NASCAR Sprint Cup: 10 Lessons We Learned at Talladega
After the superspeedway race at Talladega this Sunday, we learned a few lessons.
One, for example, is how these types of races can cause big shifts in the point standings.
It's part of the reason why drivers are so worried about surviving every time they get here during the chase. One wrong move, or simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time, can send a driver spiraling down the points standings.
While the biggest movers points-wise this Sunday were Jeff Gordon, who moved up four spots, and Dale Jr., who moved down four spots, a lot happened at this crazy superspeedway.
Most of the drivers, for example, ended up getting caught in a huge wreck that was started by Tony Stewart as they were racing on the final lap.
Different strategies failed and in the end Matt Kenseth would prove he dominates at restrictor plate pack racing like we saw on Sunday.
Here are 10 lessons we learned at Talladega.
Carl Edwards Continues to Have a Bad Season
Carl Edwards has had a rough season. From the troubles he's had in different races, to missing the chase, Edwards has not had it easy.
He's even had to deal with a new crew chief, since his original one, Bob Osborne, had to resign due to health issues.
This is not to mention that Edwards has failed to win a race this entire season. What happened to the runner-up of last year's Sprint Cup series? Whatever it is, it's continued to haunt Edwards at Talladega.
Edwards would get caught up in an early crash on Lap 17 that would do extensive damage to his car.
He would finish in 36th place and did nothing throughout the entire race.
Clearly, whatever is going on with Carl Edwards, whether it's just bad luck or something else, followed him into Talladega. There are a lot of drivers who would benefit from a win and Edwards is one of them.
At a track like 'Dega, where anything can happen, Edwards arguably had as much of a chance to win as anyone else. Getting knocked out even before the race reaches halfway, though, only makes this rough season for Edwards even worse.
Could Edwards get a victory or even a decent finish before the season ends? Perhaps, but one thing we learned is it wouldn't happen at Talladega.
Playing It Safe Doesn't Always Work
One of the bigger complaints with a race like Talladega is how some drivers will hang out in the back for most of the race before making a move forward.
This is, of course, to try to avoid the big wreck that usually happens at superspeedway races. For some drivers at Talladega though, this strategy didn't exactly work.
If their intentions were to not win the race and simply survive, then it could be argued that this play-it-safe strategy paid off for Denny Hamlin.
But did Hamlin really benefit? He managed to finish 11th overall once the race was over and also managed to avoid getting completely wrecked when the big one eventually happened, but he still finished behind points leader Brad Keselowski.
Sure, he is only 23 points off from the leader, but will that be the difference in the end once the season is over?
Jimmie Johnson is still in second but wasn't as lucky as Hamlin was to avoid the big wreck. He played it safe for most of the day, but when he would go to make his charge up front, he found himself stuck in 15th place when the big wreck happened.
And he couldn't avoid it.
He still sits second in points, but now Keselowski has managed to separate himself even more from both Johnson and Hamlin.
Anything can happen at Talladega and even if a driver tries to play it safe, they can still end up getting wrecked.
Neither Does Fighting for the Front
If hanging out in the back and waiting to make the right move doesn't work, then what about trying stay ahead of the pack for the majority of the race?
Unfortunately, this strategy doesn't always work either.
Tony Stewart would be up front for the beginning of the race, but would eventually drop to the back and try to play it safe. Clearly Smoke felt safer in the back than trying to run up front.
The race winner Matt Kenseth would have some issues when he would run up front earlier in the race. After being turned almost completely sideways by his drafting partner and teammate, Greg Biffle, Kenseth would pull off a nice save and avoid causing a potentially big wreck.
He would then slide to the back, re-group, and start moving forward once again.
Jamie McMurray did a fantastic job leading the race toward the end, but would eventually spin out with five laps to go. He managed to miss crashing into anyone, but even trying to stay in front before the final few laps seemed to backfire at Talladega.
