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At Talladega the 'big one' comes early -- and takes out NASCAR tour leader Jeff Gordon


The 'big one' Sunday at Talladega (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon tangled while running side-by-side in the middle of a four-wide pack and triggered a 14-car melee that took out nine drivers just six laps into Sunday's Aarons 499.
    None were injured, but several took very hard hits on the driver's side.
    "Racing way too hard too early," Clint Bowyer, one of the men sidelined, said.
    The men involved: Kenseth, Gordon, Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, Casey Mears, Jamie McMurray, David Gilliland, Kurt Busch, Elliott Sadler, AJ Allmendinger, Brian Vickers and Scott Riggs.
    Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Sadler, Vickers and Mears were able to continue; the rest were not.
    "I was actually working well with Matt getting up through there, and I'm not sure what happened," Gordon said.
   After looking at video, Gordon said it appeared Kenseth had run up on Martin Truex Jr.'s rear and then slid up into Gordon:  "Matt went down with Martin…whoever that was on the inside, and there just wasn't enough room," Gordon said. "He got underneath Matt, Matt came up, and I was already there.
   "I just got squeezed and started a big wreck."
   Aggressive driving? "I didn't see anything out of line," Gordon insisted. "I don't think that wreck was caused by over-aggressive driving.
   "Every race and every wreck I look to see what I could have done different. Looking back on it, I wish I would have just stayed behind Matt. But that is hindsight."
    "I saw Jeff sideways….a lot of smoke…a typical way to finish the month off for us," Harvick said.
   "This track is so smooth, and with so much racing room, you can run three and four wide…and if something goes wrong, a lot of cars can go down," Kahne said.
     Riggs: "I saw Matt pull down (to the inside), and as soon as Matt pulled down, somebody (Truex) got under him, and then I saw Matt try to go back up. And I saw smoke, and then I saw everybody going for their own territory and trying to get away.
   "We were three and four-wide too early, that's for sure. When you're that close together, things like that are going to happen. It's just the nature of the beast here.
   "When I saw guys going three and four-wide this early in the race, I should have just fallen to the back and waited for everybody to get some sense back.
   "Everybody was pretty aggressive that fast, I was sort of surprised…and should have considered that my cue to let them have it."
   Martin, whose car nearly got airborne in the corner, took it all in stride: "I told you I wasn't racing for points. I got a win last weekend. I'm fine. Maybe we'll go do that again at Richmond.
  "There were a lot of cars between me and where that wreck happened. I mean 'how could that not happen?' How could it not happen?
   "It's not that guys are losing control of their cars, it's that there are so many in such a wad that you can't help but move up or down on one another, and it starts a wreck.
    "I'd forgotten how cool racing at Daytona was because handling (at that track) really does separate the cars more than it does here.
    "Here having a great car doesn't do you any good, because you can't separate yourself from the other cars.
    "I was on the bottom, running the bottom groove, and I saw out of the corner of my eye a little bit of smoke and it looked like a car sideways. So I knew that the wreck was happening. My biggest hope was we would pass it before it came down the hill. There certainly wasn't any opportunity to slow down.
   "Then somebody on the outside of me had to come down because they were crowding him down, and it turned me around head-on into the wall."

Juan Pablo Montoya and Greg Biffle lead the field to the start of Sunday's Talladega 500...and seconds later there was a big crash (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)




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