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Instant Analysis: Talladega

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Tom Jensen

   
 
Instant Analysis: Talladega

Instant Analysis from Tom Jensen

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A lifelong gearhead, Tom Jensen reports on automobiles and auto racing for SPEEDTV.com. Jensen has been writing about both topics for more than 15 years and is the former managing editor of National Speed Sport News. He is the recipient of the 1997 National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award and numerous other journalism awards. Jensen's latest book is "Cheating: An Inside Look At The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit Of Speed." Click here for Tom Jensen's columns.

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    HOLY COW!

    Gordon wrecks.

    Burton has a flat tire.

    Vickers wrecks the two leaders Earnhardt and his own teammate, Jimmie Johnson, on the very last lap to win his first race, earning a loud chorus of boos from the Earnhardt partisans.

    NASCAR is still calculating the final points.

    Oh, there will be a stink over this finish. Vickers causes the wreck of the top 2 cars, but gets the win.

    Top five: Vickers, Kurt Busch, Kahne, Kenseth and Truex.

    BRIAN VICKERS WINS!!!!!!

    Lap 188: White flag. Vickers hits Johnson on backstretch and knocks him into Earnhardt! Unbelievable!!!! Caution out, field frozen. On to videotape.

    Lap 187: Junior still in charge.

    Lap 185: Johnson laying back a little for a run.

    Lap 184: No change up front. Everyone is waiting to the end to gang up on Earnhardt.

    Lap 183: Five to go and the order remains the same with the top four. Then it's Busch, Kenseth, Trues, Harvick, Jeff Green and Martin.

    Lap 180: Junior leads Johnson, Vickers and Kahne. Everyone is staying single file in the front 15 or so cars.

    Lap 180: Burton pits for four tires under green. He'll probably finish 25th or so. This will alter the points race dramatically!

    Lap 179: Green flag. Single-file restart with 25 cars on the lead lap. Burton has a flat tire! This is huge!!!

    Bowyer black-flagged for damage on car.

    Lap 176: Bobby Labonte got the Lucky Dog on the last caution.

    Earnhardt leads Johnson, Vickers, Kahne, Burton, Busch, Kenseth, Truex, Martin and Harvick. Kyle Busch is 22nd, Hamlin 23rd and Gordon 36th.


    Caution 5

    Lap 173: Caution No. 5. Stremme turns Yeley coming out of Turn 2, a wreck that also snares Menard and Stewart. Hamlin also had some damage, meaning all three Gibbs cars were in the wreck.

    Earnhardt prefers the high line and continues to run strong. The lead-lap pack is 27 cars.

    Lap 170: Earnhardt leads, followed by Johnson, Kahne, Vickers, Busch, Truex, Burton, Harvick, Kenseth and Jarrett.

    Lap 166: Earnhardt to the lead ahead of Kahne, Johnson and Busch.

    Lap 164: Kahne leads Kurt Busch, Earnhardt and Johnson.

    Lap 164: Most cars are on the edge of fuel window.

    Lap 164: Harvick's car appears to be OK, as he's up to eighth.

    Lap 162: Kahne leads Johnson, Vickers, Mike Wallave and Kurt Busch.

    Lap 159: Kahne out in front ahead of Johnson, as Stewart falls out of the draft and deep into the pack.

    Gordon tried to go back in race but couldn't meet the minimum speed.

    Lap 158: Tony Stewart takes the lead with 30 laps to go.

    Lap 155: Johnson back in front.

    Lap 154: Menard into lead.

    Lap 153: Johnson takes lead ahead of Vickers and Kenseth.

    Lap 153: Green flag.


    Ed from Peoria, Ill.: I thought the purpose of the smaller fuel cell was to break up the larger packs on the track, however; that doesn't appear to be the case. Any chance NASCAR will return to the larger fuel cell?

    Tom Jensen: Ed: I don't expect the larger fuel cells back soon.


    Lap 151: Leaders pit. Most everyone takes just takes a splash of fuel. The leaders are Truex, Johnson, Vickers, Kenseth, Menard, Earnhardt, Busch, Martin, Burton and Edwards.

    Lap 150: Caution No. 4 as Sorenson's car blows up. Jarrett gets Lucky Dog. Order is Johnson, Vickers, Kenseth, Kyle Busch, enard, Kahne, Stewart, Robby Gordon, Nemechek and Earnhardt.

    Lap 148: Johnson to lead.

    Lap 147: Vickers to lead.

    Lap 145: Green flag. After pit stops, the leaders are: Sorenson, Kenseth, Martin, Robby Gordon and Vickers.

    Lap 144: Gordon's hopes of a fifth championship are all but over. Burton tops off for fuel.

    Lap 141: Biffle said his car is out. Gordon complaining that NASCAR did nothing to control violent bump-drafting on the track.

    Harvick is now 27th, Hamlin 29th and Gordon 37th and unlikely to get back above 30th or so.

    Lap 139: The accident occurred at the entrance to Turn 1. The total number of cars involved was 12: Bowyer, Edwards, Truex, Hamlin, Marlin, Biffle, Gordon, McMurray, Harvick, Mears, Petty and Edwards.

    Lap 139: Gordon and McMurray to garage. Lead-lap cars pit. Hamlin and Kyle Petty were also caught in collision.