Kenseth would eventually get the win, and while he did lead laps at one point, he positioned himself at the right spot when there were two laps to go. He managed to push forward with a lap left and narrowly avoid getting hit by Smoke helped Kenseth win.
Staying in the back or trying to stay in the front the whole time might not always work and, in Matt Kenseth's case, it was more about being in the right spot when there were only a few laps to go.
Even Tony Stewart Tries to Block
Remember last season when Tony Stewart would complain about people blocking him? Tony promised that anyone who did block him would end up getting dumped and knocked out of the way.
Is it ironic then, that Tony would attempt to block Michael Waltrip on the last lap of the Talladega race to try and maintain his race lead?
At least Smoke would admit he was trying to block to hold on to the race lead.
Stewart was quoted over at ESPN.com as saying:
"I just screwed up. I turned down and cut across Michael and crashed the whole field. It was my fault, blocking and trying to stay where I was at."
"I was trying to win the race and I was trying to stay ahead of Matt there and Michael got a great run on the bottom and had a big head of steam, and when I turned down, I turned across the front of his car. Just a mistake on my part but cost a lot of people a bad day."
Talladega is one of those races where some drivers will do whatever it takes to win. In Smoke's case, he would attempt to do what he hates done to him.
Tony would try to block and hold back his competitors so he could get the win. In the end though, Smoke only managed to wipe out most of the field.
It's Called the Big One for a Reason
There were several spin outs at Talladega, but most of them managed to avoid causing a big wreck.
Matt Kenseth would get turned by Greg Biffle and manage to save his car and prevent causing an accident.
The crash Carl Edwards got caught up in only damaged his car, Cole Whitt’s, and Joey Logano’s.
Even Jamie McMurray managed to avoid causing a huge wreck.
It looked like Talladega was going to go the full distance and avoid the infamous "big one" wreck that usually happens at these superspeedways.
Then, as the drivers pushed and shoved on the final lap, Tony Stewart would try to block Michael Waltrip and all hell would break loose.
Stewart himself would flip and go semi-airborne, colliding with the cars around him and starting a chain reaction that would literally take out most of the field.
Kenseth would manage to avoid the wreck, since he happened to be out in front, and would drive away with the victory while the rest of the drivers looked like they had just been in a demolition derby.
Other drivers, like Jeff Gordon, would manage to avoid the big one as well, and Gordon would benefit by moving up in the chase standings.
Fans might not agree with drivers hanging out in the back and trying to avoid the wrecks, but after seeing this huge collision at Talladega, can you really blame them?
Talladega Seperates the Chase
For other drivers though, Talladega improved some of their chase standings and ruined some of their chase hopes.
Jeff Gordon, for example, would benefit from the huge wreck at 'Dega and would move up four spots in the chase. He sits 42 points behind Brad Keselowski and, while he still has a lot of work to do if he hopes to really compete for the championship, his Talladega finish helped him move even closer to the top.
Other drivers like Earnhardt Jr. and Harvick would go backwards in the standings after Talladega. Their chances of winning the chase are basically over, thanks in part to the Talladega crash and where they ended up placing when it was finally over.
'Dega is one race that splits up the chase drivers. Keselowski, for example, was able to separate himself a little more from Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, who sit 2nd and 3rd in points respectively.
Drivers tend to be a little concerned when they come to Talladega because of what can happen here and what it does to the chase once they leave. This year has been no different as 'Dega has separated the chase drivers even more as we move forward to next week’s race.
Kyle Busch Learned His Lesson (For Now)
During the Dover race last week, Kyle Busch would go on a tirade about Toyota racing development. The TRD president would issue a statement about Kyle Busch and how he was disappointed in what Busch had said.
Busch would also put on a performance at 'Dega. Kyle would race up front for part of the race and would even come back from a pit road penalty he had caused himself for speeding.
He would also finish third, the highest of any Toyota car in the race.
