Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Monday, October 6, 2008

Four Down, Six to Go: Talladega Musings

Memo to Regan Smith: a rule is a rule, so shut your mouth and get over it.

The finish at Talladega on Sunday, while exciting as usual, wasn’t without controversy, as Smith ducked below the yellow line to pass Tony Stewart coming to the checkered flag and take what he thought was his first career win. Only problem was, Talladega has the “out of bounds” rule – no diving below the yellow line on the bottom of the race track to advance your position.

Both Talladega and Daytona – the only two tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit that run horsepower-robbing restrictor plates – have this rule, and it’s discussed ad nauseum every time the series visits either track.

Stewart bellowed after the checkered flag Smith passed him below the line; NASCAR officials agreed, and gave the victory to Stewart, who crossed the finish line second. Smith, as penalty for the move, finished 18th, the last car on the lead lap. Feeling he’d been robbed, a teary-eyed Smith told NASCAR officials he’d been forced below the line – NASCAR rules state a pass under the yellow line is legal if the driver who does the passing was forced down there.

No dice.

Looking at the replay, Stewart obviously ducked low on Smith in the tri-oval. He was blocking his position, which is what the leader at Talladega always does on the last lap. It’s the nature of plate racing. Did Stewart force Smith below the line? Possibly; you could argue he did. But being forced below the yellow line is so hard to quantify; it’s a judgment call. Only two people know for sure: Stewart and Smith. And I guarantee you they disagree.

NASCAR made the best call it could with the information it had. There had been some rumblings that the yellow line rule went out the window once the checkered flag was in sight – a SPEED TV commentator said so during the Truck Series race on Saturday, and a NASCAR spokesman said the same after the Feb. 2007 Truck Series race at Daytona.

I’ll leave it to The Virginian-Pilot NASCAR writer Dustin Long – a veteran of covering motorsports, to explain what exactly is said in the drivers’ meeting in his blog.

And while taking the win away from Smith could affect his future with the Dale Earnhardt, Inc. – that No. 01 team needs a sponsor to keep running – the fact remains that he broke a rule and as such, didn’t deserve to win the race.

And considering all the bad luck Stewart’s had this year, doesn’t it seem fitting for a break to finally go his way?

Talladega Wild Card

Just how much can Talladega affect the Chase standings? When Carl Edwards bumped Greg Biffle in Turn 3 with 15 laps to go Sunday, he triggered The Big One – and took out seven of the 12 Chase drivers in the process.

Jeff Gordon found himself a victim of David Reutimann’s tire problem earlier in the day. Denny Hamlin, another Chase driver, smacked the wall while leading earlier in the day, when his right front tire exploded in Turn 2. More on that later.

So nine of the 12 drivers eligible for the Sprint Cup title had troubles Sunday. Jimmie Johnson didn’t, finishing ninth and opening up a 72-point lead over Edwards. Among those involved in the big crash: Edwards, Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.

No wonder everyone calls this race a wild card in the Chase. Martinsville, the Virginia short track the series will visit in two weeks, is also considered a wild card, given the unpredictable nature of short track racing, but in terms of shaking up the standings and turning everything on its head, nothing beats a good restrictor-plate race.

The tight packs, the constant three- and four-wide racing drives fans and television executives wild, and any sneeze could send as many as 25 cars to the hauler and the scrap heap. Everyone loves it but the vast majority of drivers, and Sunday’s wreck was exactly the reason why.

Credit goes to Edwards for manning up to his mistake, and I want to give Biffle credit too for not jumping down his Roush-Fenway teammate’s throat. Biffle would’ve been well within his rights to, considering Edwards’ bump sent him sideways, into Kenseth and all hell broke loose from there.

Still, if Edwards and Biffle fall short in their quest for the title this year, we can probably point to The Big One when explaining why.

Don’t Blame Goodyear This Time

Sure, there were a lot of blown tires on Sunday, but this wasn’t Indy Part II. The tire debacle at the Brickyard was entirely Goodyear’s fault for not bringing the right compound to the track after doing what they said was an exhaustive tire test.

Sunday’s issues – which led to blown tires for David Reutimann, Brian Vickers, Mike Wallace and Denny Hamlin – were likely more an issue of either the track surface or car setups. Aggressive camber settings and low air pressures can sometimes lead to disastrous tire failure.

But think about this: Friday’s ARCA race at Talladega faced similar tire issues – the ARCA Series runs on Hoosier tires, so it wasn’t just Goodyear. The Truck Series race also saw its share of blown-out tires, running theoretically a different Goodyear compound than the Sprint Cup cars.

Something needs to be done, no doubt – Hamlin’s impact was so fierce, he wound up going to a Birmingham hospital overnight after complaining of headaches and a sore right ankle – but I don’t think the blame lies with Goodyear this time.

Again, look at either the track itself or have crews examine their setups a little closer.

Side Note

I just realized: this is the 43rd post in this blog. It could just be the fact that I'm a NASCAR geek, but I think that's pretty cool. Besides, if you're reading this and I have to explain to you why No. 43 is so freakin' cool when it comes to auto racing, then you really don't know anything about the sport, do you?

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