In a race where the spotters sound like auctioneers as they guide their drivers around the track and where anything from chess-like strategy to last lap mayhem can happen, here is what was surprising and not surprising from the 45th annual Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Surprising: While many drivers and crew chiefs alike assessed the race as ‘uneventful’, with only three cautions, no major multi-car wrecks and primarily single-file racing in the last laps, a few drivers at least might take exception to that viewpoint.
In one international incident, Marcos Ambrose lost control of his vehicle on lap 78 and took out Juan Pablo Montoya in the process.
“The Target Chevrolet was pretty good to be honest,” Montoya said. “We were running two-wide so it was comfortable.”
“We started running three-wide and the spotter told me ‘get out’ and I backed up going into the tri-oval and the next thing I know, I just saw out the corner of my eye somebody coming towards me and that was it.”
Even more dramatic, however, was the white flag lap crash where Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made contact with Austin Dillon, driver the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet for Stewart Haas Racing, sending the latter airborne.
“The No. 17 had a little bit of a run and I tried to go with him and came back across and hooked me,” Dillon said. “What a wild ride.”
“Who needs skydiving?”
Not Surprising: There are times at a race track when even the trophy is not the most important thing in Victory Lane and not surprisingly, this was the case for the lucky winner who wound up in Victory Lane.
Jamie McMurray, driver of the No. 1 Cessna Auburn University Chevrolet, not only ended his 108-race winless streak but, as he had always dreamed, he celebrated in Victory Lane with his family, including wife Christy and his two children Carter and Hazel.
“Well, that was — I mean, that’s top two or three moments of my life, to get to experience that with them,” McMurray said. “I don’t know if you guys heard, but I rent a space from Matt Kenseth to keep my go-karts and stuff in at his shop.”
“So I was out in the front where they have some office space, and he’s got pictures hanging inside and there was a picture of Matt and Katie and Grace and Kaylin, and I think it was Dover Victory Lane, and I remember seeing how excited Kaylin was,” McMurray continued. “I went home and told Christy, I hope that we get to have that moment.”
“That’s really special — especially having a little boy who is into Lightning McQueen and racing in general,” McMurray said. “Yeah, to get to have that with my family is really cool.”
This was McMurray’s first win of the season, his second victory at Talladega, and his seventh victory in 398 Cup races.
Surprising: Dale Earnhardt Jr. was surprisingly upbeat in spite of not having his dream of snagging that elusive first win of the season come true. The driver of the No. 88 Mountain Dew/Xbox One Chevrolet was a bridesmaid in the runner up position yet again.
“It wasn’t the best run in the world,” Dale Junior said. “It wasn’t what I dreamed it would be, all those last few laps.”
“But it was a good enough run I think to get up to his (McMurray’s) quarter panel and get beside him.”
“Really happy with the way the car ran and it was good to run up front, good to lead,” Earnhardt Jr. continued. “We’ve really struggled this season with being competitive, and to drive up through there and do that like we did today, and it felt great.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. scored his 14th top-10 finish in 28 races at ‘Dega and posted his 18th top-10 finish of the 2013 season.
Not Surprising: In spite of a punishing Truck race the night before, Kyle Busch not surprisingly proved again that he was the redemption story of the race weekend. The driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Halloween Toyota bounced back after missing his pit box to get his lap back and finish fifth.
And although he had some harsh words on his radio after getting blocked out of his pit box by none other than race winner Jamie McMurray, Busch was giving all the glory to God at the end of the race.
“Our M&M’s Halloween Camry ran great all day,” said Busch, who earned his fourth top-five finish in 18 starts at Talladega, including his April 2008 win at the 2.66-mile oval. “It was fun to finish one of these things.”
“It’s God’s grace that allows us to finish one of these, and we appreciate it today, especially coming home with another top-five.”
Busch also redeemed himself in the point standings, moving up two positions to reclaim the third spot, just 26 points behind the leader.
Surprising: Talladega proved a surprising dichotomy for the two primary Rookie of the Year contenders. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished third while his primary ROTY competitor Danica Patrick finished 33rd after having a pit road calamity.
“I thought the racing was great all day,” Stenhouse, driver of the No. 17 Nationwide Insurance Ford, said. “We were two, three, and four wide for a long time.”
