TALLADEGA, Ala. _ Whenever NASCAR rolls into Talladega, Ala. it is almost assumed a wild weekend is in store. High speeds, the potential for disaster and the partying that goes on around the facility make the two dates at Talladega Superspeedway among the best on the NASCAR schedule. With dangerous storms rolling through the area on Saturday, NASCAR was forced to run the Nationwide Series race following the Sprint Cup race on Sunday. So, after braving the storm in tents, RVs and cars, fans wiped off the mud and the muck and filled the stands on Sunday for one of the wildest double-headers in NASCAR history.
The Sprint Cup Series race saw numerous records broken, as well as a few race cars. Throughout the event there were an amazing 88 lead changes among 29 different drivers. Both of which are now new NASCAR records. The rules package NASCAR brought to the track for this weekend’s race, coupled with the new rear spoiler allowed for drivers to jockey for position and swap the lead nearly every lap. While there were 88 lead changes recorded at the line, there were a total of 144 green flag passes for the lead, which sets a new race record. In the end, Kevin Harvick made the final move for the lead going through the tri-oval, beating Jamie McMurray by a mere 0.011 seconds.
“It's a lot easier for us to race when we're not trying to figure out the rules,” Harvick said. “We just kind of do what we do, and everybody is pretty good at the bump drafting stuff now, especially here because the grip is so high.”
Besides the record breaking stats, the last lap pass and three attempts at a green-white-checkered, the biggest story emerging from Sunday’s race came from Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. With less than ten laps to go, Gordon got a huge push from the No. 39 of Ryan Newman on the bottom lane. Headed into Turn 3, Johnson cut the wheel to the left and shut the door on his teammate, forcing Gordon onto the apron entering the corner. With the field stacking up Gordon regrouped, only to be collected in an accident exiting Turn 4.
Following the race, Gordon had harsh words for his teammate and fellow four-time champion.
“We got a huge push down the back straightaway,” Gordon said. “I don't know who it was; maybe the No. 39 (Ryan Newman) or somebody gave me a big shove. And I was coming 10 mph faster than anybody and the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) is testing my patience, I can tell you that. It takes a lot to make me mad and I am pissed right now. You know, when a car is going that much faster, I don't know what it is with me and him right now, but whatever.”
These two got into it during last Monday’s race in Texas, when Johnson hit Gordon in the door after the No. 24 got Johnson out of shape making a pass off Turn 4. The two said earlier this weekend the incident was behind them. With Sunday’s incident, it is safe to say this rivalry is just heating up.
Just as the Cup cars were pulling into the garage and Harvick was celebrating in Victory Lane, the Nationwide cars were being pushed onto the grid for their scheduled 312-miler. Eleven drivers pulled double-duty, running both events. Yet one of them, eventual race winner Brad Keselowski, was almost forced to sit out the Nationwide race.
During the Sprint Cup race, Keselowski was collected in a wreck that knocked some of the crush panels out, allowing carbon monoxide to fill the car. After making the mandatory trip to the infield care center, officials did not like the levels of carbon monoxide Keselowski had in his system.
“My [carbon monoxide] level was – however they measure it – at a 13. I guess the legal limit to drive the cars according to NASCAR is five. Everyone else they checked within the care center was five or below. I couldn’t get released from the care center until I was down to five or six.”
Medical officials pumped the 26-year-old full of oxygen to clear his system during the 45 minute break between the two events. As pre-race ceremonies got underway, Keselowski was driven to the grid on a golf cart, still receiving oxygen. Team owner Roger Penske brought Cup teammate Sam Hornish Jr. back to the track if Keselowski could not go the distance, but not only was he able to go the distance, he was able to score the win.
Keselowski found himself to be in the right place at the right time on the final lap to earn the victory. As the field made its way through turns three and four for the final time, Jamie McMurray attempted to get in line on the bottom ahead of Clint Bowyer. The only problem was there was not enough room to make it work. The contact sent McMurray sliding down the banking, triggering a massive pile-up that saw Dennis Setzer’s car climb the wall, get into the fencing and catch on fire – all while others wrecked below him and into him. Setzer was able to walk away from the wreckage, but the fence was heavily damaged. From initial looks, the damage to the fence was worse than last year’s incident with Carl Edwards, luckily this time there were no fans close to the incident.
Sunday’s action packed double-header at the Talladega Superspeedway broke records, tore up race cars, did further damage to an already tense relationship and in the end they even tried to tear down the fences. Most consider Talladega to be a crap shoot, but one thing is certain each time the sport heads to the superspeedway – it’s going to be wild.
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