Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 182 Laps of Tranquility, 14 Laps of Demolition at Talladega … Again

What happened?

After two late crashes forced double overtime in Sunday’s (April 23) race at Talladega Superspeedway, Ryan Blaney led the field to the green with two laps to go while everyone was running on fumes.

Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain had to pit for fuel before the final restart, while Ty Gibbs and Aric Almirola both ran dry on the penultimate lap while running in the top five.

With cars running out of gas left and right, the still-running cars had to scramble their way through the twists and turns of Talladega before roaring across the trioval to take the white flag.

Blaney had lost momentum after Gibbs ran out on the restart and that allowed Bubba Wallace and Kyle Busch to enter the foray out front. Wallace took the white flag as the leader, but a hard-charging Blaney was soon on his back bumper heading into turn 1.

Wallace tried to block the No. 12 heading into the turn to preserve his spot as the leader, but a bump by Blaney ultimately sent Wallace down the racetrack and spinning in front of the pack in a crash that took out at least 10 cars.

Busch had cleared Wallace and Blaney before the contact, and he had just enough gas remaining to take the yellow and checkered flags for his 62nd career NASCAR Cup Series win, his second of the 2023 season and his first at Talladega since 2008.

See also
Kyle Busch Wins After 2 Talladega Overtimes

But what really happened?

The 2023 GEICO 500 was the latest chapter in a story that has been seen far too often at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega in recent years: a clean, well-raced 95% followed by a destructive demolition derby in the final five.

Side-by-side racing and a textbook pass by Almirola to win stage two over Chase Elliott were the biggest highlights of the first 130 laps, and not a single car was out of the race until a lap 142 crash put Zane Smith and Austin Dillon behind the wall.

Twenty-one of the 38 drivers in the field took a turn out in front of the pack and with the laps winding down, it was Blaney who found himself out front. The laps continued to count down, and with five laps to go, the race looked to be a matter of whether someone would be able to run the No. 12 car down and cruise on by.

And then, to the surprise of absolutely no one, the finish became a game of restarts.

A bad bump by Corey LaJoie turned Joey Logano in front of the field with five to go, setting up the first overtime attempt.

Noah Gragson restarted on the outside of Blaney, but Gragson was quickly moved up high by Chastain and Kyle Larson heading into turn 1. Gragson tried to block, spinning off Chastain’s nose and into a head-on impact with the wall.

Larson then spun in front of the field and had a horrific T-bone collision with an oncoming Ryan Preece. The hit was fortunately on the passenger’s side and all three drivers were able to walk away.

The ensuing caution saw numerous drivers run out of gas and Busch then made all the right moves in the final two laps to emerge victorious at Talladega for the first time in 15 years.

Who stood out?

With a 55-race winless streak on his shoulders, Blaney looked like a man on a mission in the final 30 laps. He took control of the dominant inside line and was able to successfully fend off all challenges from Gibbs and the Toyotas lined up on the outside. And with as good of a car he had, Blaney was able to lead the pack while lifting off the throttle to save fuel.

Losing help on the inside line of the final restart proved to be a critical moment of the last two laps, as Blaney found himself out of the lead and playing catchup. He had made his way back up to the top three before the contact with Wallace on the final lap ended the race under caution. Despite an impressive day, Blaney had to settle for a second after leading a race-high 47 laps.

Until the final-lap crash, Wallace was also having a great day of his own. He led 35 laps, second-most of the race. It was also the second-most laps in a race that Wallace had led in his Cup career, only behind the 58 laps he led in his win at Kansas Speedway last season.

The former Talladega winner had a rocketship from the second the green flag dropped, but a win or top-five finish was not in the cards after the last-lap crash relegated him to 28th.

Elliott led 18 laps on the day and was just a fender away from becoming the first Cup driver to sweep the first two stages at Talladega. The No. 9 car was shuffled back late in the race, but Elliott survived the calamity to record a 12th-place finish in his second race back.

And while both their days started off with disastrous spins onto pit road during the first round of green-flag pit stops, Chase Briscoe and Tyler Reddick were able to overcome damage and lost laps to end the race in fourth and 13th, respectively.

See also
Going For Win, Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney Come Up Empty

Who fell flat?

With 21 different leaders and a near-even mix of drivers out front, it’s difficult to say who fell flat; just about every driver either took a turn out front or ran high in the running order at some point.

Ford didn’t fall flat in its performance per se. It had to have been frustrating to see its cars finish second, third, fourth and fifth.

Ford now has just one win in the first 10 races to open the season, and this weekend saw another race go to the Bowties, who have had an absolute monopoly at the front of the Cup field this season. And with Blaney leading the most laps of any driver, this race was a missed opportunity for the Blue Ovals.

As for Michael McDowell, if he had a car that was capable of contending, he certainly wasn’t able to show it after a crash on the first lap.

McDowell was able to continue after the damage, but his car was crippled and running more than two seconds slower than the leaders for the entire race. He ultimately ended the day in 35th, seven laps down.

Better than last time?

Superspeedway racing with the Next Gen car has drawn a fair share of criticism, particularly with car’s difficulty to run three abreast. Thus, most races are often a matter of pushing the inside or outside lane in order to move further out front.