“For our Nationwide Insurance team we were solid all day, in the top-10 a lot of the day and led a few laps, which was good for us.”
On the other hand, while Danica Patrick had been also running toward the front of the pack, her good day was ruined by an error on pit road during a green flag stop where she missed her pit stall and then incurred a speeding penalty to boot.
“We just didn’t communicate well on that final pit stop,” the driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Breast Cancer Awareness Chevrolet said. “We were on the high side and couldn’t get down to where we needed to be to pit.”
“It’s disappointing and none of us feel good about it.”
Not Surprising: David Ragan and David Gilliland, both of whom have proven that they can drive at the superspeedways as evidenced by their one, two finish in the spring race at ‘Dega, not surprisingly fared well again in the fall affair.
Ragan, behind the wheel of the No. 34 SaferCar.gov Ford, finished sixth, with his teammate Gilliland, driving the No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford, right behind him in the seventh spot.
“We had a chance to win the race, took the white flag in seventh or eighth and kind of had a good plan,” Ragan said. “But the caution came out so we got a top-10 finish and that’s a good thing for our Front Row Motorsports team.”
“David and I worked together for a good part of the race and we were in position,” Gilliland said. “And then the caution came out on the last lap.”
“Thankfully, we weren’t part of it and we were able to get a top-10 finish and a clean car to take home.”
Surprising: Paul Menard, driver of the No. 27 Menards Duracell Chevrolet, surprisingly bettered his Talladega statistics by finishing fourth. This was Menard’s only finish inside the top-10 at Talladega in fifteen starts there other than a runner-up finish in 2008.
“At the start of the race, we took off and the car drove really good,” Menard said. “We drove to the front and kind of hung out in the top-10 all day long.”
“We could make the middle groove work to gain spots and then get to the outside,” Menard continued. “Ultimately the outside lane kind of won out over the long run.”
Not Surprising: Channeling his best Ricky Bobby from the movie ‘Talladega Nights”, Kurt Busch exemplified the notion that ‘if you’re not first, you’re last’ or at least 18th, which is where he finished in his No. 78 Wonder Bread car.
“Restrictor plate racing is all about being in the right place at the right time,” Busch said. “We were in the right place for the majority of the race, but when it counted at the end, we weren’t there.”
“It’s disappointing because our Wonder Bread Chevy was fast and to finish 18th didn’t do us justice,” Busch continued. “I tried to make something happen, but couldn’t get there.”
Busch fell two spots in the Chase standings, from seventh to ninth, now 61 points behind the leader.
Surprising: At a track where handling usually does not matter, Matt Kenseth surprisingly struggled with an ill handling race car that set him back tremendously during the midsection of the race. Kenseth never quite fully recovered, finishing 20th and losing the championship points lead to Jimmie Johnson.
“It was really bizarre — typically, handling is a non-issue here and we just got so loose I couldn’t even hang on to it,” the driver of the No. 20 Let’s Do This Home Depot Toyota said. “I pretty much had to run in the back for two runs which was disappointing.”
“We finally got it fixed that last run, but we only had 20 laps to get back up there,” Kenseth continued. “I really needed to be up there like we were early and feel like I was controlling the race more — the lanes and the runs and all that and I could never get back to there.”
Not Surprising: While Jimmie Johnson may also have not had the race that he envisioned, his 13th place finish was better than Kenseth’s run. And after surviving Talladega, which was his goal, the five-time champ now has Martinsville, one of his best tracks, in his sights.
“You know I feel that the races forward now are up to where the competitors go earn it,” the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet said. “You don’t have this luck issue that can take place at plate tracks.”
“So I am happy to have the points lead and we went through a lot of work to get there,” Johnson continued. “We just go racing from here.”
“Martinsville has been good to us in the past, but we’ve got to go there and race,” Johnson said. “We will make sure that we get buttoned up and ready to go to that paperclip and see what we can do.”
“It’s just going to be a dogfight to the end.”
Sadly, this track is one that clearly doesn’t reward the up fronters most of the race. Its a crap shoot, so for the sake of running a “good hard race”, I can’t get excited about who wins, unless they did just that, the majority of the race. I feel that way about Daytona too. Big whoop!