Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Mark Martin on the Talladega 500 pole for Round Six of the NASCAR playoffs...and Ford teams are barred from working with rivals?

 General Jack Roush readies his Ford troops for championship battle Round Six, at Talladega. And they'd better not be caught helping any Chevy, Dodge or Toyota drivers in these two-man superdrafts....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   The nearby towns of Anniston and others may seem a bit like ghost towns these days, given the dismal state of the economy. But out here on the road between Atlanta and Birmingham, Talladega Superspeedway this weekend is a thriving metropolis of campers awaiting Sunday's Talladega 500…typically one of the wildest races of the NASCAR season.

   These drivers have all pretty much come to terms with the dangers of close-quarters racing at 200 mph at stock car racing fastest, biggest oval. They might not like it, but they've learned how to deal with it….well, usually.
   Still, it doesn't take much of a mistake to create a sea of carnage.
   And with these two-car drafts, where the pushee can't see a darned thing….that means half the field is simply driving blind.
   Wow! Think of that for a moment.
   Driving blind. Literally.
   It's been like that this season at both Daytona and Talladega, and men here have been practicing various two-car techniques – like the inevitable 'swap,' from pusher to pushee.
   One issue is that when a two-car pack is making the swap, it slows down nearly 10 mph to the rest of the field. And that closing rate means the guys coming up from behind have to make some quick decisions – high, or low. And the pusher has to blindly follow the pushee and hope he makes the right call.
   Throw in Dan Wheldon's death at Las Vegas just a week ago, and those horrific images, and the constant threat at this track of 'the big one,' and these NASCAR guys are right to be a little nervous about things.


   Mark Martin has never been much of a fan of restrictor plate racing, but he's on the pole for Sunday's Talladega 500. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   This is Round six of the 10-race NASCAR playoffs, and Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth have a leg up on the rest of the title contenders. How those three fare Sunday could play a significant role in who goes on to win the Sprint Cup championship at Homestead next month.
   And Ford drivers have been told not to help Detroit rivals. That means this 500 is Ford versus everyone else. How that plays out…..
    NASCAR officials have had no direct response to that yet.
    Ford's David Gilliland, who has worked with Chevy's Tony Stewart at Daytona and Talladega earlier this year, confirmed the team orders and says he won't be working any two-car drafts with Stewart.
    "Yeah, we aren't," Gilliland says. "It is such a tight points battle right now, and we are going to try to help the Ford guys out all we can.
    "We are 'One Ford.' That is the goal this weekend.
     "Tony was great to work with those last couple of races, and you never know what will happen -- If you get down to the end, and he is out of a partner, and something happens to Travis (Kvapil, his own 'designated' teammate), we are 100-percent comfortable working together.
    "You never know what can happen on into the race.
    "(But) as far as our initial plan, it is to work with Ford.
    "No, we aren't banned (from working with drivers running other brands). (But) when you lay out your initial plans, you have to think of the big picture. And Ford does a lot for us, and we would really like to see a Ford win this championship.
    "We are here to help them, just like they help us, if we can."
   While that may be logical, and just business as usual, the ethics of such a call from Detroit might well be questioned by some fans.


Carl Edwards: Atop the Sprint Cup standings heading into Round 6 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Edwards and some drivers here are reluctant to get into the Wheldon deal: "My only comment about what happened in the race at Las Vegas is that my thoughts and prayers and my family's thoughts and prayers are with Dan's family. That is my only comment I would like to say about that."
   Jeff Gordon, himself out of title contention, knew Wheldon well and says "losing Dan was something I still am pretty shocked about.
    "….the wreck itself -- I just watch it and can't believe what I'm seeing.
     "I know that what we do here, especially at Talladega, is dangerous, and we're taking risks. But I still feel we have a tremendously safe race car in our series.
    "I'm not saying we don't have the potential of injuries, but it's comparing apples to oranges. Yes, it's racing, but it's totally a different type of racing.
    "To me it's business as usual -- go out and see what we've got for the race.
    "You can't sit there and think and worry. You really just focus on doing your job…and hopefully keeping the car going straight will help you do that."


Jeff Gordon: Wheldon's death a shocker (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    Safety has been almost a mantra in NASCAR since the death of Dale Earnhardt 10 years ago.
    But lately these stock car guys have been racing almost like they feel bulletproof.
    Gordon: "Sometimes you don't realize how unsafe it is until you see how safe it can be.
     "I look back on the HANS device -- I remember when the HANS device was first created and I saw somebody wearing it…and I was thinking 'That thing is stupid, and it's uncomfortable, and that will never work.'
    "Now I can't imagine getting into a car without it.
     "The same way with the Safer barriers (soft walls). After you hit a wall with the Safer barrier and then hit one without it (like Gordon himself did at Las Vegas), it's a big difference.
    "I look back to maybe '99 when I hit the wall at Texas, after I blew a right-front tire -- and I think I'm somewhat lucky. That was a time when we were right on the edge with tire failures, we had no Safer barriers, no HANS devices, no carbon-fiber seats, we had flimsy aluminum head supports…and I hit that wall really, really hard. I feel like I'm very lucky.
    "Right now we're at a great place (in NASCAR in terms of safety), and until we find the (next) weak link, I feel very fortunate to be in these race cars in this series."
    And will Wheldon's death affect how drivers approach this 500?
   They of course say no.
   "It's a separate incident, separate series, different race cars, different race track," Gordon says. "I don't think that makes us race any more cautiously, or do anything different than we normally do.
    "We're not out here trying to wreck.
    "We're not out here trying to send cars into the fence.
    "We're just racing, and accidents and mistakes are going to be made. There will be consequences, but it doesn't change anything we're going to do."
    Harvick summed it up this way: "I feel good about where our sport is, and the safety procedures and precautions and everything that NASCAR has continuously developed through the years.
    "When you look at Indy-car racing, and you look at the style of cars they race -- and don't get me wrong when I say this, because Indy-car has been responsible for a big part of the Safer barriers, and they have a constant effort to be a part of the safety precautions and safety measures that are continuously getting better year after year  -- but the bottom line is those cars are running really fast and your head is hanging out of the cockpit, and some things are going to happen.
     "It is part of our business."

 Chevy rival Rick Hendrick's men are a blur as they play with a four-man draft: Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com