Talladega Superspeedway

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Reliving some of NASCAR’s most dramatic finishes

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The Minnesota Vikings’ win against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday marked the first time in NFL history that a playoff game ended with a game-winning touchdown with no time left on the clock.

NASCAR has had its share of dramatic finishes through the years. While it’s easy to debate which dramatic finishes rank among the all-time best, here’s a look at some of the most dramatic (and surprising) wins in NASCAR.

The first selection comes from what is now the Xfinity Series. It was the 2012 season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. Kurt Busch led with Kyle Busch pushing him as they entered Turn 3. Behind them were Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Tony Stewart, Elliott SadlerRicky Stenhouse Jr., Kasey Kahne, Cole Whitt and Brad Keselowski.

None of them won the race. 

James Buescher, who was 11th in Turn 4 won for his only Xfinity victory in 91 career starts. 

 

Carl Edwards had won the Xfinity race the day at Atlanta but had yet to win in 16 previous Cup starts before he cranked the engine at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March 2005. Edwards came from behind to beat Jimmie Johnson at the line in among the closest finishes in NASCAR.

 

Dale Earnhardt’s incredible ride from 18th to first in the final five laps in 2000 at Talladega Superspeedway is memorable for that alone but it also was his 76th and final Cup victory. When the video clip below starts, you don’t even see Earnhardt but he’s there lurking and works his way up the field. With two laps left, announcer Jerry Punch exclaims: “The Intimidator is scraped and beaten on the right side, but he will not be denied! “Mr. Restrictor Plate knows there are two laps to go! Earnhardt drives to the high side of Bobby Labonte. Wow.”

 

As they took the white flag at Watkins Glen International in 2012, Kyle Busch led, Brad Keselowski was second and Marcos Ambrose was third.

What followed was a chaotic final lap that ended with Ambrose winning. It led broadcaster Dale Jarrett to say about the beating, banging and battling: “A year’s worth of excitement in 2.45 miles. Incredible.”

 

Ricky Craven tried to make his move by Kurt Busch with two laps to go at Darlington Raceway in 2003 but slid up and made contact with Busch and lost his momentum. That allowed Busch to dive underneath and take the lead back. Craven persisted. As they came off the final corner, Craven went underneath Busch for a door-slamming drag race to the checkered flag, nipping Busch by 0.002 seconds to win.

Of course, one can’t include such a list without one of the sport’s most famous finishes. Donnie Allison led Cale Yarborough on the last lap of the 1979 Daytona 500. Yarborough dived low on the backstretch to pass Allison, who blocked. They hit, bounced off each other and hit again before crashing in Turn 3. Richard Petty drove by several seconds later to take the lead and go on to win the event. As Petty celebrated, Allison, Yarborough and Bobby Allison, who had stopped to check on his brother, fought.

 

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NASCAR connections to Monday’s college football National Championship

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The 2017-18 college football season ends tonight with the National Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

The game (8 p.m. ET on ESPN) pits the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs, two Southeastern Conference teams.

We decided to take a look at the two schools and their connections to the NASCAR world.

If we missed any NASCAR connections, let us know.

The paths of Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski crossed last year.

In September, the driver of the No. 2 Ford visited the school’s Tuscaloosa campus, which is located just under 110 miles west of Talladega Superspeedway.

Saban actually served as the grand marshal of the 2009 spring Cup race at the 2.66-mile speedway, when Keselowski won his first Cup race.

During the visit, the two swapped jerseys, with Keselowski receiving a No. 2 jersey with his name on it.

“I can tell you this, I hope the tide rolls us right into victory lane when we get back to Talladega,” Keselowski said. “Like Coach Saban and his teams at Alabama, there is a winning tradition at Team Penske. We hope to add to that legacy with another Talladega Superspeedway triumph, and ultimately another championship.”

Two weeks later, Keselowski claimed his fifth Talladega win.

Saban will be looking for his sixth national championship tonight.

Hendrick Motorsports has a few team members who have ties to the game.