    Caution 3

    Lap 138: THE BIG ONE!!! It starts when Edwards hits Mears. Gordon and Harvick have their cars heavily damaged. Much more to come ...

    Lap 136: Kenseth in lead ahead of Kurt Busch and Burton.

    Lap 135: Green flag. So far, 47 lead changes among 16 drivers.

    Lap 133: Waltrip pits, gives lead to Bowyer.

    Lap 132: Leaders pit; they will have to make at least one more stop before the end of the race. Some drivers take gas only, others 2 or 4 tires. The order out of the pits is: Waltrip, Bowyer, Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Burton, Newman, Martin, Paul Menard, Edwards and Kyle Busch. Johnson is 17th, Gordon 18th, Harvick, 23rd, Hamlin 30th and Earnhardt 32nd. Stewart given pit-road speeding penalty.

    Lap 131: Caution No. 2 for debris. Earnhardt gets the Lucky Dog and 150,000 red-shirted fans exhale.

    Lap 126: Not so fast, says Clint Bowyer, who leads his first lap.

    Lap 125: Kenseth takes lead.

    Lap 125: Gordon gets hung out of the draft and goes from first to 27th in a single lap. Wow!

    Lap 124: Now it's Gordon in the lead.

    Lap 122: Earnhardt passes Vickers, but is still nearly one full lap down. Kyle Busch takes the lead, ahead of Gordon and Vickers, for a Hendrick 1-2-3. You know the order will be jumbled a dozen times or more before the end.

    Lap 121: Earnhardt bump drafts Vickers ahead of Gordon.

    Lap 120: Earnhardt is 36th and so far the only Chaser having a really, really bad day.

    Lap 118: Vickers leads Gordon, Mears and Johnson, as Hendrick cars have three of the top four spots.

    Lap 116: Earnhardt gets lapped, but is in position for the Lucky Dog if a caution comes out.

    Lap 112: After green-flag stops are complete, the leaders are Vickers, Kurt Busch, Johnson, Hamlin, Gordon and Mears.

    Lap 111: Mark Martin inherited the lead, but pits for fuel and tires. No debris on grille. Jack gets stuck under Martin's car and dings its side skirt a little.

    Lap 110: Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Edwards, Biffle are in next group to pit.

    Lap 109: Vickers, Johnson, Hamlin, Harvick, Kurt Busch, head next group to pit.

    Lap 108: Gordon pits with Mears, Stremme and Kahne, among others.

    Lap 105: Earnhardt is now 38th, one lap down and not in position for the Lucky Dog, but green-flag stops are about to start so he could be OK.

    Lap 103: Earnhardt has a flat left-front tire. He thinks he ran over debris between Turns 1 & 2. This will kill his title hopes. Vickers takes lead ahead of Johnson and Hamlin.

    Lap 100: McMurray is having his best race of what has so far been a forgettable season. Vickers, Johnson, Harvick and David Stremme follow.

    The race is starting to shape up as most restrictor-plate races do, with the field being shuffled forwards, back and sideways dramatically almost every lap. Gordon, who has led the most laps, has slipped to 19th.

    Lap 98: The Hendrick cars and the Roush cars have been stout all day, but Earnhardt is looking good, too, as the racing is starting to get rougher.

    Lap 95: Where did Mike Wallace come from? He's running an old model Ford Taurus, a discontinued model. Harvick is up to ninth, better than he's run most of the race.

    Lap 94: Halfway. Jamie McMurray bounces off Kyle Busch and into the lead, with Mike Wallace third, then Gordon, Vickers, Earnhardt, Kahne and Johnson.

    Lap 92: Junior thrills the Earnhardt nation by putting the No. 8 back in the lead ahead of Kyle Busch, Biffle and Jeff Gordon.

    Lap 91: Johnson has moved up a little to 22nd, one spot ahead of Harvick, who has not run well since winning the opening Chase race at New Hampshire.

    Lap 90: Kyle Busch leads Gordon, Kurt Busch, Earnhardt, Newman and Biffle.

    Lap 87: Martin reporting climbing engine temps; debris on grille suspected.

    Lap 85: Kyle Busch challenges Gordon for lead, but Earnhardt pushes Gordon back ahead. Eight Chasers, all but Harvick and Johnson, are in top 12.

    Interestingly, Earnhardt and Gordon are doing a lot of drafting together. So far, Gordon has led the most laps.

    Lap 84: So far, the drivers have kept their heads and "The Big One" we've been dreading hasn't happened. Let's hope they keep it up.

    Lap 82: Sadler pits with flat right-rear tire. Gordon back out front. Worst Chasers: Harvick is 23rd, Johnson is 33rd.

    Lap 80: Biffle leads Edwards, Gordon, Earnhardt, Martin, Kyle Busch, McMurray, Kurt Busch, Marlin and Newman.

    Lap 79: Biffle retakes race lead.

    Lap 78: Martin is up to fifth.

    Lap 76: Gordon back out front.

    Lap 75: Green flag.

    Top 10: Biffle, Edwards, Sterling Marlin, Kenseth, Gordon, Kyle Busch, McMurray, Martin, Earnhardt and Kurt Busch.

    Lap 74: Most lead-lap cars pit, but Biffle and Edwards stay out. Casey Mears nearly wrecked Jeff Gordon in pits. Robby Gordon misses pit after tangle with Waltrip.


