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Flat Spot On: Brad K. & Days of ‘Dega

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 7 2012

Another Talladega race, another series of flashbacks and flashforwards. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

TALLADEGA, Ala. – The past, present and future were much in evidence at Talladega on Sunday at the Aaron’s 499. The top ten examples:

1. The Heat

Past: The heat on the plains of Alabama used to be generated by one race date annually in August. Or, it was the “discussions” about who started “The Big One” that generated a lot of heat, including regular finger pointing at NASCAR.

Present: This year’s first ‘Dega race took place on a very muggy day for early May, almost hot enough to recall the days when drivers like Dave Marcis wore wingtip shoes to avoid burning his feet. (It was Michael Waltrip who reported a problem with hot feet this time around.) The “discussions” were about NASCAR’s new radiator popoff valves cooking the engines – and competition. “We’re teetering on the side of being too conservative,” said Jeff Gordon. “I like the rules package,” countered Carl Edwards.

Future: Stay tuned for possible rules tune-ups. But clearly the anti-tandem types, NASCAR’s Tea Party, have won the day. (Until the final laps.)

2. The Weirdness

Past: All manner of bizarre events have taken place at Talladega. (Just ask Ricky Bobby.)

Present: OK, nothing too weird this time around on Sunday. (Juan Pablo Montoya likely used up this

Juan Pablo Montoya climbs out of car after a Sunday Big One. No flames, though. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

year’s weirdness quotient at Daytona.)

Future: ??????????????

3. The Danger

Past: Ever since Larry Smith’s mysteriously fatal crash in 1973, Talladega has been recognized as a dangerous place due to the high speeds.

Present: The Saturday crash of Eric McClure in the Nationwide race was a reminder that racing at Talladega remains a dangerous proposition, despite all the safety improvements mandated by NASCAR. McClure remained in the hospital with undisclosed injuries a second night after his crash Saturday.

Future: Given the anti-tandem rules, The Big One is back for both the Sprint Cup cars and Nationwide Series.

4. The Earnhardts:

Past: Dale Earnhardt Sr. still holds the record for most victories at Talladega (10), where he also scored his most dramatic victory, which came in 2000 and was his last in the Sprint Cup.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Eury Sr. at Talladega. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Present: The Alabama fans still leap out of their seats anytime Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets near the lead.

Future: Sooner or later, Dale Jr. will win his 19th Sprint Cup race. And Talladega, where he has five victories, remains as likely a place as any other. But at this point, it’s almost an anti-climax.

5. The Finish:

Past: The late-race drafting shot used to be a lock.

Present: The last-second “tandem shot” used to be a lock – until Sunday’s race. Kyle Busch, the last-lap loser Saturday after leading a tandem, pushed Brad Keselowski into the lead on the final lap on Sunday and then failed to stay in position for the winning move at the finish.

Future: Best summed up by race winner Brad Keselowski. “Patience is an oxymoron at Talladega. You’ve got to work and be up front to win here.”

6. The Engines:

Past: The engines blew regularly throughout the 1970’s at Talladega, mostly due to a shortage of performance parts and later in the 1980’s due to the search for unrestricted horsepower.

Present: Managing the engine temperatures of the pressure relief valves under NASCAR’s anti-tandem rules required as much of the drivers’ attention as driving. Four drivers fell out with engine failures,

Jimmie Johnson's crew pushes him to garages at Talladega. Engine problem. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

including two powered by Hendrick Motorsports. “Cooling,” said Kyle Busch, “was the name of the game.”

Future: The teams will figure it out and NASCAR will stand pat. (Wrote one wag in the media center.)

7. The Restrictor Plates

Past: The trick manifold that won Dick Brooks the race in 1973 was an example of the innovation within the rules and wide open races. Check the winner’s photos and you’ll see deep circles under the driver’s eyes, indicative that running wide open wasn’t necessarily a lot of fun.

Present: Starting with Bill Elliott, who still holds the qualifying record of 212.809 mph at Talaldega, there is many a Cup driver who dread driving “under the plates” at Talladega. Elliott raced on Sunday, interestingtly, but another veteran, Mark Martin, who holds the record for the fastest race victory at Talladega, elected to stay home.

Future: Why not use fuel injection to control horsepower instead of restrictor plates? (Wrote one wag in the media center.)

8. The Penske Effect

Past: Roger Penske has been coming to Talladega over the span of four decades without winning a Cup race. Similarly, the 15-time Indy 500 winner Penske continues to look for his first Sprint Cup championship.

Present: Brad Keselowski scored the first Talladega victory for Penske in the Sprint Cup (after bringing James Finch his first ever Sprint Cup victory here two years ago). Ironically, Keselowski knocked former

Penske Racing cars of Brad Keselowski and A.J. Allmendinger at Talldega. (RacinToday/HHP photos by Brian Lawdermilk)

Penske teammate Kurt Busch into the inside wall at Turn One in the late stages. “I tried to push him and he tried to stay in line,” said an apologetic Keselowski. “I should have let him go. …I hated to see that accident happen.”

Future: “Brad Keselowski has matured a lot,” said Roger Penske. “He’s a tremendous asset for Penske Racing. You can see that when he comes into the shop. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody. …One of the goals in my life is to sit up there on the stage (at the Sprint Cup banquet). I think he’s a guy that can make it happen this year.”

9. The Fuel Mileage

Past: Fuel mileage is forever a factor. This is the track, after all, where Harry Gant once won with a bump-and-run from Rick Mast to get to the finish.

Present: Several drivers on front line teams ran out of fuel, including Aric Almirola, whose hiccough on the back straight brought out the second caution and “The First Big One,” which helped put 19 cars in the garage at the finish.

Future: Evidently the new fuel injection systems do not necessarily make it any easier to predict fuel mileage.

10. The Tweets

Past: Well, Tweety Bird often appeared in Looney Tunes.

Present: @JennaFryer: Roger Penske, who has now won Barber and Talladega, reluctantly accepts he is “King of Alabama.” Then adds “And Brazil! I won that 3 times!”

Future: Said Penske: “Brad will be tweeting a lot tonight I’m sure.”

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 7 2012
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