Instead, this race was a nice reprieve from the past frustrations. Three-wide racing was first seen in the second stage, and the field was able to run three-wide on two separate occasions in the final stage. The third line even got enough momentum to where Preece was able to take a brief turn with the leaders before dropping back.

The race saw 57 lead changes, which tied the total that Talladega had in October. The only Talladega race with more lead changes since the tandem-drafting era ended in 2012 was the Oct. 2020 Talladega race, which had 58.

But even with three-wide racing, 57 lead changes and 21 leaders, the race ended on a sour note, as yet another superspeedway race was decided by attrition, survival and being out front when the caution ended the race.

Paint scheme of the race

Between his win at Talladega last April and his immortalized wall ride at Martinsville Speedway in October, Chastain’s 2022 Moose Fraternity paint scheme quickly became one of his recognizable colors.

Moose returned to sponsor Chastain and the No. 1 car in select races for 2023 with a new look. And while it’s a tall order to replace a paint scheme that developed significant notoriety, the designers for Trackhouse Racing Team hit a home run.

The car features a sleek mix of red and black, while last year’s design was primarily red. In addition, the moose logo also has a more prominent display in comparison to last year. Trackhouse consistently produces some of the best-looking cars on the grid, and this design was no exception.

What’s next?

The Cup Series returns for its annual trip to the Monster Mile, better known as Dover Motor Speedway.

NASCAR has unveiled a new aerodynamic package for ovals a mile or shorter in the 2023 season. But due to the track’s high banking, Dover, despite being a mile in length, will use the same aero package that it had for 2022.

Hendrick Motorsports has dominated to the tune of four wins in the first 10 races of 2023 and has also been the team to beat ever since Dover went down to one race two years ago. Elliott scored his second win at Dover for the team in 2022, while Alex Bowman led the first ever 1-2-3-4 finish in team history for Hendrick at Dover in 2021.

With Dover being race No. 11 on the 2023 calendar and the final race in April, the Cup Series is just a few weeks away from the halfway point of the regular season.

The Wurth 400 will take place on Sunday, April 30 at 2:00 p.m. ET on FS1.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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janice

same old dega. they’re lucky no one (larson) got seriously hurt. but i guess we had enough of the hi-flying cards in the xfinity race.

as the 8 proved, it only counts when you lead that last lap.

late race cautions only breed more cautions. it’s like the switch goes off in the driver’s heads that it’s almost over, no more play nice.

Dawg

This race ran true to form, a couple of hours of boredom, & blocking. Followed by a couple of big wrecks, thankfully no one was injured.

Then an undeserving winner.

I’m trying to recall Busch’s profanity laced screed about Alex Bowman backing into wins, but the details, have escaped me. Anyway, the guy that’s backed into 2 of his latest 3 wins seems to have gotten over his outrage about it.

Kurt Smith

I love Kyle Busch, but you’re not wrong about that.

But NASCAR has a an undeserving winner just about every week these days. Just survive the six or seven restarts at the end and you’ve got a shot at the title.

Thunder

I don’t know why I watch this crap honestly.

Kurt Smith

I’m not bothering with pack races anymore. It isn’t worth the heartburn. I think that about NASCAR in general these days but especially pack races.

wildcats2016

I didn’t bother to watch on Sunday. It was a nice day and friends suggested going out to dinner so I did that instead. Saves me the aggravation of watching the carnage at the end of every plate race.

Shayne

No need to mention the car manufacturers. The only Chevys, Fords, and Toyotas you will see are in the parking lots.

What’s out on the track is the France-Kennedy DLX Daytona Special. It slices, it dices, and farts fairy dust. Don’t worry about all the bent and broken pieces after a minor spin. KaBam !!! Just bolt on some more of our low quality spare parts. POW !!! Problem solved. Don’t worry, they’ll be just as crappy as our original unreliable parts and pieces. We guarantee it. We love making money, so you know quality will never enter into the equation. Feeling lucky? Reach into our goody bag and see if your weekly allotment of parts and pieces will fail right out of the box.

Kurt Smith

After only two concussions and several car fires, how could you think that NASCAR is sourcing their parts from anyone but the best?

DoninAjax

I don’t think they are using Ed Howe parts but if they are they are NA%CAR approved. Like all the parts, including louvers.

janice

i love this….i needed a laugh in this stress filled monday morning. thank you shayne!

Carl D.

Nice recap, Stephen.

Bill B

Another crapshoot ending, another random winner that wasn’t really in the mix until the wreckfest at the end. These pack races are becoming so predictable that they really aren’t worth watching. Unless you just want to see wrecks, in which case just watch the last half-hour and you will get your fill.

DoninAjax

One hour and thirty minutes to run the last 34 laps.

Bobby, Donnie and Red were honorary starters and the only highlights shown were of wrecks. I’m surprised they didn’t show Bobby’s wreck that caused the restrictor plates.

The fans got a chance to see a real race car when the 27 from 1969 went on the track. As a side note, Dodge debuted the Dodge Daytona at Talladega and Ford debuted the Ford Talladega at Daytona. It actually had a Ford body on it.

