Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Richard Childress gets a big, big boost at Talladega with Sunday's 1-2-3- finish for Earnhardt-Childress-powered teams

  Juan Pablo Montoya (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)  

   By Mike Mulhern

   Wow! No, not 'Wow!' but 'Whew!'
   Talladega has always been an awesome inspiring track, with the type of racing a 'perfectly engineered 1969-model track' can put on.
   But Sunday, in both the Sprint Cup 500 opener and the 312-mile Nationwide finale to the double-header day, drivers put on the most amazing seven hours of racing all spring.
   They must have all thought they were Superman.
   Juan Pablo Montoya, finishing third, explained it simply: "They said 'Have at it, boys.' And we did."
   But here Sunday drivers were not only remarkably daring and brave but also lucky....well, right up till the end of the Nationwide race, when Dennis Setzer nearly went over the wall, in a fiery crash.
    Fortunately no one was seriously injured.
    There was little single-file racing this time, unlike last fall's race here. Only twice did drivers line up and cool it, and that was late in a green flag run when teams were setting for fuel stops.
    Too much over the top? These guys were three-wide from the start....four-wide even at times....
    "If you don't want to be here, then don't be here.  I think it's cool, and I think the fans love it," Montoya says. 
    "It sucks when you wreck; but the show isn't going to get any better than this.  It's pretty exciting...pretty crazy."
     Montoya, teammate Jamie McMurray and winner Kevin Harvick were among the half-dozen drivers who ran at the rear of the pack until the final 125 miles, to try to avoid any mayhem.
     But for them the last hour of the race was, well, dizzying.
     McMurray would like to see some drivers hooked up to heart-rate monitors for this race.
    "I wear a heart rate monitor, when I work out, and set your heart rate like at 140," McMurray said. "And when we get ready to come to plate races, and you start thinking about everything that's going to happen -- and like what might happen at the last lap -- your heart rate just escalates. It peaks...and it's just crazy.
    "I'd love to know what everybody's heart-rate is.
    "Maybe Juan's isn't too high, he's pretty laid back.  But I'm pegged out because it's so exciting."
     Raising McMurray's own heart rate Sunday – "I haven't driven a Nationwide car in a long time, and the car-of-tomorrow (Cup design) is so much safer than the Nationwide cars," McMurray said. He's driving a dozen Nationwide races for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports.
    "In the Nationwide car, your head is so close to the roll cage, and there's not near as much room to get out if something happens. 
     "I think the drivers all feel tremendously safer being in the (Cup) cars we're in now versus these Nationwide cars."
    NASCAR is ready to roll out a Nationwide version of the COT, but the expense and the handling characteristics, and body-design characteristics, of the Nationwide redesign has slowed that rollout, to just four events this season...ironically the July race at Daytona...which will be the last weekend of NASCAR racing on the 32-year-old Daytona asphalt, to be replace after that race (in a $20 million-plus project).
    Down the stretch, it looked like Montoya-versus-McMurray. But Harvick and McMurray got a great jump on the final green-white-checkered restart, and it was a two-man sprint to the finish.
    "Every restart was a little bit different," Montoya said. "You're in a different position, and you're always hoping you have somebody good you could push or somebody would push you. 
    "The second (GWC) restart, when I had Jamie in front, I thought 'Oh, here we go!'
   "We cleared him, and we were looking pretty good...and for some reason it just wasn't enough."
   Well, that's because of another crash and a record third GWC.
    "The way the season is going, I was actually surprised we didn't wreck....I'm being honest with you," Montoya said with a grimace. In fact one of his DNFS already came in an errant move earlier this year by McMurray.
    "At least we're four-for-four now, and we got a top-10 and three top-fives. 

   Jamie McMurray (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

     "We've got the pace....just we've been very unlucky this year, and we really needed a good finish to gain some points."
    Sometime late last summer Montoya, now in his fourth season on the stock car tour, after a Formula One career, caught fire. And he's had hot rods ever since.
   "We've got a car that is a lot faster," Montoya said. "Last year if we could get to the top-10 it was a miracle -- especially at this time of the season.
    "This season we can run top-five every week.
     "At the same time we've been involved in three wrecks -- completely out of our hands. But it's part of racing.  That's what makes it interesting and that's why the fans are here. 
    "For us, though, it's a big challenge: both cars have the potential to make the chase, and we've just got to be smart about it."
    McMurray and Montoya worked together all afternoon.  "We just logged some laps at the beginning," McMurray conceded. "Most people thought the (new) spoiler and (new) plate would make the cars 'close up' a little quicker...
      "We thought it would just be best to 'log' some laps for the first 20....
    "And then when we got back there, we waited until 50 or 60 laps to go, and then made a move to the front."
    It took some time to get there. "It's really hard to get to the front because everybody runs up against the wall, and it's a struggle to get enough momentum and enough cars on the bottom to get the speed that you need," McMurray said.
    Indeed two-car packs were quicker than the big draft, and could sprint ahead in the low groove. But the two could only stay ahead for a lap or tour.
   It was a long process for McMurray, Harvick and Montoya.
   Then Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson got all tangled up late, making some perhaps ill-advised pit stops with only 25 miles to go and getting trapped back in traffic and crashing out.
   The final mile: McMurray, leading at the white and off the fourth turn, figured Harvick would make a move high, so he hugged the yellow inside line but tried to protect high too.
    "I really thought that Kevin was going to go high (in the trioval)," McMurray said.  "I felt I was close enough to the yellow line that there was a lot more racetrack to the right...and it seemed like you could stall guys out more on the outside than you could the inside. 
    "So I was really guarding against the outside.
    "And when he went left, it really loosened my car up.  It's like you pull a parachute. It literally feels like you lose three or five miles an hour immediately.
    "Once that happens, the car doing the passing just has the momentum.
    "Once he got under me, all I was doing was side-drafting and hoping I could stall him out and beat him back to the line."
    Meanwhile teammate Montoya, in the other lane, started okay but then watched McMurray and Harvick sprint away.
    "I had a really good restart, and I'm like 'We got him,'" Montoya said.
    "I'm with Denny Hamlin, and I'm thinking I'm going to win this. 
    "All of a sudden the inside (McMurray-Harvick) just took off....and I think we lost a bit of ground."

   [Note: You can use Twitter as an easy headline service for mikemulhern.net stories, with our instant Tweets to your mobile as soon as our newest NASCAR story is filed. And mikemulhern.net is mobile-friendly for viewing. You can also use the orange RSS feed button as a quickie headline service on your laptop or home computer for mikemulhern.net stories, by creating a Live Bookmark RSS feed on your web browser's toolbar. Or you can create a Google Alert for mikemulhernnet.]


   Kevin Harvick and wife Delana, on the grid before the start (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