    Caution 1

    Lap 73: Caution No. 1 for debris. Yeley gets Lucky Dog. Biffle leads Edwards, Kenseth, Gordon and McMurray. Then it's Sadler, Earnhardt, Martin, Truex and Robby Gordon.

    Lap 71: Gordon retakes lead from Kenseth.

    Lap 71: Kenseth says he's out of gas as he pits with Biffle and Edwards.

    Lap 70: McMurray and Martin pit along with J.J. Yeley.

    Lap 68: Vickers and Johnson pit.

    Lap 67: Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Hamlin pit.

    Lap 66: Burton, Harvick pit. Mike Bliss gets stop & go penalty.

    Lap 65: Sorenson leads three Ganassi cars down pit road.

    Lap 64: Earnhardt and teammate Truex pit for two tires and gas. Kenseth takes lead.

    Lap 62: Sadler pits for gas obly.Waltrip also pits, as does Gilliland.

    Lap 60: Clint Bowyer pits for right-side tires and gas.

    Lap 58: Kahne is 30th, Hamlin 33rd and Johnson 36th.

    Lap 55: Still green flag all race long, the gap from 1st to 38th is 5.477 seconds.

    Lap 54: Earnhardt is first, ahead of Kenseth and McMurray.

    Lap 53: Gordon back up to 18th, Martin 21st, Hamlin 32nd and Johnson, 36th.

    Lap 51: Kenseth back out front.

    Lap 50: Kurt Busch leads Kenseth by 0.012 seconds. Then it's McMurray, Earnhardt, Burton and Kyle Busch.

    Lap 47: Kenseth leads for the first time; it's the 15th lead change of the day.

    Lap 45: Earnhardt passes Kyle Busch for lead. Jeff Gordon back to 28th.

    Lap 44: Johnson is all the way back to 35th.

    Lap 43: Kyle leads Kurt as Busch brothers 1-2.

    Lap 42: Kyle Busch leads Edwards, Kurt Busch and Earnhardt. Scott Riggs reporting his seat is burning him.

    Lap 39: Earnhardt leads for the first time.

    Lap 38: Buschs 1-2.

    Lap 37: Kyle Busch leads Earnhardt,Biffle and Kurt Busch

    Lap 35: With first round of pit stops complete, Biffle leads Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Earnhardt, Edwards, Kurt Busch, Harvick, Vickers, McMurray and Burton.

    Lap 33: Biffle and Kenseth pit, each take 2 tires.

    Lap 32: Most of the rest of the field pits. Riggs gets pass-through penalty.

    Lap 31: Burton, Sadler, Jarrett lead field down pit road. Nemechek, Sorenson among others to pit.

    Lap 30: Biffle leads McMurray, Vickers, Earnhardt, Kurt Busch, Kenseth, Truex, Riggs, Harvick and Burton. Jeff Gordon now 13th.

    Lap 29: Biffle leads, out of nowhere Earnhardt is up to fourth.

    Green-flag fuel stops due between Lap 32 and Lap 37.

    Lap 26: Biffle second, Gordon third, Joe Nemechk is fourth.

    Lap 25: McMurray retakes lead.


    Randall from Norwalk, IA: Jeff Gordon is one of those guys who always seems to find his way up front at Talladega, and manages to stay near there. By the performance of his last few races, wouldn't it be wiser to stay back in the top 10 or so, and save some for the end?

    Tom Jensen: Randall: If you're out in front and the Big One happens, it's behind you. Plus, they pay points for most laps led.


    Lap 21: Jeff Gordon retakes lead.

    Lap 20: McMurray leads Gordon, Vickers, Kenseth, Biffle, Johnson and Robby Gordon.

    Lap 19: Kenseth up to second, but gets passed for position by Jeff Gordon.

    Lap 18: McMurray retakes lead.

    Lap 15: Chasers - Gordon 1st, Kenseth 5th, Johnson, 4th, Kevin Harvick 18th, Burton 15th, Kasey Kahne 20th, Earnhardt 28th, Hamlin 31st, Busch 35th, Martin 37th.

    Lap 10: Gordon leads McMurray, Johnson, Jarrett, Sadler, Matt Kenseth, Biffle, Carl Edwards, Scott Riggs and Vickers.

    Lap 9: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is 33rd, Mark Martin, 37th.

    Lap 8: Gordon back out in front ahead of Vickers, McMurray, Jarrett and Elliott Sadler. Jeff Burton has moved from 34th starting spot to 14th.

    Lap 6: McMurray leads Jarrett, Gordon, Brian Vickers and Johnson.

    Lap 5: McMurray and Greg Biffle lead, Gilliland is back to 22nd already, Busch hung out of draft and falls from second to 26th.

    Lap 3: McMurray up to third behind Gordon and Busch.

    Lap 2: Gordon and Kyle Busch lead Gilliland, Jarrett and Jamie McMurray.

    Lap 1: Dale Jarrett passes teammate David Gilliland to lead the first lap. Jimmie Johnson is third, followed by Hendrick teammates Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch.

    Lap 1: Green flag.


    No cars to the back of the field today.

    Pit road speed will be 70 mph.

    Obviously, today's race will make or break the Chase chances of several drivers, depending on what happens and whether "The Big One" happens.


