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Talladega: "Insanity on four wheels"


Uh, it's the same ol' tune....are you sure Hank done it this way? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Perhaps Marcos Ambrose explained it best, after surviving a brutal Talladega Sunday, slipping past Carl Edwards' flipping car in the final yards of the Aaron's 499 to finish fourth:
   "It was the most spectacular thing I've ever seen in my life, coming across the finish line looking at a car upside down like that. 
   "This is crazy racing, it really is. 
   "We can try and legitimize it as much as we'd like, but it's insanity on four wheels."

   Fox' sports boss David Hill is reported to be upset with the on-track product that NASCAR has given his TV network this season, and he has made that point with racing executives. What effect that might have on the car-of-tomorrow is unclear; NASCAR hasn't touched that page of the rulebook, despite obvious engineering deficiencies.
   However Hill and NASCAR certainly can't be upset with the action drivers provided here Saturday and Sunday.
   Yes, the drivers and crews may well be upset with some of the racing rules they are boxed in with at restrictor-plate tracks Talladega and Daytona, after all the crashes.
   But if Sunday's Talladega 500 doesn't pull in some hot ratings…..
   There was more action in this three-hour event than in all the other tour races this season. The estimated 142,000 fans at Talladega Speedway certainly got their money's worth and more. And those 30,000 or so empty seats will almost certainly be filled for the October race here – when the chase is on the line.

Ryan Newman -- says NASCAR clearly has a problem with flying race cars (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
This 500 was only minutes old when the slugfest began – first taking out tour leader Jeff Gordon, in a four-wide melee among over-exuberant drivers.
    And the crashing and banging continued all day, right till the climactic moment when Carl Edwards' block low on a passing bid by rookie Brad Keselowski went awry – when Keselowski stood his ground and didn't go below the out-of-bounds line.
   To put it plain and simple, if Edwards' car had gone in the grandstands, that would likely have been the end of NASCAR racing, at least at Talladega.
    And why the catch-fencing wasn't sturdy enough to hold Edwards' car any better is at the moment a major mystery.
   NASCAR track officials have spent a lot of time and effort over the years beefing up the catch-fencing at every track on the stock car tour.
    NASCAR executives say they will examine the crash and see what might be done better.
    The big plus in all this – that Ryan Newman's car and Edwards' car both held up remarkably well.
   Well enough to keep them alive.
   Well shaken, certainly, but alive and walking.

Jimmie Johnson: Drivers lost their heads in Sunday's 500 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Just a few minutes earlier Jimmie Johnson, the tour's three-time champ, had gotten caught up in a big wreck. Johnson had been running fourth and was poised to make a bid for the win…but the crash left him 30th, and very angry:
    "It's tough to race here. It's just disappointing -- how many hours go into these cars, and then we come out here and tear them up like we do.
    "We were smart all day long, and I think the field in general did a pretty good job of using their heads…and then at the end some guys were beat and were trying to cram their way back in the line and not lose the draft. It just caused a wreck."
     Johnson said the unusual shape of the race --- with no really clear dominant car – was something unexpected: "It was really a matter of the momentum -- there were probably 30 cars that could have won that race, and it's just the surge of when it's your turn to be up front.
   "So there was a lot of moving around, to try to protect what you have, and block other cars and the runs that they may have.
    "You can't do anything on your own; it really takes somebody behind you.
    "So the entire race you're looking in the mirror trying to block any run or any momentum from any lane. That's why the cars are moving so much."


