Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rating the Aaron's 499: 5 Stars *****

As the drivers get more comfortable with the two-car draft at restrictor-plate tracks, the finishes keep getting closer and closer, and Sunday’s was as close as they have ever been. A race that ties the closest finish ever with the most lead changes ever certainly deserves a 5 Star Rating.

Was this the best race ever? People will have differing opinions on which style of racing they prefer, rather its restrictor-plate racing vs. unrestricted racing or pack racing vs. two-car bump drafting racing. However, people would have to be nearly unconscious to think that finish wasn’t exciting. Heck, it might seem exciting even if they are unconscious.

The numbers say there was as much action as any race ever run, but it was really a clean race. After the Nationwide race had a record-setting 11 cautions in 312 miles, many people expected a bunch of cautions in the 499-mile Cup race. Instead, there were only six cautions and two were for debris.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t wrecks, however. Sure, there wasn’t the typical huge wreck, but there were plenty of times throughout the race that had all of the ingredients for a major wreck, but the drivers instead made incredible saves, namely Ryan Newman.

The man who has the worst restrictor-plate racing luck of any driver in the field was once again in the top 10 late in the race when he was turned sideways by Denny Hamlin in turns 3 and 4. Had he not hit Juan Pablo Montoya, the #39 car probably would have caused a big mess, but Newman did a great job of holding the car down and not even bringing out the caution. He did bring out the yellow flag a few laps later but still made a great save to keep the car off the wall. He got a 25th-place finish for his efforts.

Races at Daytona and Talladega usually bring out a range of emotions, and Sunday was no different. The incredible joy and adrenaline rush felt by those who were part of the eight-car pack at the finish was countered by the disappointment of Dave Blaney.

Blaney hooked up with Kevin Harvick early on and ran a fantastic race, leading 21 laps, the second-most of anybody in the field. Unfortunately, the surprise run of the race came to an end just three laps from the finish. Instead of being the Trevor Bayne of Talladega, Blaney finished 27th, the last car on the lead lap.

Overall, the race at Talladega delivered as promised and even exceeded expectations, if that was possible. The finish to this race was like watching a Hail Mary be completed to win a football game. It happens so fast and is so unexpected that it’s hard to believe you actually saw it happen. It’s easy to say this is a once-in-a-decade type finish, but the way the finishes have been at Daytona and Talladega lately, we could see something like this happen all over again in July at Daytona. Is it too early to get excited for that race?

Anyway, the second off-week of the season comes up next before the series moves on to Richmond, which is a great racetrack for totally different reasons than Talladega. For those who don’t like restrictor-plate racing, this will be 400 miles of “real racing.”

Overall, this has been a great start to the season. It reminds me a bit of the early 2000s. The big-time drivers have shown their strength, but the wealth has been shared between seven drivers in eight races. We had a wonderful surprise winner at Daytona and different unexpected drivers have had good runs in almost every race.

Surprisingly, Talladega probably had the most regular suspects at the front of any race this season, as the top eight finishers were from power teams before David Gilliland came across in ninth.

Have a blessed Easter everybody.


  1. I totally agree, Talledaga was AWESOME!

  2. 5 stars for that finish for sure! Still not sure if I like the tandem racing - yes your ability to win at Dega/Daytona depended on others in the draft sticking with you but you could at LEAST pull off the sling shot move to win it. Not sure that is the case anymore.

    2x2x2x2 to the line was surely impressive though...

  3. "Was this the best race ever?"

    Uh, no. Great finish, meh race.

  4. Anonymous - It usually is, and although the style of racing there has changed, it is still exciting.

    klvalus - I don't know if the sling shot has truly been around since the '70s, but whatever the flavor of the racing at Talladega, it's exciting one way or another.

    Gene - It was a great finish to be sure, but most of the great races we remember are strictly for their finishes. Some have heated battles for the entire final run, but even those usually have a lull somewhere in the race. If there wasn't there probably wouldn't be anybody left to make a great finish. I think the lack of a Big One on Sunday helped make the finish so exciting.

  5. I kept waiting for the Big One to happen, and there was a semi-Big One. But because the field was quite spread out, the Big One as we know it didn't happen. The finish was fantastic, even though Vader won yet again.

  6. jon_464 - I too was surprised there wasn't a huge wreck at the end. I thought the caution with about 30 laps to go would cause a few wrecks late in the race.