    1:28 p.m.: Engines fired! Have a great day, everyone!


    Albert from Albuquerque, N.M.: What was the fastest GREEN FLAG lap time at Talladega?

    Tom Jensen: Albert: The fastest lap ever at Talladega was 44.998 seconds, 212.808 mph, set by Bill Elliott in qualifying in 1987. They don't keep a record of fastest race laps.


    Ed from Peoria, Ill.: Tom, Has there ever been discussion about NASCAR, specifically Cup, embracing modern technology and shifting from carbs to fuel injection? Or getting away from leaded fuels, possible even to an alternative like the IRL has done with ethanol?

    Tom Jensen: Ed: NASCAR will mandate unleaded fuel next year in the Cup Series. The sanctioning body has shied away from high tech for two reasons: Cost and difficulty in policing.


    Justin from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.: Have you heard the Ricky Rudd rumor about him going to Wyler Racing racing next year for 16 COT races next year? Do you believe it and/or think it will happen?

    Tom Jensen: Justin: Welcome to FOX. Yes, I've heard the rumors and know Rudd is testing for Wyler. I've not been able to get up with him to ask him about it yet and my impression is that it's not a done deal yet.


    Owa from Mason City, Iowa: What happens to Jimmie Johnson when he gets to the Chase? Seems like all hell breaks loose and he sputters?

    Tom Jensen: Owa: Thanks for the question. Hendrick Motorsports is one of the very best outfits in the garage and if they haven't been able to figure out why Johnson stalls in late summer and early fall, I certainly don't claim to have an answer. If they knew — really knew — they'd fix it.


    Jeff from Parker, Colo.: What is NASCAR and/or Goodyear doing to remedy the chronic problem drivers have cutting down right side tires? Is there tire technology that can keep a car with a flat from flying up the track and slamming the wall at 150+ mph? Has the strike at Goodyear's Akron plant affected the racing program?

    Tom Jensen: Jeff: Great questions! No, the Goodyear strike hasn't affected the racing program. The big problem with tires seems to be two-fold: Finding a balance of durability and performance and teams constantly pushing the limits. Goodyear could build a tire tomorrow that would last 500 miles. But it would be rock hard and make the cars pigs to drive, so they make softer tires that give better grip but sometimes fail.

    They are constantly trying to balance wear and grip. Most times they get it right, sometimes they don't. The other thing is that as teams get more esoteric in their setups, with severe camber angles and different air pressures than recommended, it stresses tires beyond the limit, which is why NASCAR is now trying to control air pressure.


    Mike from Culpepper, Va.: Tom, how about the fans? Am I the only one out here that thinks the Car of Tomorrow is complete madness? Has NASCAR lost their minds and forgot what made them what they are today?! Let me clue them in; it's the fans! We are why you are rich. We love Ford's and Chevy's and Dodge and we're even looking forward to booing the Toyota cars. You see, even if you don't have a driver, you like to have a car to cheer for. Baseball, hotdogs, applepie and Car of Tomorrow just won't cut it! How about this? Let's let the fans choose what they want (the people I told you about that make you rich) and let them be apart of where this sport goes. It is because of them that got you where you are now! How about this? The first race you try to force this down our necks, no one shows up but George Jetson and his dog Elroy! How's that for the future?! NASCAR is a fan-based sport that is getting too big for there own good so watch out NASCAR cause we can take only so much before we the fans tell you to kiss our Fords!

    Tom Jensen: Mike: Thanks for being with us. Clearly, the Car of Tomorrow and how it's received by fans and teams, and how it performs will be one of the biggest stories in the history of the sport. I share your concerns and despite public pronouncements to the contrary, the teams don't like it either.


    Paul from Ardmore, Okla.: Neither Talladega or Daytona are as fast as Atlanta For that matter, we saw speeds in excess of 200 mph entering the corner last week at Kansas. How can 198 mph be too fast at the world's longest superspeedway? It is my opinion that NASCAR should quit jacking with what made it a household word. As "The Man" Dale Earnhardt once said, "did we come here to race or didn't we?" Going fast is part of racing. If a driver thinks that he is going too fast, then he should probably slow down; that is why they put accelerator and brake pedals in the car. Those pedals are things that should be controlled by the driver, not NASCAR.

    Tom Jensen: Paul: Thanks for the question. You're right, but you're also wrong. Yes, entrance speeds at Kansas were over 200 mph last week. But the cars at Kansas run a lot more downforce and a lot less drag than they do at Talladega and as a result have vastly different aerodynamic properties and are less prone to get airborne than cars at plate tracks. Its one thing to say that cars shouldnt be slowed down, but the reality doesnt work so well.


    Alan from Phoenix, Arizona: Knowing that all teams have 750 horsepower engines and they use the plates to bring them to about 500, could you build a 500 hp engine that would not require a plate and thus breathe better, not starving the engine?

    Tom Jensen: Alan: Welcome. You are correct. You could build a 500-horse engine likely a V-6 that could run without a plate. But it would be much more expensive to develop than a restrictor-plate program and I think that's why NASCAR doesn't do it.


    Darryl from Denver, Colo.: Hi Tom, while watching qualifying at Talladega, it was mentioned that Kyle Petty's ride was set up in qualifying trim and that his teammate's car, Bobby Labonte, was set up in race trim. What's the difference? Why would a team show up to qualifying in race trim, only to finish the race somewhere in the back of the pack?

