Talladega brings new stars, stellar finish

BY Larry McReynolds • April 17, 2011

If you listened to Sunday’s postrace interviews from Talladega Superspeedway, you could hear the disappointment in the voices of Clint Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Certainly they would have rather ended up in Victory Lane, but a second-place finish by Clint and fourth by Junior isn’t something to feel bad about.

I’m not sure that if they had it to do over again that they would do it any different.

The guy I feel for the most is Dave Blaney. He’s driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season. That’s a single-car operation. They barely make it to the track every single week, operating literally on a shoe-string budget.

So here they were Sunday leading a ton of laps at Talladega and having a legitimate shot to win the race. Unfortunately, late in the race, Kurt Busch, who was pushing Blaney, spun him around and Dave’s chances of winning or even getting a great finish went up in smoke.

Despite being wrecked, those drivers have absolutely nothing to hang their head about. They had a fast race car powered by Earnhardt-Childress engines, and they almost pulled off an upset of the big boys. They were up front most of the day and were really competitive.

Sunday was a ramped-up version of what we saw back in February during the Daytona 500. The NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers tied the record for the most lead changes (from April 2010 at Talladega) with 88. It literally looked like anyone could lead if they got in the right situation. I think that is why we had so many lead changes.

You also saw a lot of different approaches and strategy in the race. Richard Childress Racing's four drivers' plan was to get to the front and lead a lot of laps to win this race. Hendrick Motorsports, while leading some laps early, took a different approach and decided to hang in the back until late in the race.

The two Earnhardt Ganassi drivers, Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya, hung at the back of the pack, too. Then they sorted their way and raced to the front to lead laps. Unfortunately, Juan Pablo ended the day as the victim of Ryan Newman’s car being turned into the No. 42, leaving them with a destroyed race car.

How amazing was it that we had a 500-mile race, consisting of 188 laps, that took three-and-a-half hours of racing and we almost had them four wide at the checkered flag, separated by less than a tenth-of-a-second. Again, that is absolutely amazing.

Like I mentioned during our NASCAR on FOX broadcast Sunday from Talladega, a lot of new fans saw exactly why Bill France Sr. put the start/finish line down closer to Turn 1 than at other tracks. With that start/finish line not being in the straightaway in the middle of the tri-oval, it makes a huge difference in the outcome of the race.

It sure makes for some dramatic finishes.

Someone else we need to give the tip of the hat to from Sunday’s race is David Gilliland. He worked with Tony Stewart all day long. Tony had a comfort level working with him. Now David has enjoyed a top-five finish in this year's Daytona 500 and then on Sunday got a ninth-place finish.

That’s one thing I like that NASCAR has done with these cars and this type of racing. It gives the little guy a shot to win.

We talked earlier about Dave Blaney, but David Gilliland’s team is in the same boat. It is a small operation, but Sunday Gilliland's team beat a lot of top drivers and teams. You have to admit, that is really impressive.

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