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Ingram: Sorry, Talladega Was A Hoot

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 5 2009
Mark Martin ran into trouble, and out of the Chase, at Talladega Sunday afternoon. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Mark Martin ran into trouble, and out of the Chase, at Talladega Sunday afternoon. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

According to legend, when the Native Americans cursed the land where the Talladega Superspeedway was built, they turned and walked away without ever Tweeting or looking back . Well, perhaps it’s part of the curse they left behind that now you can’t leave the place without looking back.

So here I am looking back on Sunday’s much-maligned race without much hope of many people agreeing with my point of view. NASCAR did the right thing by eliminating entire laps of bump-drafting. And it wasn’t a snoozer as a result.

Unless, of course, you look back to the previous races where bump-drafts had cars looking like they were shot out of a cannon in Turn 3.

The COT, also much maligned, had brought back the days of yore – here’s that looking back business again – due to its evenly matched bumpers and the ease of drafting on the big tracks at Daytona and Talladega. Cars had not overtaken like this at Talladega, it seems, since Bill Elliott ran down Cale Yarborough from two laps down with his unrestricted Coors Ford in 1985.

Or, since Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s last Sprint Cup victory in the GM Goodwrench Chevy in the fall of 2000 when he went from 21st to first at the finish by side-drafting through the middle lane.

This sort of “shot out of cannon” drama disappeared on Sunday, but only after Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski nearly bump-drafted into the grandstands on the last lap in April.

At this point, I have to ask, where is David Poole? I hope he’s looking back from above, because I could use a little support on this from a press box colleague who died of a heart attack shortly after that April race. If David was right that no fan should ever be threatened with injury at a motor race, then NASCAR made the right decision by holding bump-drafting in check.

The back-over flip of Ryan Newman’s Chevy confirmed that there’s something amiss with the aerodynamics of the COT when it gets turned around quickly and faces the oncoming air with its rear wing.

It wasn’t hard to find agreement on this subject in the garage after the race – unless you talked with NASCAR officials. But one suspects they are taking a very close look at the problem and are being rightfully cautious in the meantime with slower speeds and reduced bump-drafting.

You only have to attend and report on one race where fans are killed by flying debris in the grandstands to believe in keeping cars on the ground or at least slow enough to limit how high in the air they might go. The sport of motor racing’s entire future depends on it.

They talk about taking big swings in the pits. So I’m going to take two more big swings.

The COT is a great car, starting with the safety it provides for drivers. It may drive like a manure box due to a high center of gravity and brick-hard outside tires, but it keeps the barrier of entry to the big leagues at a high level. That’s a good thing. It may be hard to adjust on pit stops, but it’s obvious teams are learning how to do that at varying rates of success. It may be butt ugly with its front splitter, extended rear overhang and wing, but the aerodynamics have produced some great racing at Daytona and Talladega. As those races go, so goes the sport.

My final swing: The racing at Talladega was pretty damned good.

If you were following a particular driver like Dale Earnhardt Jr., his progress up and down the field was, well, dramatic – as was at least one of his passes to get to the front. If you followed a driver in hopes that he would be one of the top three to come into the media center afterwards – because you’re working on a feature story on him — then Juan Pablo Montoya had a pretty exciting day, too.

At one stretch, Montoya re-started in 16th position, moved up to third 25 laps later, then traded the lead with Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin. They made these moves using good ol’ fashioned racecraft and passing techniques at an average speed of 195 mph and some bump-drafting on the straights.

It was literally during this stretch that Tony Stewart radioed in for something to keep him awake. Once Stewart decided it was time to race, it seems he was too deep in the pack and got collected by the same chain-reaction event that caught out Newman.

We’re in the day when electronic eaves-dropping and Tweets lead to a lot of perceptive monkey-see, monkey-do and monkey-think. It’s a new twist to what’s been aptly called the “celebrity industrial complex.” But don’t tell this reporter it doesn’t pay to get to the clean air up front or that everybody’s just riding around like a Sunday drive.

Three laps from the finish, when Newman’s Chevy went head-over-heels on the back straight it was clear NASCAR did the right thing in the short term. Long term, i.e. next February, there needs to be some changes to keep the COT closer to the track in all circumstances.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com.

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 5 2009
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • Frank Inez says:

    At one stretch, Montoya re-started in 16th position, moved up to third 25 laps later, then traded the lead with Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin. They made these moves using good ol’ fashioned racecraft and passing techniques at an average speed of 195 mph and some bump-drafting on the straights.

    Yep, and then, as usual, Montoya gave up like a little school girl and finished 19th.

  • Ken says:

    You said “My final swing: The racing at Talladega was pretty damned good.” It wasn’t to the drivers or anyone trying to stay awake and watch it on TV.

  • Rachel says:

    I thought the only thing about Dega that was a hoot was what Jimmie Johnson managed to do. He didn’t race a lap all day until the last caution and still managed to finish sixth. As a JJ fan, I found that hilarious – especially since his competitors were looking for this race to be the great equalizer.

    But there really was not much else to recommend it. Even seeing drivers move forward or back ten or fifteen spots in one lap was essentially meaningless, as were all the lead changes.

    Aside from the safety issue, the biggest trouble with Talladega since the days of Elliott and Earnhardt that you referred to, is that it does not matter if you are the best driver or have the fastest car. It is completely a crapshoot. And this year it was boring on top of that. And dangerous on top of that. So unless you are Jamie McMurray or Jimmie Johnson, there wasn’t much to laugh about. I doubt Ryan Newman will want to laugh out loud for awhile with his broken teeth.