    Tom Jensen: Darryl: Great question. There are a lot of differences between race and qualifying trim: How much tape you run on the nose, what weight oil you run, how the car is trimmed out aerodynamically, how the engine is tuned and literally dozens of minute adjustments. This is an impound race, which means the cars couldn't be touched after qualifying. Labonte was guaranteed a spot in the field because he's in the top 35 in owner points, while Petty had to make the race purely on speed, thus he had to go as fast as possible in qualifying. The tradeoff is that when the race begins, Labonte likely will move up through the field, while Petty will probably fall back quickly.


    More pre-race notes

    I just met with Bobby Ginn, the new owner of MB2 Motorsports, where Mark Martin will drive in 22 Cup races (20 points races, two non-points races) next year in the No. 01 US Army car, with rookie Regan Smith running the remaining 16 events. Ginn said the team will change its name to Ginn Racing in 2007 and add a fourth full-time car in 2008. He already has invested millions of dollars in technology upgrades with the team and expects vastly improved performance next year. He also said there's absolutely no truth to the rumor that the team would switch to Fords. They are committed to Chevrolet.

    I've also been meeting with engine guys this weekend and here's an update: Chevrolet will have an all-new Nextel Cup engine next year. Ford and Dodge asked NASCAR for new engine blocks for 2007, but NASCAR said they'd have to submit entire engine packages — block, heads, manifold, etc. — rather than do the blocks piecemeal. So Ford and Dodge withdrew their request for '07 but might resubmit full new engines for '08.


    Back to your questions:

    Jo from Rock Hill, S.C. Happy Sunday, Tom! If all the people who think restrictor plates should be eliminated would watch the tape of Bobby Allison's wreck at Talladega in 1987, I hope they'd have the sense to change their tunes. Cup cars are making about 250 more horsepower now and are several hundred pounds heavier than they were then, and carch fencing hasn't gotten any stronger. Without plates, based on Rusty Wallace's test last year, they'd be going about 230 mph. If one of today's cars went airborne through the catch fence like Allison's did, you'd have multiple fatalities and injuries. If it was running unrestricted, you'd end up with enough litigation to shut NASCAR down. I remember Charlotte the night that the IRL car parts went into the stands and I for one never want to see that horror again.

    Tom Jensen: Jo: Back at you with the Happy Sunday! You are absolutely 100 percent correct. Speeds must be limited in the interest of everyone's safety: Fans, drivers and crew. While I take issue with NASCAR sometimes, one thing I do not question is their absolute desire for a safe show.


    Judy from Logansport, Ind.: Juan Montoya did a very good job in his stock car debut. How good do you think he will do next year in Cup racing?

    Tom Jensen: Judy: Glad you be with us at FOX. Juan Montoya is a tremendous talent, but the learning curve ahead of him is steep and challenging. Ultimately, he'll do very well, but it will take time. Adrian Fernandez, who a couple of years ago was the hottest driver in the IRL, tried his hand with Hendrick Motorsports' Busch program but decided not to pursue it full-time as he figured that mastering oval racing would take three to four years. The other thing about Montoya is that don't judge his stock-car future off Friday's ARCA race. He had vastly superior equipment, and Talladega is the easiest track to drive on the circuit. We'll know a lot more when he's been to Martinsville, Bristol and Darlington.


    Gary from Lexington, N.C.: Why can't they control the speeds with the rearend gear at all tracks with a gear for each track? With a gear suitable for each track, put the fate of the engine in the engine builders' hands or the drivers' hands. (Drive smart and race or stupid and blow.)

    Tom Jensen: Gary: Thanks for the question, which is an excellent one. NASCAR controls the rear-end gears at most tracks, but not here. The increased speed this year at Talladega was not more top speed, but more grip in the corners and fewer bumps. That's why speeds were way up Friday.


    Jonny from Conway, Ark.: With DEI concentrating on the intermediate tracks, has it affected their restrictor plate program?

    Tom Jensen: Welcome to FOX, Jonny. I don't know that DEI's restrictor-plate program has suffered specifically because of the effort they've put into their intermediate program, but there's no question that they are not as dominant as they were at the plate tracks a couple of years ago. But I'm not sure we know if that's because other teams have gotten better or DEI has stagnated.


    David from Eugene, Ore.: I got two questions for you. Do you think that Jimmie Johnson has a good chance to win at Talladega? And why is Chad Knaus so conservative all the time? Like last weekend with 4 laps left, he puts on two right side tires and then Jimmie gets a speeding ticket in the pits. He didn't need those tires; he just needed alittle bit of fuel is all. Plus, all the time, Chad will take four tires instead of two tires. It is the Chase, and you have to gamble sometimes to win this thing, right?

    Tom Jensen: David: Thanks for being with us at FOX today. All four Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets have a legitimate shot at winning today, as all four qualified ninth or better and Hendrick clearly is on its game at the plate tracks. As for Chad Knaus's calls, I think he's one of top three or four crew chiefs in the sport and his track record supports that. When he makes a pit call, he has access to information you and I don't: He's been in constant communication with his driver, his crew has told him what tire wear was like on earlier runs, he knows how many laps his driver has been on the track, how the weather has changed, etc. When he makes a call, hes right the overwhelming percentage of the time.