Clearly Busch was on a mission to fix his mistakes from Dover. Toyota plays a huge role in Busch's racing career, so a simple apology wasn't enough.
Did Kyle end up learning a valuable lesson from last week? His race results show he was trying to make up for his mistakes and the solid performance at 'Dega does indeed prove Busch may have learned his lesson—at least for now.
Maybe next time Kyle decides to complain, he will do it in private where no one can hear him.
Matt Kenseth Dominates Restrictor Plate Racing
When it comes to restrictor plate racing, Matt Kenseth has been dominating all year.
From his win at Daytona in the beginning of the season to his latest win at Talladega, Kenseth has been the man to beat. Besides his two wins, he also was a contender for the win at both the Talladega race in May and the Daytona race in July.
Kenseth and the 17 team clearly know what it takes to win at these superspeedways. His strategy seemed to be a mixed bag at Talladega. Kenseth was literally all over the field, running up in front at points and running in the back after he almost spun out while being pushed by Biffle.
He was quoted over at ESPN.com as saying:
"I knew at the end I couldn't be on the bottom with cars outside of me and cars pushing me. I knew that we'd get wrecked, because the last lap people are going to push you all the way around the track."
He simply knows when and where to be at the end of the race and while he did get a little aggressive at the end (don't they all?), he pulled out in front at the right time to avoid the big wreck at the end.
As Kenseth drove away and crossed the finish line it became clear that this new restrictor plate pack racing is something Kenseth is extremely good at.
This was his first win at Talladega and without a doubt his ability to race in restrictor plate setups played a huge role in his victory, along with a little bit of luck.
Kurt Busch Waits for No One
Kurt Busch crashed his car when he ran out of fuel while leading at Talladega. He would then be checked out by the medical team, like they normally do after a driver has an accident.
Kurt Busch, unlike other drivers though, waits for no one.
He would drive away while the medical staff was still making sure he was alright. As his team GM would tell Kurt that NASCAR wanted him to stop over the radio, Busch would continue driving because he didn't have his helmet on.
NASCAR would park Busch and the 51 team for the remainder of the race. It's hard to imagine Busch would want to go out like this, since he is getting ready to make the switch to Furniture Row Racing on October 13th.
Busch was quoted over at aol.com as saying:
"I was hoping to get the car back to the garage to work on it and get back in this race. NASCAR was yelling at me to stop, I didn't have my helmet on and I was in worse trouble. This is the story of my life. Kurt Busch. Leading the race, runs out of gas, tries to get back in the race with that competitive desire, gets yelled at by NASCAR and now I have a storm of media around me and I don't know what to even say or what to do next."
Why would Busch try to drive off in the first place? Wasn't his car out of fuel? Why not just follow standard NASCAR procedure instead of driving off? Busch could have gotten his car back out onto the track and at least finished the race if he had waited for clearance.
Instead, he ended up getting parked for his last race with Phoenix Racing.
Talladega Didn't Slow Keselowski Down
Brad Keselowski managed to grab the points lead last week with his win in Dover. He was only ahead of Jimmie Johnson by five points and he was ahead of third-place Denny Hamlin by 16.
Now Keselowski is leading Johnson by 14 points and Hamlin by 23 points.
Talladega is one of those races where the points can change and the points leader needs to make the right decisions in order to stay in first.
While Keselowski did get caught up in the big wreck at the end, it didn't slow him down from increasing his points lead over the rest of the chase drivers. He managed to finish in 7th, placing higher than both Johnson and Hamlin.
If Keselowski wants to win the championship, any points advantage he can get over Johnson and Hamlin helps him dramatically. Both drivers survived enough of Talladega to keep them close to Brad and, with races like Charlotte and Kansas coming up, Keselowski will need to keep his momentum moving forward.
Talladega can do a lot of damage to a points leader. It can send them moving back down the ladder in the chase and can also play a part in ruining their championship hopes.
Talladega, though, couldn't slow Brad Keselowski down.