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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Scary wrecks and four-wide racing … yep, we’re at Talladega

There are two events in Saturday’s Nationwide race that will be remembered for a long time. … and they represent the two things you will always see when NASCAR heads to Talladega.

The first was the scariest wreck I’ve seen all year, when Matt Kenseth was bumped by teammate David Ragan and ended up on a wild ride that involved several flips, a fire and a long slide on the hood of his car down the track. Luckily, he ended up on the wheels and was able to climb out of the car.

Waiting for that wreck to end, and seeing the fear in his wife’s eyes as the camera caught her racing to see if he was OK, was a stark reminder of how dangerous restrictor plate racing can be. This track and Daytona have produced some of the most spectacular wrecks in NASCAR history. And while it almost always turns out that the drive is safe in these wild wrecks, they are a reminder that it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to find a way to get these cars a little less bunched up. With all the great mechanics in NASCAR, there has to be a better way to control the speeds than restrictor plates.

But then, there’s the other side of the coin, the side that explains why NASCAR doesn’t really want to find another way to slow them down -- The racing is really exciting for fans.

If anyone watching the last few laps of Saturday’s race wasn’t on their feet screaming at the TV, they’ll never be excited by a race. In a matter of 15 seconds, all of the following things happened:
-- 3rd place Tony Raines got into Brad Keselowski, and they both bobbled
-- 4th place David Ragan, taking advantage, jumped to the outside and moved to 2nd.
-- With the finish line approaching, Ragan bumped leader Ryan Newman slightly, slowing Newman enough that Ragan was able to inch out the victory

It’s thrilling, yet dangerous, which is the strange dichotomy of plate racing. Take Dale Earnhardt Sr. for example. His life was lost in a restrictor plate race (in a crash much less spectacular than Kenseth‘s, by the way). Yet his final career victory came at Talladega, and provided us with the amazing image of Sr. chopping through traffic and making up about 20 positions in less than four laps to win race No. 76. He hated plate racing, but he loved winning plate races and was the best at it.

Often, the cruel twist of plate racing is that it’s a recipe for unfairness. Take Saturday’s race, for example.
Joey Logano ran into and wrecked Michael Waltrip, then he went on to finish third in the race. Ragan was the one who sent Kenseth on that scary ride, and he ends the day with his first career Nationwide victory.

But that’s how it goes at Talladega, and probably will for a long time to come. Fans watching the race have a dilemma as a result … do you cheer on the crazy four-wide action, knowing it could result in a wreck like Kenseth had.

In the end, we have no choice. The drivers choose to strap in, knowing the possible consequences. And they put on such a great show at Talladega and Daytona that’s it’s hard not to enjoy it, despite the dangers that lurk at these tracks.

Brian Keselowski locked in at Richmond
Rochester Hills native Brian Keselowski is once again locked into the top 30 in Nationwide owner points, after a great 14th-place run at Talladega. The restrictor plate tracks always offer a wonderful opportunity for the smaller teams to compete with the big boys, and Brian has capitalized. Now he can concentrate on race setup for Richmond, knowing he won’t have to make the race on time.

Michael Waltrip fights back
After being called out once again by Clint Bowyer for a wreck (even though it was Logano‘s fault, not Michael‘s), Mr. Waltrip decided he had heard enough. In the first interview with Michael I can recall where he’s somewhat angry, he indicated he’s ready to talk back if Bowyer wants to keep taking shots at him (we all remember the classic “Michael Waltrip is the worst driver in NASCAR, period.” from last year).
Though I agree with Bowyer that it’s time Michael hung up his helmet, I’m glad Michael is finally standing up for himself, especially since every time Bowyer critizes him the wreck isn’t his fault.

I did chuckle, though, when Michael used the word “butt” twice in his coments when you know he wanted to say something a little less rated-PG. When I’m as mad as he clearly was, I certainly can’t hold my tongue like that.

Congrats to Montoya
In spite of all the turmoil at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing this year, Juan Pablo Montoya has emerged as a bright spot. By taking the pole at Talladega Saturday, he added another achievement to his long resume, and took another step toward proving he’s more than just the Formula 1 guy who can win on ovals. Unfortunately for Montoya, pole at Dega means nothing and he might not even lead a lap.
Still, it’s nice to see him running well. He’s obviously got talent, and it’s finally starting to look like that will translate to NASCAR.


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