    Tom from Agawam, Mass.: This is in response to NASCAR's decision to "slow" the cars at Talladega. It just makes no sense at all. How can a race car be "too fast"? What other motorsport has it's governing body "slowing" the race cars?

    Tom Jensen: Tom: Thanks for the question. There is a legitimate issue with being too fast and it pertains to aerodynamics. NASCAR is concerned that if the cars exceed 195 mph and get turned around in an accident, that they can get airborne, despite the roof flaps. Naturally, the cars scrub off speed when they spin, but if they are going above 195 mph when the spin starts, the risk of takeoff increases exponentially. That's why NASCAR slowed the cars, a decision I applaud.

    What you can legitimately criticize is why NASCAR didn't see this coming with the new pavement and why they didn't mandate smaller plates before getting here in the first place. The fact that teams will be racing a plate they've not practiced with at all could actually increase the probability of "The Big One" happening today.


    Kevin from Germantown, Md.: Tom, after Dale Jr's qualifying run, he was making excuses and whining. Was that an act or the real thing? Every team had to deal with this restrictor plate issue, and the Hendrick clan didn't have issues with this. Why is that TOM?

    Tom Jensen: Kevin: Welcome to FOX. I hope you enjoy the race. Clearly, some teams did a better job of adapting to the smaller restrictor plates than other teams did. I can promise you, Junior was fuming about the smaller plates, but so was Jeff Gordon, because they didn't get to practice with them. As to why the Hendrick cars did better than the DEI cars, I can't tell you specifically. But Hendrick has more full-time Cup teams and as a resultmore resources than DEI, and that's always a huge advantage in this sport.


    Tony from Pasco, Wash.: Why are there races which impound the cars after qualifying?? Most don't. It seems like different rules for different tracks, and I do not understand why NASCAR does it. Is it the individual tracks that do it, the different venues, or what? I do not understand why NASCAR does this. What is the point, and why do they do it??? I really don't understand the reasoning. It seems totally haphazard. I would also like to know what the Drivers and Crew Chiefs think about it. Like I ask, the big reason is: WHY?? Please explain, and ask them to do it on TV, too.

    Tom Jensen: Tony: That's a great question. I just walked over to the NASCAR trailer and I have been promised a detailed explanation as to the specifics of why or why not a race is an impound event.


    More pre-race notes

    The weather today at Talladega is absolutely perfect: Not a cloud in the skies, with temperatures at race time expected to be in the mid-70s. It should be a great day of racing.

    Robert Yates Racing teammates David Gilliland and Dale Jarrett qualified 1-2 for today's UAW-Ford 500. This is Gilliland's first-ever restrictor-plate race and only his ninth Cup race.

    Talladega Superspeedway has brand-new pavement, with no bumps and greatly increased levels of grip in the corners.

    After practice speeds hit 198 mph in practice Friday, NASCAR mandated smaller restrictor plates for todays race, which will bunch cars closer together and allow less ability for drivers to separate from each other. The teams used the smaller plates to qualify with, but didnt get any practice time with them.

    There is a rookie on the pole and six rookies in the field.

    Of the 10 cars competing in the Chase for the Nextel Cup, just three qualified in the top 10 for the UAW-Ford 500: Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson (third); Jeff Gordon (fourth) and Kyle Busch (10th).

    Conversely, four Chasers qualified 25th or worse: Kasey Kahne (25th); Mark Martin (30th); Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (33rd) and points leader Jeff Burton (34th).

    Add it all up and its a recipe for The Big One, which again could have profound implications for the ultimate outcome of this years Nextel Cup championship race. Theres an even higher probability than normal for a huge, multi-car crash today.

    A footnote to the smaller restrictor plates: Several crew chiefs and engine builders told me yesterday that the smaller plates would hurt the Dodge teams the most, and it showed up in qualifying, for sure.

    Of the 14 Dodges that qualified for the UAW-Ford 500: No Dodges qualified in the top 10, but five of the six cars that qualified 38th-43rd were Dodge Chargers and four other Dodges qualified 25th to 35th. I was told that the smaller plates cost 8 to 12 horsepower for the Fords and Chevys but 14-16 horsepower for the Dodges.

    In terms of who to watch for Sunday in the UAW-Ford 500, all four Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets qualified ninth or better, which bodes well for that teams chances. Also, Jarrett won here last year in a Robert Yates Racing Ford, and he absolutely could repeat. Don't ignore Tony Stewart, either, as he might finally get his first 'Dega win on Sunday.

    NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton told the media yesterday that there were few, if any, complaints when the crew chiefs were told at 6:30 a.m. that smaller restrictor plates would be used in the UAW-Ford 500, but the teams would not be allowed to practice with them.

    Maybe the crew chiefs weren't upset but several drivers were, including Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jeff Gordon, both of whom vented their considerable displeasure over the decision to NASCAR officials yesterday.


    Jarrett on leaving Yates

    Numerous readers have asked about Brian Vickers being disinvited from Hendrick Motorsports team meetings since announcing he was jumping ship for Team Red Bull next season.

