TALLADEGA, ALA. - After the mayhem that will be the last and only thing anyone will remember about Sunday’s Good Sam Roadside 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, the question must be asked: Has NASCAR’s restrictor plate program run its course?
Oh, there will be some who will say that Matt Kenseth’s win on the 2.66 mile banked oval in central Alabama was exciting racing.
But one of them will not be the sport’s most popular and most influential driver -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt, who had his Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship dashed in a screaming pile of twisted metal on the final lap of the race at Talladega, was outspoken afterwards about the kind of racing you get on restrictor plate tracks.
“It’s not safe. It’s not. It’s bloodthirsty,” Earnhardt said. “If that’s what people want, that’s ridiculous.”
And this comes from a driver who has had huge success on the big tracks with five wins at Talladega and another two at Daytona International Speedway.
Earnhardt went as far as to threaten that if NASCAR doesn’t change the way races like the one at Talladega Sunday are run he will consider quitting the sport.
“If this is what we did every week I wouldn’t be doing it; I will just put it to you like that,” he said. “If this is how we raced every week I would find another job.”
Earnhardt said it was not just the physical and mental cost of the race that bothered him but the fact he doesn’t even consider restrictor plate racing as racing at all.
“It’s really not racing,” he said. “I don’t know what it is. That cost a lot of money right there.”
Earnhardt charged that if NASCAR wants to keep restrictor plate rules the way they are, the sanctioning body should build the cars, saving the team owners a bunch of cash they will need to fix 25 wrecked cars.
“If this is how we are going to race and nothing is going to change, I think NASCAR should build the cars,” he said. “It would save us a lot of money.”
On Sunday, even the field mice in the infield knew there was going to be a wreck on the final two laps after a green-white-checkers re-start sent the race into NASCAR’s version of overtime. And when Tony Stewart moved down the track in front of Michael Waltrip all hell broke loose, sending Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet barrel rolling into the No. 5 Chevrolet of Kasey Kahne and then everybody behind them just kept wrecking.
Four-time champion Jeff Gordon, who has 80 superspeedway races on his curriculum vitae, said he has never witnessed anything like what happened on Sunday.
“That was the craziest, craziest finish I’ve ever experienced here at Talladega,” he said.
Kevin Harvick, who was one of the crash victims, said there is nothing a driver can do to avoid what happened under the current restrictor plate rules.
“You can feel it coming, you can see it coming,” he said of the big one. “It is just whether it is going to hit you or not. It just hit us.”
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing may have lost its Bass Pro Shops sponsorship on the No. 1 Chevrolet of Jamie McMurray to Tony Stewart’s No. 14 team, but sources say McDonald’s will be back with a bigger presence next season for the EGR team. ... Parker Kligerman finally won a Camping World Truck Series race -- after five second place finishes -- when he crossed the start-finish line first in the Fred’s 250 at Talladega. ... Mark Webber is not very happy with Formula One rookie Romain Grosjean after the Frenchman spun Webber on turn 2 of the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. Webber called Grosjean “a nut case” ... A.J. Allmendinger, suspended by NASCAR and then fired by Penske Racing from the No. 22 Sprint Cup Dodge team after a positive drug test, is telling pals that he would rather run in Nationwide Series than go back to IndyCar now that he is eligible to return to racing.
STEWART HOLDS HIS HAND UP
Tony Stewart admitted that the “big one” on the final lap of the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday was all his fault.
It was nice for him to ‘fess up but that will be little consolation for Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer, who all took huge hits in the Chase for the Championship.
All three of those drivers looked to have at least top 10 finishes until Stewart veered left in front of the No. 55 Toyota of Michael Waltrip, touching off a huge wreck that ended up taking out more than a dozen race cars, including Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet, that ended up on its roof in the middle of the mayhem.
“I screwed up,” Stewart said. “I take 100% of the blame.”
Stewart said he was just trying to get into the lead on the final lap.
