At one of the longest tracks on the NASCAR Cup circuit, 2.66 miles to be exact, where lead changes abound and Dale Earnhardt still rules with ten wins, here is what was surprising and not surprising in the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
[media-credit name=”Steven Iles” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]Surprising: Whether you call it the two car tango, dancing with the cars, friends with benefits, flying united, or Noah’s Ark racing, it was most certainly the pairs competition at ‘Dega this year. In comparison to the Daytona 500 to start the season, it was also most surprising how committed the pairs were to one another at Talladega.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard/Amp Energy Chevrolet, summed it up best. “We all had commitment phobia in the past. But in this situation, you had to commit and make sacrifices, just like in a relationship.”
Not Surprising: There was no doubt that overcoming that commitment phobia was key to the race finish. Channeling their inner Talladega Nights characters Ricky Bobby and Cal Naughton, Jr., Dale Earnhardt, Jr. pushed his teammate Jimmie Johnson, in the No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet, to the checkered flag, scoring the closest margin of victory record at just .002 seconds.
As both drivers shouted “Woo hoos” on their radios, congratulating each other and even sharing the checkered flag, Johnson scored his 54th career victory, tying Lee Petty, NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee, for ninth on the all-time Cup Series win list.
Johnson’s win moved him two spots ahead in the point standings. He currently sits in the second spot, just five points behind leader Carl Edwards.
The other half of that tandem duo, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. also surged forward in the point standings. Junior moved up three spots to claim the third position, just 19 points behind Edwards and 14 points behind Johnson.
Surprising: While it was surprising that there was technically no ‘big one’ and thankfully no cars went airborne, there were a few spectacular wrecks and even more amazing saves. Ryan Newman, in the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet, laid claim to the biggest saves of the day, two of them in fact, calling on all of his dirt track racing experience to do so. After his first save, Newman was not so lucky on his second save, flat spotting all his tires and relegating him to a 25th place finish.
Not Surprising: While some drivers were busy saving their cars, other drivers not usually at the front got their chance to shine. Dave Blaney, behind the wheel of the No. 36 Golden Corral Chevrolet, almost had to make good on the sponsor’s offer to let kids eat free if he finished in the top ten. After leading several laps, Blaney unfortunately got turned by Kurt Busch, lost the draft and finished 27th.
Andy Lally, rookie driver of the No. 71 Interstate Moving Services Ford, also had a big day. Known primarily for his Rolex racing skills, Lally found his place in the draft and finished 19th for TRG Motorsports.
Surprising: After running so well together and finishing first and second respectively in the Nationwide race, it was somewhat surprising to see how badly Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Pretzel Toyota, and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano, behind the wheel of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota, fared while working together.
On lap 140, Logano tapped Busch, sending him spinning and bringing out the fourth caution. The impact was so intense that Busch’s right side tires lifted before spinning, landing him driver’s side against the retaining wall.
“Joey (Logano) and I worked great all day,” Busch said. “I got spun out – it was nothing Joey did wrong.”
“It’s just a product of what we’ve got,” Busch continued. “So far, at every restrictor-plate race, I’ve been spun out.”
Not Surprising: Since dynamic duos were all the rage, it was not surprising that other pairs fared well together. Clint Bowyer, in the No. 33 BB&T Chevrolet, and Kevin Harvick, behind the wheel of the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet, both out of the Richard Childress stable, pushed each other to top-ten finishes.
In addition, Hendrick Motorsport teammates Jeff Gordon, driving the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet while battling a nasty cold, and Mark Martin, piloting the No. 5 Carquest/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, also were committed to each other to finish third and eighth respectively.
Finally, Roush Fenway Racing teammates Carl Edwards, point leader and expectant father, and Greg Biffle, who just re-signed with sponsor 3M and RFR, were also locked together throughout the race. Edwards finished sixth and Biffle came in right behind in seventh.
Surprising: Red Bull had a most surprisingly bad day at the Talladega Superspeedway. Brian Vickers, in the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota, spun and hit the wall as a result of contact with Landon Cassill, bringing out the first caution of the race.
Teammate Kasey Kahne, in the No. 4 Red Bull Toyota, got involved in the second wreck of the day, caught up in an incident started by the collision of teammates Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski. Kahne’s car burst into flames from the oil and the driver was still reeking of smoke in the infield care center before being checked out and released.
Not Surprising: It was not just the drivers that had to dodge and weave in order to stay out of harm’s way this weekend, with tornado warnings throughout the area prior to the race. But in typical NASCAR fashion, the drivers, fans and all their families stuck together, looking out for one another and working together to ensure everyone’s safety.
And in that spirit of camaraderie, happy Easter wishes to all, that is until the next race at Richmond, the Crown Royal 400, on April 30th.