    I asked Dale Jarrett if a similar thing had happened to him since he told the world he was leaving Robert Yates Racing for Michael Waltrip Racing next year. Here, in part, is what he told me:

    "Things have changed. And I understand when you get to a certain point, that, yeah, when you get to this point in the season, that they're working on things for the future — and — I'm not going to be at Yates and be a part of that. If there's things they'd rather me not know, I'm OK with that. I understand that. But we've kind of raced the same three cars forever and never built anything new. I don't know why we would do that and back off. We all signed on for 2006, and that's what we should do. It is a more difficult thing than I envisioned."

    Further, Jarrett hinted that he may have made a mistake by announcing his intention to depart so far ahead of time.

    So it appears the Vickers situation is not unique.


    Mike from San Diego: So does this mean that Mark Martin will be "uninvited" to all Roush team meetings for the rest of the year, just as Brian Vickers has been from Hendrick meetings? Or is it different because it is Mark Martin?

    Tom Jensen: Mike: Thanks for being here at FOX. Given the relationship between Jack Roush and Mark Martin, I doubt Martin will be unvited from team meetings. But Dale Jarrett told me he's pretty much persona non grata at Robert Yates Racing, and Roush still hasn't spoken a word to Kurt Busch since Busch said he was leaving in the summer of 2005.


    Larry from Hampstead, N.C.: Isn't Mark Martin part owner of Matt Kenseth's car? If so, do you think it is a conflict of interest to race for one team and own another or is Martin giving up his interest in the No. 17 team?

    Tom Jensen: Larry: Welcome to FOX. Mark Martin is a part owner of Matt Kenseth's car, but it isn't a conflict of interest. Recall that the late Dale Earnhardt founded and owned Dale Earnhardt, Inc. but drove for Richard Childress Racing.


    Mike from Minocqua, Wisconsin: I have a question about Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett, and their recent switches of not only teams, but manufacturers. Are they both Ford dealership owners? And how does this change/affect there relationship with the Ford Motor Corporation?

    Tom Jensen: Mike: Thanks for the question. Yes, both Jarrett and Martin own Ford dealerships. I'm told that in addition to a multi-million-dollar salary, Jarrett received at least one Toyota dealership as part of his move to Michael Waltrip Racing.


    Chris from Latham, N.Y.: I heard that Jacques Villenueve signed a deal with Roush Racing. Is that true and if it is, in which series will he drive?

    Tom Jensen: Chris: That's an excellent question. I spoke with Roush Racing President Geoff Smith about this on Friday. According to Smith, Villeneuve is looking for a NASCAR ride, but he will not drive one of the Roush's Cup cars anytime soon because those seats are full.


    Bobby from Oklahoma City, Okla.: Could someone please explain what a coil bind setup is'

    Tom Jensen: Bobby: Thanks for the question. In a nutshell, "coil bind" means the coil springs are fully compressed, so there is no further room for them to be squeezed. When coil bound, the nose of the car is as low as it can go.


    Cliff from Murfreesboro, Tenn.: Hey, Tom, while on the subject of veteran drivers and different race cars, the new Car of Tomorrow is supposed to put more back in the driver's hands. I've heard they are supposed to be similar to back in the old days and the cars that Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte are used to so could this new car be a help and an incentive to bring back the veteran drivers that were used to that such as Ricky Rudd, Ward Burton'

    Tom Jensen:Cliff: Welcome to FOX, it should be a wild weekend at Talladega. Here's the deal with the Car of Tomorrow: I think until it is absolutely complete, finished, signed off on and finalized, no one knows for sure what it's going to drive like. There were a lot of complaints after the recent Michigan test that it was even harder to pass with COT than the current car — and easier passing was supposed to be one of the COT's key advantages. So until NASCAR is finished with it, we don't know who it will help or hamper.


    Drew from Rice Lake, Wisconsin: Tom, do you think some of the bigger name teams, such as RYR, are waiting for the Car of Tomorrow to decide who will drive their cars' Why would they sign somebody when they have never seen them drive what will be raced next near'

    Tom Jensen: Drew: Thanks for the question. Some teams, RYR being one of them, have opted not to spend — some would say, "waste" — precious development dollars and R&D resources until the car's design is absolutely 100 percent set in stone. Several team owners have told me privately that they are furious at the resources they've already dumped in the COT. I don't think it has anything to do with driver choice.


    Gerry from Park Ridge, N.J.: What's up with Ryan Newman this year? I've been a huge Ryan Newman fan from the start, and I'm deeply concerned with the way the team has been performing. What do you think is up with the team, with there lack of competiveness'

    Tom Jensen: Gerry: Hope you enjoy the race this weekend. Penske Racing South went from three teams in 2005 to two this year and have had a lot of personnel turnover as a result, as well as some guys moving from the No. 12 to the No. 2 car with Rusty Wallace's retirement. All that's taken some time to shake out, but I think by next year, you'll see Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch running back up front regularly.


    UAW-Ford 500 Pre-race Notes

    Sunday's race is No. 30 of 36 events on the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup schedule.