Kurt Busch's Blue Deuce: atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    The Busch brothers, Kyle and Kurt, had a mixed Sunday afternoon here – Kyle was well on his way to winning the Aaron's 499 until getting a bump from Jeff Burton with just 17 laps to go. But at least Kurt, surviving a numbing day of numerous crashes and fender-bangers, wound up leaving Alabama with the NASCAR points lead.
   Kurt's sixth-place finish was about as good as it got on a day like this, where leaders crashed and flew and burned.
   Kyle's bid for the win ended when a hard bump-draft by Burton sent him crashing. He led more laps (43) than anyone else in the 188-lapper, but wound up 25th…and left the track without comment.
   Steve Addington, Kyle Busch's crew chief, said "It's just a product of this racing with this car here.
   "Burton came by and said he was sorry. He said he was trying to help him, and he just spun him out…that it was totally his fault, and he didn’t mean to, and that he was trying to help.
    "So what are you going to do?
    "It's what they want. It was like this before, and it's going to always be like this when we come to these places.
    "You just hang on and hope you're in the right line and that the spotter and driver pick the right line at the end of the race."

Kyle Busch (L) and crew chief Steve Addington (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



So Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR champion is finally back atop the standings? Wow, that's a big turnaround for Busch, car owner Roger Penske and crew chief Pat Tryson.
   "That's great, but we're smart enough to not put that much into it," Kurt Busch said of the points lead nine races into the season. Still, it's the first time since March 2005 that he's been atop the standings.
    Kurt Busch made one of the day's great saves when he got out of shape on the trioval and spun wildly but hung on and recovered. He even wound up in the lead with 130 miles to go, with a gas-only pit stop call by Tryson.
   "Like they say: the best defense is a good offense," Kurt Busch said.

Kurt Busch: bucking for a second NASCAR championship? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

On the final restart, with four laps to go, Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were a tight one-two and trying to work a breakaway. And they did, for a few moments.
   Then with two laps to go Edwards and Keselowski – certainly an odd couple at this point of the race – hooked up and charged up on the outside, making the most of the unusual case that a two-car draft this day was much faster than the bigger drafts.
    Edwards and Keselowski blew past Newman and Earnhardt, and on the frontstretch of the last lap Keselowski faked high then dove low, and Edwards was just the blink of an eye too late in blocking low.
    Edwards wound up flying through the air upside down, ripping into the catch-fence, scattering parts at 190 mph into the crowd, then bouncing off the roof of Newman's car before coming to rest in a ball of flame.

    So Kurt Busch, like most fellow drivers, is happy just to get out of Talladega unscathed.    
   "We put ourselves in position to win on the last restart, being third," Busch said. "That's almost one of the best spots to be in for a restart. 
    "We just didn't get a push from behind. 
    "Everyone was fanning out trying to get to a top-five. 
    "But we were definitely more competitive than we were at Daytona. 
     "And it's Talladega…I circled this one on the calendar -- to just try and survive."

Then....and then....(Photos: Getty Images for NASCAR)


"To put it plain and simple,

"To put it plain and simple, if Edwards' car had gone in the grandstands, that would likely have been the end of NASCAR racing, at least at Talladega."

Comment on that quote some more, Mike. Was that the murmur after the race in the garage? The deaths and serious injuries to several fans at Charlotte ended the IRL races there after some serious wrecks, so I was just wondering if you heard something at the track or if you were inferring the same result had there been fatalities yesterday to any of the fans.


IRL was dropped from Charlotte because of overreaction by Humpy and company; the series kept going at Texas, Atlanta, etc. in 1999 - Atlanta in 2001 saw a huge crash where a wheel assembly flew 30 rows into what were unoccupied grandstands.

I don't think it was

I don't think it was overreaction. The IRL had a bunch of "not-ready" and inexperienced drivers running the series at that time. CART still had most all of the good drivers, and it was evident at that Charlotte race that the IRL at that time did not need to run there. I believe the IRL mandated wheel tethers after this tragedy to better keep the tires attached to the body after an impact. As for Humpy, he wanted no part of any additional lawsuits that might come if the series returned to Charlotte.


If a car gets into the stands, I don't believe that Congress would have the courage to shut down the track, but the courts in effect will. The awards from law suits will reach the point where it won't pay to race there and that will end it.

What if a second car hit the same spot as Karl hit in the fence? What if his car spewed hot oil, water, or even gasoline into the stands through the fence? Ten to twenty cars playing pinball twice a year will produce some unpredictable results eventually.

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