The Many Losers at Talladega
Normally, on the Monday after a Sprint Cup Series event, we are celebrating or bemoaning a driver's victory, based on who that driver is, and talking about the big crash, controversy, or decision by NASCAR.
Needless to say, yesterday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway provided all of that, and then some. However, it seems like there are very few winners in the ordeal.
The first and most prominent loser was the man who was yards away from his 17th Sprint Cup win, Carl Edwards.
A last lap battle between Edwards and Brad Keselowski ended with Keselowski taking the checkered flag and Edwards flying wildly into the protective fencing around the 2.66 mile track.
Edwards and Keselowski had worked together in the draft so prominently used at Daytona and Talladega, the two restrictor-plate facilities on the Cup schedule, to move into the lead ahead of a tandem of Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
With a two-man race to the finish, Keselowski peeked to Edwards's outside as the cars entered the tri-oval. When Edwards blocked Keselowski's advance, Keselowski moved to the inside, hugging the yellow "out of bounds" line that has been in place at restrictor plate tracks since 2001.
When Edwards moved low to block this second advance, Keselowski, clearly aware of last fall's Talladega race, where Regan Smith's win was denied due to a maneuver below the yellow line, held his ground. The two collided, spinning Edwards.
Edwards' car began to lift from the ground, and completely took flight after an unsuspecting Newman ran headlong into Edwards.
Edwards held no ill will towards Keselowski, stating, "That's what Brad's supposed to do. He's assuming I know he's inside. It was so quick I didn't know he was inside."
The sanctioning body did not avoid "Cousin Carl's" wrath.
"But [NASCAR] put us in this box," said Edwards, "and we'll race like this until we kill somebody, and then they'll change it."
Edwards's argument was that any racer is unwilling to relinquish a chance to win because of the yellow line rule.
This is why Smith, under the impression that the rule was not in effect on the last lap after a ruling in a 2007 Camping World Truck Series event, elected to dip below the line to pass Tony Stewart.
However, because of Smith's misfortune, Keselowski knew better, and held his line when Edwards came knocking on his right-front fender.
However, this argument may merely be a case of understandably blind rage.
“The yellow line is there to prevent us from running underneath it, prevent us from being crazy,” Keselowski said. “But the bottom line is that is who we are—we’re all crazy race-car drivers and we’re going to run into each other. That yellow line could be six foot higher or six foot lower, and we’d run into each other."
Suppose there was no yellow line yesterday in Alabama. When Edwards moved low to block, Keselowski would have had the option to move lower, which we'll assume he does. However, he can only move so far down before hitting grass or losing too much speed to take the win. If Edwards is still blocking when Keselowski elects to hold his line...
Nonetheless, Edwards' comments have sent fans into a frenzy to eliminate the yellow-line rule, in place for driver safety.
As a whole, the fans lost early and often at Talladega.
In less than ten laps, several fan favorites, such as Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, and Kevin Harvick were out of contention following a thirteen-car accident in turns three and four.
Sure, it's "The Big One" that everyone hopes to see—unless their favorite driver is involved in it. And a lot of NASCAR Nation lost interest (including 97 percent of the female audience, if Kasey Kahne's Allstate advertisements are any indication) before the first round of pit stops.
Then, there's the finish, marred with controversy and, more importantly, injury. Seven spectators were injured by debris from either Edwards's car or the catchfence following the last lap fracas. Although none of the injuries are life-threatening, these fans got a little more than they bargained for from their personal experience at NASCAR's longest race track.
Those who were not in danger of flying shards of metal erupted into loud cheers when Edwards extricated himself from his mangled, burning Ford and jogged to the finish line, a la Ricky Bobby. Not that Keselowski was celebrating at the time or anything.
Brad Keselowski and James Finch
Lost in the hubbub of flying cars, painted lines, and massive melees is the fact that Keselowski's win is one of the biggest upsets of the decade (the only thing that I can think of that comes close is Elliot Sadler's win in the Wood Brothers No. 21 at Bristol in 2001).
Keselowski, the son of former Truck Series regular Bob Keselowski and nephew of Ron Keselowski, an independent part-time campaigner in Cup (then the Grand National Series) in the '70s, was making his fifth Cup start. In his four previous starts, his best finish was 19th.
James Finch has been an owner at NASCAR's top two levels since 1989. Despite 11 Nationwide Series wins, James Finch's cars had only accumulated two top-fives at the Cup level.
This moment should be one of sheer jubilation not just for Keselowski and Finch, but for the entire NASCAR Community.
However, this event will be marked by what caused Keselowski's win more than the win itself: several contenders falling out early because of accidents, and the last lap contact between Keselowski and Edwards that dropped Edwards to 24th and injured several fans.
Other than the obligatory congratulations to the winner, most drivers spoke on the dangers of Talladega, the importance of avoiding the big wrecks, and the impacts of restrictor plates, the yellow line rule, and the second airborne accident in as many days (Matt Kenseth flipped in Saturday's Nationwide race).
Where does the traveling circus go from here? Do they address the concerns posed by drivers, or stand their ground and argue that drivers are ultimately the decision-makers on race day? Will this win catapult Keselowski and Finch to greater success? Will drivers think twice before making last lap blocks?
It gives us plenty to talk about.
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