Many of the major series were off this weekend, as so racing fans were limited to NASCAR’s Nextel Cup and Busch series at the ultra-fast Talladega Superspeedway, and the Craftsman Truck Series at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis. Speaking of ultra-fast, the NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series was shaking the earth at Bristol’s Thunder Valley. The World Rally Championship switched from tarmac to gravel in Argentina and the Grand Prix Masters raced in Qatar, but neither of those is available on American television. That’s why we’re here, right?
NASCAR: Johnson Wins Talladega Shootout
Jimmie Johnson emerged as the king in the high-speed chess match that characterizes the closing laps of a race at Talladega Superspeedway on Monday afternoon, after the event was postponed for persistent rains on Sunday. It was Johnson’s second restrictor-plate race win of the season, the first being in the season-opening Daytona 500, where the victory was clouded by the specter of an illegal aerodynamic device discovered before qualifying, even though it was rectified by race time. There was no such controversy this time.
Johnson, who had been criticized in recent years for over-aggressive driving on the plate tracks, seems to have learned his lessons well. He maintained a very low profile all day, and then darted below teammate Brian Vickers to take the lead on the last lap, holding off defending series champ Tony Stewart to the checkered flag. Vickers, who was denied his first series win, settled for third ahead of Jeff Burton and Jamie McMurray. Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Scott Riggs and Robby Gordon rounded out the top 10.
As always at Talladega, the action was fast and furious, with three- and four-wide packs of cars racing inches from each other at 190mph. Polesitter Elliott Sadler and Jeff Gordon seemed to have the cars to beat, Gordon leading the most laps (62) and Sadler tied for second-most (23) with Kenseth. However, Gordon and Sadler got shuffled back in the closing laps as the land-rush checkered-flag run took shape, and settled for 15th and 16th respectively.
Also, as is customary at Talladega, there were a couple of spectacular multi-car crashes. The first occurred at Lap 10, when Edwards tapped Kyle Busch, who was running five-wide, and triggered a melee that collected 14 cars, including those of Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin (third and fourth in points, respectively, going into the race) plus Kevin Harvick, Bobby Labonte and Ryan Newman, among others. The other big wreck occurred late, on Lap 174, when promising rookie Denny Hamlin tapped Dave Blaney, who was running four-wide, and set off a chain reaction that claimed Newman again, plus Michael Waltrip, Reed Sorenson, Joe Nemechek and Travis Kvapil, among a total of eight.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driving a black Budweiser No. 8 in tribute to his late father, whose 55th birthday would have been Saturday and who was inducted into Talladega’s International Motorsports Hall of Fame on Thursday, led three different times early in the race for a total of eight laps, then escaped a spin on Lap 88 only to blow an engine on Lap 165, disappointing the legion of red- and black-clad fans in the grandstands.
Johnson’s win put him back in the championship points lead, with a 19-point advantage over Kenseth. Stewart leapfrogged Kahne and Martin for third, another 57 points back.
The race delay placed a lot of time pressure on the teams, who headed straight from Talladega to Charlotte for a two-day Goodyear tire test (shortened from the originally-scheduled three days) on the newly repaved Lowe’s Motor Speedway before hitting the road for Richmond, where they will race on Saturday night.
NASCAR Nextel Cup Top Five:
1) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, 188 laps
2) Tony Stewart, No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, 188 laps
3) Brian Vickers, No. 25 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, 188 laps
4) Jeff Burton, No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, 188 laps
5) Jamie McMurray, No. 26 Roush Racing Ford Fusion, 188 laps
Driver’s Championship: 1) Jimmie Johnson, 1394; 2) Matt Kenseth, 1373; 3) Tony Stewart, 1316; 4) Kasey Kahne, 1213; 5) Mark Martin, 1210.
NASCAR Busch Series: Truex Takes Talladega Triple
Two-time and defending Busch Series champ Martin Truex Jr., who is running full-time in the Nextel Cup Series this year, made his first Busch Series appearance of the year in spectacular fashion. Driving a Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevy painted in black-and-silver livery reminiscent of the late seven-time champion, he held off two Richard Childress Racing entries and two Hendrick Motorsports challengers to take the win. To make things even more ironic, it was his third Talladega win in three appearances, coming on what would have been the 55th birthday of the man who was synonymous with the No. 3 and on the weekend he was posthumously inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.