The latest from Talladega
EARNHARDT REMEMBERED — Jeff Gordon has a reputation as a great restrictor-plate racer. But even Gordon was awed by the late Dale Earnhardt’s victory at Talladega Superspeedway in 2000, when “The Intimidator” went from 18th to win in the last four laps. Aided by a big push from Kenny Wallace, Earnhardt earned his final NASCAR Sprint Cup victory here with a stunning end-of-race charge.
“Trust me, it’s not the only time I’ve ever seen that,” said Gordon. “I prided myself on trying to learn from it over the years when I was racing with him, to be able to do that myself and he was a master at it and he was a teacher as well as the greatest executer of it. He just knew how to work that air. Those times have changed a little bit. It’s a little bit harder to make those things materialize as much as they used to, but it still can be done. You still use that air to side draft and get momentum and get big pushes, but you just get stalled out a lot easier now.”
Still, Gordon has a tremendous amount of respect for what Earnhardt did.
“Those are classic moments,” said Gordon. “They are moments I’ll certainly always remember. I remember that day and how frustrated I was that he did that to all of us. But it was like we couldn’t do anything to stop him. But that’s just how good he was.”
NO PUSH TO PASS — The arrival of the Generation-6 NASCAR Sprint Cup cars means the days of drivers hanging out in the back of the pack and then making a late-race, two-car charge to the front are pretty much a thing of the past at Talladega Superspeedway. The G-6 cars simply can’t suck up to each the way the old Car of Tomorrow could. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“Each race car we’ve run over the years here at Talladega has its own style,” said 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski. “The Generation-6 car, with different things that have been done — the small rear spoiler and so forth — kind of eliminated the push drafting. You can’t really get up to somebody to do that. The back car stalls, so it doesn’t work as well. That’s changed the racing a little bit, and I think it can be argued it’s even better now than it’s ever been.”
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT? — There were a variety of different strategies during NASCAR Sprint Cup practice at Talladega Superspeedway on Friday, with some drivers opting to only run 10 laps or so before parking their cars. The reason was simple: Teams didn’t want to risk tearing up their primary cars by getting caught in a crash during practice.
Kevin Harvick took his No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to the garage after just 10 laps in the first practice, shaking it down to make sure there were no leaks or vibrations.
Clint Bowyer did likewise, parking the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota after 12 laps. “They won’t let me have any fun anymore,” Bowyer joked of his team. But then he admitted the risk was just too high. Before long, though, Bowyer suggested hitting Talladega Boulevard for some early revelry. “What are we going to do?” Bowyer asked FOXSports 1 pit reporter Bob Dillner. “Has the boulevard fired up already?”
All 44 cars practiced in the first session, with Aric Almirola atop the board, leading a group of 11 cars that broke the 200-mile-per-hour barrier. Almirola’s best lap in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford was 202.000 mph.
Sitting out Happy Hour were Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers Harvick, Bowyer, Ryan Newman and Kurt and Kyle Busch. All told, only 29 drivers turned in laps during Happy Hour. Jimmie Johnson had the fastest lap at 195.936 miles per hour.
LEADING THE PACK — It’s no coincidence that Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson are the two drivers atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points chart. Not only do they lead the Sprint Cup Series in race victories — Kenseth has seven this season, Johnson five — but they have been money at restrictor-plate tracks as well. Johnson swept both Daytona races this season, while Kenseth is the defending winner of the Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway and, like Johnson, is a two-time Daytona 500 winner.
So far this season, the two have led a staggering 64 percent of all laps run at the three restrictor-plate races. In fact, Kenseth has led almost twice as many laps in the plate races as Johnson by a margin of 229-127. The big difference is that Johnson has the finishes this season while Kenseth doesn’t, thanks to a blown motor in the Daytona 500 and a crash in the first Talladega race. Of course, it was just the opposite last year, when Johnson had three DNFs in four plate races.
That said, Kenseth said he’s not going to play it safe. “Certainly I realize today that we’re the point leader and pretty much pretty close to being tied with the 48 (Johnson) and if you have a bad week any week that’s going to hurt. And your chances of having a bad race here are probably a little bit higher than other tracks because you can get caught up in stuff. I don’t think you want to give up any race. I don’t think you want to have a bad finish anywhere. I don’t really want to be careful and then finish 15th anywhere.”
GIBBS GOES TO THE BENCH — With Brian Vickers out for the remainder of the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series season due to a recurrence of blood clots, Joe Gibbs Racing on Friday named his replacement. Denny Hamlin will sub for Vickers in the next Nationwide race on the schedule, which takes place in two weeks at Texas Motor Speedway. Drew Herring will be behind the wheel in the final two races of the year at Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.