I’m not sure what more can be said after Sunday. But in essence, the best way to put what happened is in the words of ESPN reporter Marty Smith.
“It was AMAZING to watch as a fan — until the wreck.”
Let me put this into perspective. For 188 laps, the only major incident on the track had four cars, and it happened early in the event. After that, things were extremely calm for the most part. Sure, there were slides below the line but they were saves and the drivers returned to the track. There was debris, spins, and even a driver leaving the scene of safety workers, eventually getting parked by NASCAR.
But then, the last lap, two corners from victory, it all went out the window. Tony Stewart had the lead, but with no pushing car behind him, there might as well have been a parachute on the spoiler.
Here comes Michael Waltrip to the low side, Stewart then goes low to catch or block, interpret how you wish depending on the video. Next thing you know, Stewart is sideways, Waltrip is in the wall, Kasey Kahne is looking at the undercarriage of a car, and in the end 20 cars looked like a chainsaw factory had a massive testing session.
This is the exact reason why Talladega scares me the same way the Exorcist scared people when it debuted in theaters. I say so many prayers the day before the race, during the race, and especially during the last few laps that at some points it becomes waiting for the congregation to say “Amen” and hope things go right.
On Twitter, I had a conversation with the host of NASCAR Countdown, Nicole Briscoe (Twitter.com/RB_Mrs), and I told her “I respect Talladega, but I’ll always fear Talladega.” Her response, word for word, was “I’m not sure I respect it tho.”
I think that’s probably true for a lot of drivers, crew members and fans alike. I had to clarify that I respected the style of racing, but absolutely feared the track. Most of you that have read this column know that I went to Talladega in 2010, when the race landed on my birthday. I think at that point I learned to respect racing at Talladega, but the fear I had in me from this track just seemed to remain, even grow stronger with time. I saw the great Dale Earnhardt win his final race by drafting off every car near him in a 3-lap period to go from 18th to first.
At the same time, years earlier I saw him fly into the outside wall, injuring his ribs, and having to start the following week’s race, only to hand over the reins of his famed No. 3 Chevrolet to his Truck Series driver, Mike Skinner.
I’ve seen races go 188 laps, with no cautions, but I’ve seen red flag periods lasting hours on end to clean up enough metal to make a production line of cars. Talladega can be one’s best friend, but is every driver’s worst enemy.
The only thing that can calm nerves is to know that Talladega won’t return to the schedule until next Spring. However, that fear will return along with it.
RESULTS: 1-Kenseth 2-Gordon 3-Kyle Busch 4-Ragan 5-Smith 6-Biffle 7-Keselowski 8-Kvapil 9-Newman 10-Burton
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Harvick 12-Kahne 13-Truex Jr. 14-Hamlin 17-Johnson 20-Earnhardt Jr. 22-Stewart 23-Bowyer
CAUTIONS: 5 for 17 laps. Lap 18-21 (#13, 20, 33, 99 accident-T3), 100-103 (#1, 51 accident-T2), 140-143 (Debris-BS), 184-187 (#1 spin-FS), 189-189 (#88, 29, 11, 47, 32, 48, 5, 43, 36, 78, 55, 13, 2, 15, 34, 27, 9, 56, 38, 18, 22, 31, 16, 93 accident-T4).
LEAD CHANGES: 54 among 18 drivers. Kahne 1-7, Bowyer 8, Kahne 9-10, Bayne 11, Bowyer 12, Earnhardt Jr. 13-14, Kyle Busch 15-17, Harvick 18, Kvapil 19, Kyle Busch 20-22, Kenseth 23-32, Earnhardt Jr. 33-40, Kenseth 41, Earnhardt Jr. 42-49, Mears 50, Burton 51-52, Bayne 53-56, Mears 57-61, Johnson 62-71, Gordon 72-78, McMurray 79-89, Kurt Busch 90-93, Kenseth 94-96, Kurt Busch 97-98, Burton 99, Johnson 100, Ragan 101, Ambrose 102-103, Kenseth 104-108, Harvick 109-116, McMurray 117-118, Kenseth 119-126, Biffle 127, Kenseth 128-131, McMurray 132-139, Kvapil 140-141, Mears 142-143, Biffle 144-145, Harvick 146-147, Biffle 148-151, McMurray 152, Biffle 153-155, McMurray 156-160, Biffle 161, McMurray 162, Biffle 163-167, McMurray 168, Harvick 169, McMurray 170, Kenseth 171, Mears 172-173, McMurray 174-181, Bowyer 182-187, Stewart 188, Kenseth 189.
TIME OF RACE: 2 Hrs, 56 Mins, 12 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 171.194 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: Under Caution
2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup: 1. Keselowski, 2179 points; 2. Johnson, -14; 3. Hamlin, -23; 4. Kahne, -36; 5. Bowyer, -40; 6. Gordon, -42; 7. Stewart, -46; 8. Truex Jr, -48; 9. Biffle, -49; 10. Harvick, -49; 11. Earnhardt Jr, -51; 12. Kenseth, -62.