Why don’t drivers pull the Aric move at the end of the second segment during the event. It can be done but no one wants to until the end and then chaos. Two cars, usually teammates, get to the front of two lines and hold up the train and swap the lead every couple of laps by a coat of paint. Two Mr. H cars and two Reverend Joe cars did it.

Anyone who expected NA$CAR’s new version of the CoT would be a success hasn’t been paying attention for the last 15 years.

Kurt Smith

I remember when the CoT debuted in 2007 and how it was supposed to create parity and be safer. Whenever a driver walked away from a wreck the announcers would gush about the safety features of the new car. Never mind that the old car wouldn’t have wrecked in the first place because it wasn’t as boxy or top heavy and didn’t have a splitter cutting other cars’ tires. Parity? I think Hendrick won half the races that season.

I remember thinking back then that they should have tried running it in the Busch series first and then ironed out the problems with it. I’m thinking the same thing today, and this year the minor league series has once again been producing better racing on every level.

Last edited 5 months ago by Kurt Smith
wildcats2016

I remember that debut too. It was a total fail but NASCAR fined anyone who said anything negative about the CoT. Plus we had the nonsense about going to larger markets – like California. How’d that REALLY work? Not well as I recall. I’d say that’s about the same time that the “old” fanbase started leaving the sport.

I had a Sirius radio rig that I used to listen to qualifying and the various NASCAR shows. The guys used to squelch any fan who called in and said anything negative about NASCAR too. I realize that they were paid by NASCAR but that nonsense of not listening to all opinions got very old, very quickly. I stopped listening to those shows since having my blood pressure raised for no good reason wasn’t the way I wanted to start or end my day. I kept the Sirius subscription until they stopped broadcasting qualifying live as the only reason I subscribed was to listen to the NASCAR broadcasts when we were traveling.

Kurt Smith

NASCAR has always squelched dissent from the press. Matt McLaughlin was one of the best writers to ever cover the sport because he told it like it was and called NASCAR out. I loved his articles because he was really funny too. They bought out the website he worked for just to fire him.

It’s a shame because if they listened to people who had been sounding the alarm they’d be in a whole lot better shape today.

Last edited 5 months ago by Kurt Smith
wildcats2016

Yes I agree with you, Kurt. Matt McLaughlin was a really good writer and like you I enjoyed his articles. Sad that NASCAR and others rolled over like that.

Totally correct that if they had listened, things would be better now. But no one would tell Brian France that the emperor had no clothes and now NASCAR has a lot less fans.

Bill B

What I miss most about Matt’s articles are the classic rock references.
Oh, and all his insights into the sport, of course.

Kurt Smith

He had a great knowledge of the sport’s history and he was adamant that NASCAR shouldn’t screw with traditions. He was spot on right about that too, even more than I believed was possible. The NASCAR fan base is FAR more resistant to change than any other sport’s fans, even baseball and that’s saying something. And the sport’s leadership continues to fail to understand that.

janice

Matt used to write here but he hasn’t been around for a year it so. Matt got blackballed by nascar and they wouldn’t let him in the tracks. His piece when Sr was killed was an excellent piece
”blood on their hands”.

WJW Motorsports

Just shut Xfinity down for the year, take all their car inventory, put Cup stickers on them – and race on.

Bill H

I attended one race at Talladega which went 188 laps without a single caution. A full 188 laps entirely at full speed. Best race I ever watched. How did that happen, you ask? Simple. Nobody ever got stupid and decided to block. Racing consisted of driving fast. Not wrecking the other guy or preventing the other guy from passing you, but driving faster than the other guy. All this blather about “managing the lanes” (blocking) is just stupidity, in an effort to disguise the inability to build real race cars.

Bill B

Not sure that FS will appreciate this, but I think most of the regular readers will really appreciate reading this article regarding NASCAR’s much flawed method for quantifying how great races are by their numbers….

https://www.purethunderracing.com/2023/04/martinsville-racing-stats-dont-you-just-alive-it.html#comment-15297

Kurt Smith

Who you gonna believe, Bill? NASCAR or your lyin’ eyes?!?

Kurt Smith

BTW great read, thanks for sharing that. I’ve never bought into the whole “there were so many passes!” BS that NASCAR trots out, but this piece actually quantifies why it’s always been BS.

The amazing thing is they’re trying to sell this stuff and basically tell fans that they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Their arrogance has been so costly to them and yet it continues.

Bill B

I wonder if the TV networks buy into this crap when the contracts are negotiated next year.
I’d bet the only stat they care about is ratings and specifically, ratings for 18 to 37 year olds (or whatever the coveted demographic is).

Kurt Smith

That’s the demographic that gets into the sport because of their fathers, a good reason not to p*** the Dads off.

wildcats2016

Good article Bill B! thanks for posting it.

Mack

Thanks for sharing Bill B. Very interesting.

kb

Crappy race! A truly undeserving winner, acting as if he was a deserving winner. Lucky win. Plate racing sucks. Oh well, that’s the name of the game today.

Carl A

In the undeserved category even Bubba won.