Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rating the Amp Energy Juice 500: 5 Stars *****

As expected, Talladega brought with it plenty of drama Sunday, including as close to a traditional photo-finish as possible in this technology age. It didn’t take a full week for NASCAR to decide the winner, as it did at the first Daytona 500, but the suspense lasted well after the checkered flag flew. The final restrictor-plate race of the season was worthy of a 5 Star Rating.

The constant shuffle of drivers to the front was certainly intriguing, and something that only happens in two races each year -- both of the Talladega races. Heck, Joe Nemecheck charged from his fourth-place starting position and led the the first lap.

What’s better than a race with more than 85 lead changes in one season? Two races with more than 85 lead changes. The 87 lead changes in Sunday’s race fell one short of matching the series record for lead changes in one race that was set the last time NASCAR visited its largest track. During the 388 laps run at Talladega this season, there were 175 lead changes. That is simply remarkable.

This race really had something for everyone, well maybe except for the fans of the 17 drivers who didn’t lead a lap, but hey, they probably got close at some point during the day. There were huge packs, long runs with green-flag pit stops, spectacular wrecks and a flurry of activity throughout the field for most of the race. If the finish line had been in turn one, this race may have ended similar to the 2007 Daytona 500 where Kevin Harvick edged out Mark Martin for the win. Instead, it finished similar to the 2008 July race at Daytona where video replay had to confirm the winner.

Many people expected this race to offer up the 2010 Sprint Cup Series Champion. Instead, the Chase among Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Harvick just got tighter. However, none of the three drivers had an easy, normal day. Johnson sustained damage in one of the early wrecks, Hamlin fell a lap down after he tried the “stay at the back and hope the big one happens” strategy and Harvick smashed into Marcos Ambrose as he slid down across his nose in turn three.

Now, Johnson leads Hamlin by 14 points and Harvick closed to within 38 points of the lead with three races left. This is as close to a straight-up, head-to-head-to-head battle as NASCAR is ever going to see. People have begged for a close Chase in the past several years. Well, folks, here it is. Enjoy it or go home, but don’t complain that the racing is boring and the Chase has sucked the life out of the sport. It’s fair to wish for the old points format, but enjoy the excitement when it’s here.

So, next week the series heads west to Texas. It’s anybody’s race now, and Texas Motor Speedway has produced a variety of winners throughout its history. Plus, it’s another 500-mile race. Those last 100 miles usually separate the best from the rest, so expect Johnson, Hamlin and Harvick to be near the front as the laps wind down. Have a great week.


  1. jmayer,

    There's a time honored saying around NASCAR that goes... "That's just racin'" I'm afraid I'm of the opinion that restrictor, draft events such as Talladega has evolved into something that's "Just not racin'".

    Anytime a driver has to depend on someone else to get to the front of the pack, I believe it's contrary to what NASCAR is all about. In order to compete a driver requires more than his God given talent and a good car serviced by a great team in the pits? I guess my conception of competition is all wrong...

    Yes, it was an interesting occurrence but the only racing that took place was when Kevin Harvick left his pusher (David Reutimann? in a Toyota?)and Clint Boyer left his pusher (Montoya?) and made their final push for the finish line...

    Now really, is this what you think of when you think "Racing"?

    With Boyer getting the win I guess it was a good thing that his pusher was also driving a Chevrolet even though JPM drives for a different owner... What was Reutimann thinking? Not my idea of true competition...

    Convince me otherwise.

  2. JM, had the race not ended under caution, I think we would have had a very similar finish to the spring race. Harvick and Bowyer would have most likely hooked up like Harvick and Jamie McMurray in the spring race. But you gotta admit Harvick drove the hell out of the #29!!

  3. It was a great race, and it has been, by far, the best Chase ever!

    In fact, this whole year has been the best racing I've seen since the mid 90s.

  4. I thought it was a good race. But I understand what Dwindy is saying. It's kind of like the Tour De France. Guys can't get anywhere without a partner to draft with. But that in itself, adds drama. I don't know how many times I saw Jimmie left hung-out to dry, yet he still managed a 7th place finish. Then, there were all those crazy moves to jump in front of a faster group of cars. Bowyer almost caused a wreck a couple times when he did it. All-in-all, I gave it 4 stars.

  5. Dwindy1 - While it may not fit your definition of racing, the four restrictor-plate races each year are the most exciting events in racing. Other than Daytona and Talladega, there is no other races in the world where almost the entire field could realistically win the race. If you don't like that, then I don't think it would be fair to complain that the same drivers win every week and every year (See: Jimmie Johnson).

    jon_464 - Absolutely. They were setting up for a historically close finish. It was also amazing how well Harvick's car drove after the damage. That would have been the most damaged car in victory lane ever at Talladega. I think part of it was how well-prepared the #29 team was in case of a wreck.

    Gene - I would agree with that for the most part. We'll see if Hamlin and Harvick can keep up to have a fair shot at Johnson at Homestead. Personally, I particularly enjoyed the 2002 season. Too bad Sterling Marlin got hurt.

    CR_Racing - An uninterrupted finish would have been the ultimate. Hopefully, NASCAR doesn't mess with the restrictor-plate package and next year's races could be even better with the repave at Daytona.

  6. Yup 5 star Dega event for sure with very little single file racing only at the end when everyone was setting up their moves.

    Dwindy I think Dega is great racing - you do need a drafting partner but it makes for great bedfellows - did you see Bad Brad drafting with Carl? etc. Come on that is hilarious! =) There used to be a time when Jr could run on his own anywhere on the track and outpace the pack. Alas no more...

    Agree with Gene - this has been the best racing in NASCAR for a decade.