Rowdy Harrell, a former walk-on linebacker at Alabama, is a rear tire carrier on the No. 88 team. He won three championships with the Crimson Tide, the last coming in 2013. He joined Hendrick in September of that year.

Harrell was brought to the team by Chris Burkey, a pit crew coach for Hendrick. Burkey is a former scouting assistant for the Miami Dolphins from Saban’s time as head coach of the team.

The colors of the Crimson Tide have made their way to the high banks of Talladega multiple times over the last 17 years.

The first Alabama-themed scheme belonged to Scott Pruett and his No. 32 Tide car in 2000.

Michael Waltrip Racing was the vessel for three more schemes in 2010, 2012 and 2013, the seasons following Alabama National Championships.

2010 – David Reutimann

(Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

2012 – Clint Bowyer

(Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

2013 – Michael Waltrip

There are far fewer connections between NASCAR and the University of Georgia, but they’re there.

Chase Elliott, the Hendrick Motorsports driver and native of Dawsonville, Georgia, is a noted fan of the Bulldogs.

Hendrick’s strength and condition coach, Darius Dewberry, was a Georgia linebacker from 2006-09 and joined Hendrick in June 2013.

NASCAR on NBC’s own Rutledge Wood is a native of Alabama, but he moved to Georgia in 1995 and graduated from the school with a degree in marketing.

Bulldog sports teams have interacted with the NASCAR world a few times.

In 2014, the football team was part of the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina, playing against the University of Louisville. As part of their bowl week festivities, the teams visited Charlotte Motor Speedway to participate in the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

Two years later, the Georgia baseball team visited Charlotte to play the University of North Carolina – Charlotte 49ers.

As part of their visit, they visited Hendrick Motorsports to get a taste of the life of a NASCAR pit crew.

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Talladega Superspeedway morphs into Talladega Supersnowway with rare snowstorm

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Michigan is used to getting snow at this time of year.

But Talladega?

Yep, that’s right, NASCAR’s largest racetrack looks like it’s ready to hold a snowmobile race after getting six inches of the white stuff overnight.

And there may a few more inches still to come, according to area weather reports.

It’s part of a large snowstorm that has blanketed much of the south including Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.

For comparison sake, here’s what ‘Dega looks like during the best of times:

Snow also fell north of the Mason-Dixon line, where it’s usual around this time of year at Michigan Speedway.

Ergo:

It could be one of the first times that Talladega just beat MIS for bragging rights over which track has more snow.

Martinsville Speedway also got some of the white stuff:

Atlanta Motor Speedway also got into the holiday spirit with its own snow and took advantage of it by having a #FlashbackFriday from back in 1993.

Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in NASCAR-land.

Ryan: Are Cup teams still working through the stages of calling a race?

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Nearly a full season into baking stage points into their strategies, have teams in NASCAR’s premier series fully grasped the concept of races with segments?

That was a worthy question at the end of Sunday’s second stage at Talladega Superspeedway.

The segment ended with none of the playoff contenders choosing to stop and avoid pitting during the caution before the final stage.

Brendan Gaughan’s team took the lead under that yellow before the restart for the last stage because his team did pit with three laps remaining in the second stage (the last lap before the pits were closed).

Why didn’t other teams join Gaughan’s, particularly those outside the top 10 that wouldn’t earn stage points and seemingly had no incentive for staying in position on track?

It seems a bit of a mystery.

Per their radio chatter (that was played during the NBC broadcast), Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team considered pitting but decided against it because of concerns about lacking a drafting partner – which seemed curious given there would have been only a lap and a half under green on a 2.66-mile oval whose size makes it virtually impossible to be lapped in that time.

Perhaps there were concerns about how the race’s second half would unfold without more cars on precisely the same strategy – but Gaughan still pitted with a pack of cars under green on his final stop (and still finished 19th after being caught in the 17-car crash on Lap 172).

In a 500-mile race that featured seven crashes, each involving at least four cars (and many in the middle of the pack), it would seem natural to want to stay ahead of the mayhem – yet about two dozen cars passed on that opportunity at Talladega.

Were they in a stage of denial? Or was it merely tactical inexperience?

