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Dark Forces Again Plague Racing At Talladega

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, May 6 2013

Talladega's mysteries do not stand up to real world analysis. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Rusty Jarrett)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Talladega Superspeedway, some say, is haunted. Seriously. Competitors and even track workers have been known to see things that aren’t there and hear things that don’t make sounds around the place that is said to be built on ground deemed scared by Native Americans.

And to be sure, things which defy explanation are common place at Talladega. Sunday’s race at NASCAR’s biggest track would seem to have only added to the lore of the place. Freaky stuff abounded.

Except, upon closer analysis, most of the seemingly supernatural events which occurred in the Aaron’s 499 have real world explanations.

To wit:

– Front Row Motorsports drivers ended up occupying the top two steps of the podium as David Ragan won and David Gilliland finished second.

Seems impossible. Two drivers who, between them, have one victory 458 Cup starts, finished first and second for a NASCAR team which has an ARCA budget. Ragan thanked God for his victory.

The real world explanation is, of course, restrictor plate racing. There is very little holy about that. The answers to why plate racing produces races which can be won by anybody, is better explained by physicists and aerodynamicists than theologians. Also having shots at victory late in Sunday’s race were unlikely candidates such at J.J. Yeley, Reagan Smith, Scott Speed and David Stremme.

– But what about Ricky Stenhouse Jr. seeing things that weren’t there? Specifically an opening on the high side of the track with six laps to go? Stenhouse’s attempt to squeeze his car between the wall and right-side fenders of  Yeley’s car ended in a fairly horrific wreck. One which saw Kurt Busch’s car come down on top of the driver’s portion of Ryan Newman’s.

The real world explanation, of course, is poor judgement on the part of Stenhouse Jr. He may have had a couple of inches to spare on the wall side and also on the Yeley side of his car. But as Denny Hamlin, reduced to TV analyst because of injury Sunday, pointed out on air, Cup cars traveling at close to 200 mph create vacuums and wakes. Those are real world aero tendencies that can suck and push other cars in near proximity. Stenhouse lost sight of that or got greedy and a lot of others paid.

Newman, who was used as a landing zone once before at Talladega, was not referring to ghosts when he said of the wreck, “They can build safer race cars, they can build safer walls. But they can’t get their heads out of their asses far enough to keep them on the race track, and that’s pretty disappointing. I wanted to make sure I get that point across. Y’all can figure out who ‘they’ is.”

– And what about NASCAR officials seeing light in the dark? Though the sun was down and clouds were obscuring most of the post-sunset glow, the folks in the NASCAR booth thought that there was enough light and driver vision to restart and finish the event.

The real world explanation, of course, was NASCAR felt lucky. Officials figured, what the heck, a couple more laps isn’t going to hurt anybody. Squeeze a few more in, finish the race under green and everybody leaves the track and their couches happy.

RacinToday colleague Rick Minter was at the track and said that from the press box – which at Talladega is about 100 feet from the front stretch asphalt – said he could barely see the cars as they came past on the final laps. Inside cars going nearly 200 mph, 100 feet zips past in a hurry.

Minter was not the only person who did not see the mysterious light which NASCAR officials apparently saw.

“That’s just poor judgment in restarting the race, poor judgment,” Newman said, sticking his head into the lion’s mouth by criticizing the boys in the booth.

Edwards said it was so dark that the flashing lights on the pace car were a distraction. “I wish the pace car could have shut off those yellow lights because they were kind of blinding,” he said. “I was trying to look other places so I wouldn’t get blinded by the lights.”

– And what about memories being mystifyingly erased at Talladega over the weekend.  And thought patterns altered. Like those of Dale Earnhardt Jr. who said before the race that he has been too hard on plate racing but afterwards threw that into reverse. And Danica Patrick, 10 races into her rookie Cup season, criticizing Kyle Larson for being immature in the Nationwide race.

The real world explanations, of course, were, well, the real world. Racing at Talladega simply challenges the laws of physics and the concept of common sense.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, May 6 2013
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