what they once were. Perhaps, it’s time for Waltrip to hang ‘em up for good.
Where… did the pole sitter and the defending race winner wind up?
Chase Elliott didn’t look like a rookie during qualifying, winning the pole, and he didn’t look like one at the end of the race, where he was one of very few drivers to make a move at the front on the final lap. Mid-race, he ran smart, staying out of trouble and making sure he had a car to make a move at the end of the day. A power move on the final lap gave Elliott a fifth-place finish for his efforts.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is generally a safe pick for a strong finish at a superspeedway. He won the spring race at Talladega a year ago, but this time around, he was involved in a pair of incidents. The first triggered when he lost control of his car and spun, and the second when Carl Edwards lost control of the No. 19 car and got into the No. 88. The second incident sealed Earnhardt’s fate and a 40th-place finish. Earnhardt was unhurt, but he didn’t sound disappointed to head home after the second incident given the state of the racing. He was, however, philosophical about hos day afterward.
I feel bad for our team and supporters that we didn't capitalize on a great opportunity to run well today. Some days your the bug.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) May 1, 2016
When… did it all go sideways?
When didn’t it? Sure, the beginning of the the race was relatively tame, but the only word that can begin to describe Sunday’s action (can it even be called a race?) was “wreckfest.” When it all was said and done, 35 of 40 cars in the race were listed by NASCAR as having been involved in at least one incident, with a few hapless teams tagged two or even three times.
Even scarier was the number of cars that went airborne and/or flipped. Everyone has become complacent with the SAFER barriers, head restraints and safer racecars. But someday, if NASCAR continues down this path, that won’t be enough. Everyone walked away from this one with minor bumps and bruises…will we be so lucky next time?
Don’t misunderstand — NASCAR has come a long, long way in driver safety and they continue to work to make racing even safer. But the bottom line is that NASCAR has got to take a long, hard look at restrictor-plate racing and what it has become recently, since they killed off the tandem drafting.
We’ve all heard the slightly stale line of “but what can be done?” There’s a solution, all right, but some people don’t want to hear it. Many of the drivers denounced the racing Sunday and what plate racing has become. And they’re right.
When it doesn’t matter what a driver does because he’s more likely to get wrecked during a race than not (or at least get a piece of one), that’s a problem. When you watch the race and realize that next time, they might not all be so lucky, it’s a problem. They all walked away once again, but what about next time or the time after that? How long can the luck hold?
Why… did Brad Keselowski win the race?
For starters, Keselowski survived. One of just five drivers not listed as being involved in an incident, he used a strong car to stay in front of any brewing trouble. He was also in the lead on the final restart, something that would have spelled doom a few years ago. But with the current restrictor plate package, the leader is generally sitting pretty.
It’s too hard for one line to get enough of a run to run up next to the leader, which makes it too easy for the leader to block and ease on home. Keselowski had a good car, but probably not the dominant one the statistics will hint at. He was in the right place at the right time and avoided trouble all day, and that’s the winning recipe in the current era of plate racing.
How… did the little guys do?
The three best:
Clint Bowyer; HScott Motorsports: Bowyer has been in need of a few strong finishes to boost his and the team’s morale, and his top 10 runs at Bristol and Talladega have to feel good for an organization that has struggled mightily this year. While putting Bowyer in the seat brought a year of sponsorship, it’s not paying off the way the team hoped. They aren’t getting support from Stewart-Haas Racing, so it makes little sense that the team dropped Justin Allgaier instead of Michael Annett for Bowyer. Yes, Annett brought sponsorship, but he hasn’t brought results.
Ryan Blaney; Wood Brothers Racing: This team put forth another strong effort on Sunday, making it through with minor damage to finish with a top 10 after running mid-pack all day. Blaney is doing a credible job of staying in the Rookie of the Year hunt with Chase Elliott, who’s running Hendrick Motorsports equipment. It may have been more about survival than strength this week, but the team had the finish to show for their day, so they’ll take it and run.
Landon Cassill; Front Row Motorsports: Cassill was involved to some degree in three separate incidents Sunday, including a melee coming to the checkers, but was able to salvage an 11th-place finish from the wreckage. Cassill is an outstanding plate racer, who never seems to be able to put luck and a strong car together at the right time. He came close this weekend.
All the rest:
|15||Clint Bowyer||HScott Motorsports||AccuDoc Solutions Chevy||34th||7th
Strong all day; got into the back of McDowell to trigger late crash
|21||Ryan Blaney||Wood Brothers Racing||Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford||19th||9th
Minor damage in late crashes, solid run
|38||Landon Cassill||Front Row Motorsports||FR8 Auctions Ford||32nd||11th
Penalty on first stop for over the wall too soon; got lap back late; minor damage in late crash; great save after late contact with Truex; collected in last lap crash
|55||Michael Waltrip||Premium Motorsports||Peak / BlueDEF Toyota||33rd||12th
Got turned onto the apron y Truex; had it saved but tried to get back into traffic in the pack and collected two more cars; avoided late crash
|47||AJ Allmendinger||JTG Daugherty Racing||Kroger / Hungry Jack / Crisco Chevy||28th||14th
Collected in crash with 28 to go; crashed again coming to checkers, according to team, he was shaken but OK
|35||David Gilliland||Front Row Motorsports||Shaw’s Southern Belle Seafood Ford||39th||17th
Involved in lap 96 crash but was able to continue; also got minor damage in late crash; top 20 clean finish
|98||Cole Whitt||Premium Motorsports||RticCoolers.com Toyota||36th||18th
Wrecked coming to checkers; tuned Harvick to cause crash; after a DNQ at Richmond
|32||Bobby Labonte||GO FAS Racing||Rimrock / Devlin Ford||26th||19th
Collected in crash with 28 to go; wrecked coming to checkers; best finish since Daytona 500 in 2014
|95||Michael McDowell||Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing||Thrivent Financial Ford||31st||21st
Good plate racer and ran inside top 10 late; strong run but suffered damage in late crash; got pushed into Danica Patrick late
|7||Regan Smith||Tommy Baldwin Racing||Golden Corral Chevy||25th||32nd
Avoided trouble all day until Kurt Busch triggered a 21-car crash with 28 to go, suffered terminal damage
|13||Casey Mears||Germain Racing||GEICO Chevy||20th||33rd
Reported vibration and loss of power lap 6 after a “pop”-high-frequency vibration continued; had a top-10 car despite issue; got turned by Waltrip as Waltrip tried to get off the apron; team fixed the car and Mears was able to gain a few spots afterward. The team needs a few good runs.
|23||David Ragan||BK Racing||Schluter Systems Toyota||40th||34th
Engine failure ended day with 36 to go; otherwise avoided incidents
|83||Matt DiBenedetto||BK Racing||Dustless Blasting Toyota||35th||36th
Was collected when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. spun early-was able to get back out multiple laps down; engine failure ended his day as well as teammate Ragan’s
|34||Chris Buescher||Front Row Motorsports||Love’s Travel Stops / CSX Ford||27th||37th
Collected in lap 96 crash and flipped several times but was unhurt-said hit was the first time he’s turned over in a stock car and it was “miserable” as he suffered his second nasty crash in restrictor plate races this year.
|46||Michael Annett||HScott Motorsports||Pilot Flying J Chevy||38th||38th
Penalty on first pit stop for removing equipment; took a hard hit on lap 96 caution but was OK
|30||Josh Wise||The Motorsports Group||Chevy||DNQ||—||—||42nd
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.