For 175 laps on Sunday afternoon the 500-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway was everything both fans and drivers expected. One big pack of cars piled up three and four wide zoomed around the Alabama track inches from each other and swapped positions in hard fought racing.
The last part of the race loomed large and was guaranteed to be crazy, or so we thought. With 13 laps to go leader Jamie McMurray and second-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. moved to the top of the race track and started to ride. The rest of the field soon followed and a choo-choo train procession began that was not just boring, but also led to an anti-climactic finish.
A great race had been, in a sense, ruined by its finish.
In this current restrictor plate configuration the cars and drivers need other drivers to cooperate with them in order to form another drafting line. If a driver pulls out by themselves that late in the race it is ultimately on a hope and prayer that others will go with them.
If they don’t get any help, the likelihood that they fall from their top 15 position to 25th or further is very likely. In the Chase and at Talladega no one was willing to risk their position for that price. Although second-place Earnhardt had no reason to move as he said in his post-race press conference, the rest of the field had every reason to try if they wanted a shot at winning.
No one moved except a select few. Points leaders Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson tried to form a low line. Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards were the only ones who dared go with them. It did not work and soon enough those who tried realized it was fruitless. Back in the high line train they went.
The drivers all got out of their cars after the event rather baffled. They too had expected the three-wide chaos that enveloped most of the racing previously to happen over the final laps. The fact that it didn’t surprised them, but honestly it shouldn’t have. They were the ones who had control and none of them moved.
For most of the drivers racing within the pack, the risk was not worth the reward. For the fans at home it was not only shocking it, was also highly disappointing. The fact that there was not a huge crash in the final laps was not the issue, the disappointment came from the fact that for 175 laps the drivers raced and for the last 13 they rode in a top line high speed processional.
We get that the drivers want to wait to make their move. This is often a smart choice at Talladega, but with this new drafting package the drivers cannot wait that long. After the race we think most of those mid-pack runners soon realized that perhaps they should not have participated in the procession and instead risked forming a low line.
The drivers and teams were most likely happy that the race ended rather calmly and anti-climactically. Post-race interviews were littered with the term “good points day,” which most if not all race fans hate. We want racing not riding to protect a good spot.
The choices of the drivers in the late laps at Talladega meant both the fans and NASCAR suffered. A great race was ruined and will be put down in the memory banks of fans as a rather unmemorable event, which is unfortunate.
The finish makes the race in most fans minds. Losing sight of the great action that took place over the majority of the event is unfortunate. It is a shame that the drivers, in a sense, chickened out for fear of losing positions. We and many of my fellow race fans feel robbed.