Friday, October 29, 2010

Sprint Cup 2010: Race 33 -- Talladega, "The Big One"

Land of the Indian's Curse???

Talladega is not a comfy race to watch. Being NASCAR’s longest track at 2.66 miles with its high banks, the technology exceeded the race track well over 20 years ago when Bill Elliott set NASCAR’s all-time speed record of 212.8 mph in 1986. The excitement of such speed was very short-lived as it proved to be dangerous beyond calculation. The following May, Bobby Allison cut a tire and his car went sailing airborne in the tri-oval part of the track slamming the catch fence just avoiding landing among the spectators. Nevertheless, debris flying everywhere caused injuries forcing the beginning of the restrictor plate era at Talladega and Daytona. Any thought of unrestricting the cars was silenced for good when Rusty Wallace testing for the COT program recorded a time of 216.3 in testing. What Wallace had to say about the experience was enough to end any speculation in that regard. When Brad Kesolowski played bumper tag with Carl Edwards in last year’s spring race, with Edwards’s car flying into the catch fence, the seriousness of Talladega’s safety was reborn.

While plates slow the cars down, they also bunch them up into long aerodynamic drafting trains where several cars lock in line with usually two trains racing side by side. All it takes are a couple drivers trying to mix things up and get racy or the slightest miscalculation, the result then is the “big one” a multicar pileup eliminating several cars from competition in the process. Because of how cars have to fall in line, often some of the series best drivers are caught further back in the massive heap and get whipped out.

It is a nerve wracking experience watching racing from Talladega, seeing the trains form, the seeing some drivers getting a little antsy and with every wobble and jiggle feeling that uneasy nervousness that the big one might explode.

The impact on the 2010 chase could be striking. It would appear that the Chase is pretty much a contest between Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson with Kevin Harvick riding shotgun sixty two points behind. Should Hamlin or Johnson be involved in the “big one,” the results could be a one man standing scenario heading for Texas next week. If both drivers got eliminated, suddenly there could be a real chase again. Of the three competitors, clearly, Kevin Harvick is the toughest restrictor plate driver. Johnson has one Talladega win and four top tens averaging 17.8 finish which is below his career average. Denny Hamlin, meanwhile, has no wins and only 3 tops fives which account for his only top 10’s at the track yielding a 19.3 average finish. Harvick has one win at Talladega but also shows four top 5’s and eight top 10’s racing to a fine 15.5 average starting position.

Aside from the Chase for the Championship, the fate of Richard Petty Motorsports continues to be the nagging story surrounding the Sprint Cup tour. The two things that are certain right now are that all four teams will race at Talladega but after that, all is uncertain. George Gillette continues to sell off assets but all money raised goes to satisfying his massive debt. None of this capital can be used to fund future racing exploits.

The ideal scenario would be to find a buyer who will buyout Gillette’s interest and keep the Richard Petty legacy intact. Any solution short of that could see the Petty name being seriously compromised for its involvement in NASCAR. The situation is way too explosive to even attempt to predict how this will all turn out.


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