The UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega Superspeedway proved to be the 'wildcard' race everyone feared. Chase drivers knew that this could be a big points weekend either way for teams because of the unpredictability of racing on restrictor plate tracks and...
The UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega Superspeedway proved to be the 'wildcard' race everyone feared. Chase drivers knew that this could be a big points weekend either way for teams because of the unpredictability of racing on restrictor plate tracks and the anticipation of "the big one".
Among those not able to avoid the BIG ONE: Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick. They got caught in a multi-car crash on lap 138 which sent Gordon behind the wall and caused moderate damage to the 29 and 11. Hamlin got nailed again on lap 174 in the day's second big wreck.
The weekend started off on peculiar note and just kept getting weirder. When cars hit the 198-mph mark in practice Friday, NASCAR changed to a smaller restrictor plate to reduce speeds. The full moon made the Talladega infield howl wildly as the racing action matched the temperature of the race fans.
The crescendo of the bizarre weekend came on the last lap when non-Chase driver Brian Vickers (running third) wrecked Chasers Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson (who were 1-2) to steal his first career Cup series victory; which was greeted with an slur of boos and a brief shower of debris by angry Team Bud fans.
1. Jeff Burton: (Leader) Burton was running in the top-10 when he suffered a flat tire with 10 laps to go; he was forced to pit under green which relegated him to a 27th place finish. He retains the point lead by a narrow margin. He entered Talladega with a 69 point cushion.
"We were running fifth with 10 to go and just cut a tire," said Burton. "Nothing you can do about it. Everybody has a little bad luck in the Chase; we had some today."
2. Matt Kenseth (-6) Kenseth ran a great race with little problems and finished fourth.
"It was a good point's day," said Kenseth. "The car felt good most of the day and we were able to get out front and stay ahead of most of the wrecks. I thought we were going to have a shot at it, but we got shuffled back there and we didn't have a drafting partner to pull out of line at the end."
3. Mark Martin (-10) Martin's prophecy of having a lousy weekend at Talladega didn't come true. He ran a careful, methodical race finishing eighth.
"We've sure run better than this," said Martin. "But we hadn't finished here in forever without wrecking. I'll take it. It was a great day for us and we're still in this hunt.
4. Kevin Harvick (-33) Got caught up in the big wreck on lap 138 but was able to make repairs on pit road. He worked his way back to a sixth place result and moves up to fourth in points.
5. Denny Hamlin (-51) Got caught up in the big wreck on lap 138 but was able to make repairs on pit road. Was just starting to work his way back through the pack when he got caught in the second big accident of the day on lap 174. He finished 21st.
"It's just a rough day," Hamlin said. "It seemed like once we got track position there we decided to give it up to lead a lap and then got in a wreck. It's a rough day but we ended up in the 20's or something but a lot of guys around us had bad luck too. So, we'll take it and run another one another day."
6. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (-106) Earnhardt was having a great day enjoying runs in the top five when he cut down a left front tire bringing him to pit road under green. He restarted 38th out of the draft. On lap 131 Earnhardt got his lap back when he was the "lucky dog" under the second caution. Earnhardt picked his way back through the back and was leading on the last lap when Brian Vickers got into the back of Jimmie Johnson (who was second at the time) sending the No. 48 into the No. 8 causing both Earnhardt and Johnson to wreck.
"I don't really got any," Earnhardt commented when asked for his thoughts on the championship. "It is what it is. We go race hard and have fun. I'm enjoying my team. I think we can still race hard and see if we can't close the gap a little bit. Something like this can happen to the next guy just as easy as myself. But I've got some people I'm pulling for if I don't win."
Earnhardt wound up 23rd but moves up one spot in points to sixth.
7. Jeff Gordon (-147) Got caught up in the big wreck on lap 138 and was forced to take his car into the garage for repairs.
"I just saw up ahead of me some guys," said Gordon. "I thought I was going to miss it but the 42 corrected and I just didn't have anywhere to go.
It's a huge point hit for Gordon and will probably end his bid for a fifth series championship.
"I've always said if it was meant to be it was meant to be," said Gordon. "It just doesn't seem meant to be for the DuPont Chevrolet."
He finished 36th.
8. Jimmie Johnson (-156) Johnson was running second on the final lap when teammate Brian Vickers slammed into him sending him into the rear of leader Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Both cars spun on the last lap leaving Johnson with a 24th place finish.
"I got a run on the No. 8 and got inside him," said Johnson. "I got hit from behind and it turned me into him (Earnhardt) and off we went. I need to see the video, I can't believe it, here we went all day long and had a great chance to make up some points and got crashed by a teammate."
9. Kasey Kahne (-185) Kahne was able to drive through Johnson and Earnhardt's last lap dust to earn second.
"We've had some ups and downs, but it feels good to get a good run here today," said Kahne. "I think the way it finished with the two guys in front of us wrecking, we would have finished fourth or fifth, somewhere in there hopefully, but I'm real happy. This is my best finish on a restrictor-plate track, best finish at Talladega. I got some help today. Kurt Busch helped me some, and it's nice when you're getting a push from behind once in awhile."
10. Kyle Busch (-185) Busch finished 11th.
Six races remain to determine the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup series champion.
Next Up: Lowe's Motor Speedway, Charlotte, NC.