Quick Hits on Talladega
Talladega always gets the juices flowing; this year was no exception. Coming after an off-week, everyone was ready for a superspeedway race. There was uncertainty about the kind of racing we'd see. Gone were the restrictor plates as the era of tapered spacers was underway. Yes, I realize the goal was essentially the same but combined with the high downforce of today's cars, folks in the garage, the stands and apparently in the NASCAR offices weren't sure what lay ahead.
When the cars took the track for practice, speeds went over 200 mph. Alarming both drivers and officials, the new 9" spoiler was given a tweak with the goal of slowing them down in the name of safety. Would the cars be noticeably slower? Would we still see pack racing? Would a driver be able to get away from the pack? Would we see the old tandem drafting from a few years ago? All those questions were answered Sunday when Austin Dillon led the field into turn one.
Simply put, it was Talladega. Fast, furious, edge of your seat, 38 lead changes among 16 drivers, uncertain yet certainly exciting until the end Talladega. Only 10 laps in, Bubba Wallace started the first accident while trying to avoid getting into Ryan Blaney. Six cars were involved with four falling out of the race including Kevin Harvick who remains winless in 2019.
Nearing the end of the race was a long green flag run. That's always money time at this place as everyone wonders if the race can stay green until the end or will someone become too bold in putting it all on the line. That question was answered with a five car wreck that ended the days of Chris Buescher and Matt DiBenedetto, both of whom were having great days running up front. In DiBenedetto's case he even led a lap under green.
That set the scene for the typical closing chaos we've come to expect from this place. Coming to the white flag, Ricky Stenhouse spanked the wall. Without a doubt, NASCAR wanted to end the race under green if possible. As the field came off turn 2 and went into the backstretch, a multi-car wreck ensued resulting in Kyle Larson tumbling and flipping on the inside of the track. At almost the same time, the tower made the call to throw the caution due to the front stretch debris left by Stenhouse's car.
Predictably, the negative and loud voices on social media aimed the hate at the sanctioning body. Why didn't they throw the yellow sooner? Which incident was it put out for? Why didn't the race go into overtime? The fact is NASCAR should be applauded for trying to let the field race back to the checkers. Because they'd already taken the white flag, there would be no overtime.
Chase Elliott earned a popular victory, his first of the season and Chevy's first as well. It was his fourth career victory. Teammate Alex Bowman was second and Ryan Preece was third. Other fresh names in the top 10 included Daniel Hemric (5th) and Brendan Gaughan (8th). It's doubtful there could've been a more popular winner Sunday than Elliott. The cheers were so loud and long, one could've thought he was an Earnhardt.
Some questions were answered but many still remain as the 2019 season unfolds into early summer. We no longer have to wonder if or when a Chevy driver will win. Can Elliott continue to compete for wins? What a story that could become when countered against Kyle Busch's run so far this year. When will Stewart-Haas and specifically Kevin Harvick finally win? And what about Jimmie Johnson, now winless in the past 69 races? The series moves on to Dover. Personally, it's never been a favorite track of mine but I've noticed more drivers saying they like it in recent years. Add that to the quality of racing we've seen so far this season and hopefully we're in for a treat from Delaware.