“I was going for the lead,” he said. “It was a mistake on my part and I ended up causing a lot of people to have a bad day.”
For Johnson, the result was that the No. 48 Chevrolet team dropped from just five points back of Chase leaders Brad Keselowski to 14 back.
Keselowski was lucky to escape relatively unscathed from the last race crash to finish seventh in the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge.
And Earnhardt, who had hoped to use a good finish or even a win at Talladega to push himself into the championship picture, ended up in 20th place after his No. 88 Chevrolet was caught up in the wreck.
Earnhardt dropped from seventh place to 11th, 58 behind Keselowski, all but ending any chance of getting back into Chase contention.
Stewart, too, dropped dramatically from fifth to seventh, a 43 point deficit to the leader.
BUSCH STILL A BAD BOY
Kurt Busch apparently just can’t help himself.
The perennial NASCAR Sprint Cup bad boy was had it again on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway when he had a run in with track safety workers who came to his aid after he crashed his No. 51 James Finch Racing Chevrolet on Lap 100 of the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500.
At first Busch said he ran out of fuel and that is what caused his wreck. But Busch took off while track workers were at his car and he refused to stop even when ordered to by NASCAR officials.
Busch said he was only trying to get back into the race.
“I got out of the car and surveyed the damage, saw that it could still roll so I jumped back in,” he said. “I remembered with these engines they will run at 20% of fuel pressure. So I tried like heck to get it back to the garage.
“That is the competitor in me, which is the desire that I have and that is what gets misconstrued all the time.
“This is the way my life works. Today is a perfect example. I am leading, I wreck, I run out of gas, I’m still that competitive guy that tried to get back in the race and now NASCAR is yelling at me because I don’t have my helmet on and I’m trying to get it to the garage so the guys can work on it. Now I’m in trouble.”
NASCAR will decide over the next two days on a punishment for Busch. It could be that he will be parked at the next race at Charlotte Motor Speedway where he was expected to debut for his new team -- the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet.
Top 10 at Good Sam Roadside 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
1 Matt Kenseth Ford
2 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet
3 Kyle Busch Toyota
4 David Ragan Ford
5 Regan Smith Chevrolet
6 Greg Biffle Ford
7 Brad Keselowski Dodge
8 Travis Kvapil Toyota
9 Ryan Newman Chevrolet
10 Jeff Burton Chevrolet
NUTS & BOLTS
NASCAR Sprint Cup
Matt Kenseth managed to get to the front in the No. 17 Ford just before the “big one” in Turn 4 on Lap 189 of Sunday’s Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 at Talladega Superspeedway to win the fourth race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
It was Kenseth’s second superspeedway win of the year, after taking the Daytona 500 in February.
Jeff Gordon, who finished second in the No. 24 Chevrolet, also avoided the 20-car wreck that was caused when Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet turned in front of Michael Waltrip’s No. 55 Toyota.
Kyle Busch finished third in the No. 18 Toyota with David Ragan in the No. 34 Ford and Regan Smith in the No. 78 Chevrolet rounding out the top five. Chase leader Brad Keselowski finished seventh in the No. 2 Dodge boosting his lead to 14 points over Jimmie Johnson.
Sebastian Vettel watched in his rearview mirror as a first turn, first lap wreck at the Japanese Grand Prix took out world championship leader Fernando Alonso and but the Red Bull Renault driver within spitting distance of his third consecutive Formula One title.
Vettel, who started on the pole, dominated the race the rest of the way on the Suzuka Circuit.
Vettel is now just four points behind Alonso with five races to go after wins in Italy and now Japan.
Felipe Massa had his best result of the F-1 season with a second -- his first podium finish in nearly two years for Ferrari.
Hometown hero Kamui Kobayashi, in a Sauber Ferrari, beat McLaren’s Jenson Button for his first F-1 podium, finishing in third place.
Check out a recap from today's NASCAR Sprint Cup Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500.
Sun Media's Dean of Speed took online readers through the action in Alabama.