    The point standings:

    1. Jeff Burton
    2. Denny Hamlin (-69)
    3. Mark Martin (-70)
    4. Matt Kenseth (-84)
    5. Kevin Harvick (-96)
    6. Jeff Gordon (-120)
    7. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (-123)
    8. Jimmie Johnson (-165)
    9. Kyle Busch (-233)
    10. Kasey Kahne (-273)

    Chase drivers at Talladega (Ranked by average finish)
    Rank Driver Starts Avg. finish Laps led
    1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 13 12.230 500
    2. Kevin Harvick 11 14.363 54
    3. Jeff Gordon 27 15.148 702
    4. Mark Martin 41 15.658 313
    5. Matt Kenseth 13 16.384 107
    6. Jeff Burton 25 17.560 50
    7. Jimmie Johnson 9 20.666 162
    8. Denny Hamlin 1 22.000 1
    9. Kasey Kahne 5 26.600 0
    10. Kyle Busch 3 35.333 0

  • Last year's event pole winner: Elliott Sadler 189.260 mph
  • Last year's event winner: Dale Jarrett 143.818 mph
  • Track qualifying record: Bill Elliott 212.809 mph 4-30-87
  • Track race record: Mark Martin 188.354 mph 5-10-97
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished 42nd and 14th in his first two races at Talladega (2000). In his 11 races there since, he's finished eighth or better eight times, including five victories and two second-place finishes. His other finishes were 15th, 40th and 31st in the last three races there. His four consecutive victories (October 2001 through April 2003) are the most ever by a driver at Talladega. Buddy Baker (three - May 1975 through May 1976) is the only other driver to win more than two consecutive races there.

    Chevrolet has won the 14 of the last 15 races at Talladega, including 13 straight between Ford wins in the 1998 Winston 500 and the 2005 UAW-Ford 500 (both fall races). Both of those Ford victories were posted by Dale Jarrett. Dodge last won there with Dave Marcis in the Talladega 500 (August 1976).

    Dale Earnhardt still leads all drivers with 10 victories, 23 top-five and 27 top-10 finishes in 44 career races at Talladega. His victory total is twice that of Dale Earnhardt Jr., his nearest competitor. Earnhardt Jr., has posted five victories, seven top-five finishes and eight top-10s in 13 Talladega appearances and has led in all but two of his races there.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished first or second in seven consecutive races at Talladega between October 2001 and October 2004. He led 428 of the 1,316 laps in those seven races (33 percent).

    Four hundred different drivers have competed in at least one Cup race at Talladega since 1969. One hundred and thirty three have completed in just one race there.

    Bobby Hamilton won the caution-free 2001 Talladega 500 with an average speed of 184.008 mph. His average speed for 188 laps was just 0.853 mph slower than the Bud Pole speed for that race set by Stacy Compton.

    Of the 158 drivers that have made five or more starts at Talladega, only six have posted top five finishes in at least half of their races: Pete Hamilton (4/5 - 80%), Fred Lorenzen (3/5 - 60%), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (7/13 - 54%), Tony Stewart (8/15 - 53%), Dale Earnhardt (23/44 - 52%) and Bobby Isaac (4/8 - 50%).

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. (five) leads all active drivers in Talladega victories. Jeff Gordon has four while Dale Jarrett, Sterling Marlin, and Mark Martin all have two. Part-timer Terry Labonte also has two wins there.

    The furthest back a winner has started at Talladega was when Jeff Gordon won the DieHard 500 (April 2000) from the 36th-place starting position.

    Talladega is one of the most competitive tracks on the current Nextel Cup circuit. Not only is the Alabama track the holder of the fastest qualifying lap in NASCAR history (Bill Elliott 212.809 mph - April 1987) but the fastest race in NASCAR history also took place at Talladega (Mark Martin - 188.354 mph - May 1997). Talladega also holds the seven of the top-10 races, including the top three, for the most lead changes and six of the top 10, including the top four, for most different race leaders. The Alabama track is also one of only eight tracks that have had at least one caution free race. Tied with Michigan International Speedway, Talladega has had three caution-free races - more full-length events without a caution than any other track.

    Richard Childress leads all owners scoring nine victories at Talladega Superspeedway. All of his victories were by Dale Earnhardt. Earnhardt got his first Talladega victory driving for Bud Moore in 1983.

    There have been 75 restrictor-plate races since 1988: 38 at Daytona International Speedway and 37 at Talladega Superspeedway. Only three drivers have competed in all 75 restrictor-plate races: Mark Martin, Ken Schrader and Michael Waltrip.

    Chevrolet has won 20 of the last 23 restrictor-plate races. Ford has had just two restrictor-plate victories since 2001 and Dodge has one.

    Dale Earnhardt is the all-time lap leader with 2,135 laps led in 53 restrictor-plate races. The next three places on the all-time list are active drivers. Jeff Gordon is second all-time and leads all active drivers with 1,199 laps led in 55 restrictor-plate events. Sterling Marlin is third with 1,004 laps led in his 74 restrictor-plate races. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., fourth all-time, has led 818 laps in just 27 restrictor-plate races.

    After being shut-out of the restrictor-plate victory lanes for three years during the height of the Dale Earnhardt Inc. dominance (2001-2003), Jeff Gordon has recently regained his restrictor-plate form. Gordon has won four of the last 11 restrictor-plate races.

    Tony Stewart has also gained success in recent restrictor-plate races. Stewart has posted nine top-10 finishes in his last 10 restrictor-plate races, including victories in the last two Pepsi 400s. He has also led the most laps (464) and posted the best average finish (5.30) over those 10 races.

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