Scenarios such as Sunday’s, coupled with Martin Truex Jr.’s runaway lead in stage victories and playoff points, make it intriguing to monitor next season if there will be a revamping in the approach to calling a race – or a restructuring in how those decisions are determined atop the pit box.

Maybe stages necessitate dedicate strategists similar to the roles that are found in IndyCar.

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Aesthetically, Talladega didn’t have much to offer with only 14 cars running at the finish and three red flags that consumed more than 30 minutes and ensured well more than four hours elapsed between the green and checkered flag.

But there was something the race didn’t have: airborne cars.

Thus a race that did feature a last-lap lead change (by the best restrictor-plate driver in Cup) largely escaped an avalanche of the criticism that followed the May 1, 2016 event that included three cars flying off the Talladega asphalt. In fact, it was viewed in at least one fan corner as one of the best 2017 had to offer.

What determines a good race is always arbitrary, but at Talladega, the predictability of the races (large wrecks, tight packs, myriad lead changes) seems to lessen the degree of subjectivity – particularly when one of the track’s largest crowds in years gleefully has a feel-good story to cheer.

Favorite son Dale Earnhardt Jr. led his final start there and avoided the wrecks that wiped out most of the field but didn’t lift anyone’s wheels off the ground.

At Talladega, that’s enough to look good … even with a garage full of cars that looked ugly.

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While the three red flags (all in the final 15 laps) drew much of the attention, it was the caution flags at Talladega that were a real cause for concern.

A 10-lap caution for a five-car crash on Lap 26 was the longest yellow flag in 15 years at Talladega. The last time a caution took so long was for a 24-car pileup that required an 11-lap cleanup in the April 21, 2002 race.

The length of Sunday’s first caution was necessitated by a tracklong oil slick left by the No. 77 Toyota of Erik Jones (who was chastised by NASCAR for staying in the groove instead of pulling down on the apron while returning to the pits). There also was a six-lap caution to clear backstretch debris – twice as long as the yellow to clear a six-car wreck on Lap 156.

It reinforced a seasonlong theme of dawdling yellows that dates to Speedweeks. NASCAR chief racing development officer and senior vice president Steve O’Donnell said the efficiency of track cleanup was a major priority after a spate of lengthy yellow and red flags to remove debris and oil at Daytona International Speedway.

The banking at Daytona and Talladega make it more difficult to apply the SpeedyDry that absorbs the oil, but it would seem the process also could be improved to shorten the time for yellows. Just as it did with track drying (and the introduction of the Air Titan system), NASCAR needs to rethink its methods of track cleanup and update some antiquated techniques.

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Tony Gibson is the guest on this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast, discussing his future as a crew chief and his past with the championship teams of Alan Kulwicki and Jeff Gordon.

The crew chief for Kurt Busch had a memorable story from the Rainbow Warriors days before a race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway when the team pushed the No. 24 Chevrolet on the grid – to immense negativity from the crowd.

“They were booing, calling us cheaters and everything in the book,” said Gibson, who was the car chief on the team. “We’re standing around the car, and Jeff’s like, ‘Look up in those grandstands.’ And people had these big white T-shirts with a 24 and a circle and line through them. He said, ‘You see all those T-shirts up there? Those people don’t realize it, but I own the company that made those shirts.’

“We just thought that was the funniest thing.”

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

The free subscriptions will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

NASCAR continues to study tire that flew off Kyle Busch’s car in Talladega crash

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — NASCAR confirmed Friday it is studying the left front tire that flew off Kyle Busch‘s car during a crash last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. NASCAR took the tire back to the R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, after the race as part of the sanctioning body’s ongoing commitment to safety.

Busch’s left front tire came off the car during a 16-car crash that brought out the caution on Lap 173. The tire bounced away after Busch hit the outside SAFER barrier in Turn 3.

The Cup Rule Book states that the left and right spindles must be connected to the front sub-frame using two fiber cable tethers.

NASCAR mandated a second tether on front wheels during the 2003 season for each of its top three national series.

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