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All of the hype about Sunday's NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway turned out to be true: It really was the wild-card race in the Chase and ended up as unpredictable as everyone imagined.
CARL EDWARDS (points leader, finished 11th)
This race was one that is nerve-wracking for everyone. We came in here with a small points lead and we're leaving with a bigger one. That's a huge day for us.
MATT KENSETH (second in points, finished 18th)
It was disappointing to run in the front all day and then finish where we finished, but we made it through, so I guess the damage could have been worse.
BRAD KESELOWSKI (third in points, finished fourth)
We're still in contention and we have a damn good shot at winning this championship.
TONY STEWART (fourth in points, finished seventh)
I screwed up and got out of sync with Ryan (Newman) and crashed him, and after that you just had to pick up whoever you could pick up. ... I let Ryan down today.
KEVIN HARVICK (fifth in points, finished 32nd)
We wanted to be in the front. We thought that was the safer place to be in case the thing went green. ... I don't know what happened. It is just one of those deals.
KURT BUSCH (eighth in points, finished 36th)
Our championship hopes are done just because of this two-car Talladega draft.
DENNY HAMLIN (11th in points, finished eighth)
I was the odd one out for the whole race. The best I can describe it is we were stuck without a prom date, so I was just hitting on everyone's mom.
The superstar drafting tandem of five-time NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who raced together to win the spring Talladega race, didn't have anywhere close to the same fortune on Sunday.
After hanging around the back of the field for most of the day in order to stay out of trouble, Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. had every intention of making their move with about 20 laps to go.
But an excess of late cautions thwarted their progress, along with running over some debris that required an extra pit stop.
The results were obviously disappointing: Earnhardt Jr. finished 25th and Johnson was 26th.
"I'd rather race up in there and try to lead laps and do whatever, but (two-car drafting) is really not my style of racing – being pushed and carrying on all day long," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Trying to lead a couple of laps that are sort of meaningless really doesn't make a lot of sense either. Neither alternative is really that great, you know. Pushing around and leading laps and racing up toward the front in a 500 mile race...that's not a strategy that is really putting yourself in position to win."
At the end of the race, Johnson had some grass on his grille that caused his car to start overheating a bit, so Earnhardt Jr. had to be the pusher at the end.
"As we went to make our switch, the pack was organized and with the green-white-checkered situation, there's not a lot of time to get organized," Johnson said. "We lost our momentum there and got to the outside and kind of stalled out up on the top and finished far worse than we had hoped to."
Echoed Earnhardt Jr.: "I mean, we run up on guys five-wide (and) you can't go nowhere."
The sub-par result likely put the finishing touches on Johnson's fading hopes of winning a sixth straight championship. He's now 50 points behind the leaders and has only four races to overcome the deficit.
"We'll just keep fighting," Johnson said. "Every position counts. Every spot counts. And I want to finish as high as I can in the points. If it isn't the championship, I want to finish as high as I can possibly finish."
After a very mixed day at Talladega Superspeedway for Richard Childress Racing – the team won the race with Clint Bowyer but saw championship contender Kevin Harvick get caught in a wreck – owner Richard Childress chided his rivals for their race strategy.
Because wrecks are likely at Talladega and drivers can use two-car drafts to easily soar back through the field, some drivers choose to hang back until the end of the race.
Harvick and Childress decided to race for the lead most of the day, and that's ultimately what got Harvick caught in a wreck. And it may have ruined his Sprint Cup Series title hopes.
"These fans pay a lot of money," Childress said. "I hate it for Kevin, but he was doing what he was supposed to be doing. All of our RCR cars race to give these fans a show. We didn't sit in the back and ride til the last minute – our cars ran all day long.
"We don't get paid to ride in the back. I'm proud of every one of 'em."
Even though the strategy "may have cost us the championship," Childress still said he'd have Harvick do the same thing again.
"We may have been able to ride in the back and wait it out – but that wasn't what Kevin wanted to do," Childress said. "We had all of our sponsors here today. That just isn't what we wanted to do."
Race winner Clint Bowyer echoed Childress' thoughts and said drivers should race hard for the entire event.
"These fans pay a ton of money to watch these races, and we owe it to them to put on a show from rag to rag."
After pledging to work with Jeff Gordon on the final run of Sunday's NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway, Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne left his childhood hero high and dry on the sprint to the finish.
Bayne expressed regret via Twitter after the race, tweeting:
@tbayne21: I'm not happy about what this has become... It's too premeditated. We should be able to go with whoever is around (us)
@tbayne21: I would have rather pulled over and finished last than tell @JeffGordonWeb I would work with him and then be strong armed into bailing
Bayne appears to be referring to the Ford Racing edict that its drivers only work with other Fords and try not to help the manufacturer's Chase rivals. (MORE: David Gilliland says he can't work with Tony Stewart due to Ford request) Bayne and Gordon previously worked together during Daytona Speedweeks, which set the stage for Bayne's upset Daytona 500 win.
After helping the youngster to his greatest career achievement earlier in the year, Gordon was upset Bayne reneged on their verbal agreement.
Gordon knew the Ford cars were under restrictions and hadn't expected Bayne's help, but believed the 21-year-old when he committed to pushing.
"I didn't expect him to commit to me on the radio," Gordon said. "I expected him to say, ‘Man, I'm sorry. I can't.' And when he said, ‘Yeah, I'm pushing you. We're good," I believed him. But I think they had a different plan."
Gordon, who finished 27th after being dumped, said he found it "odd" to see Bayne bail on him, especially after their conversation. According to Gordon, Bayne approached him in the garage area after the race and said, "Hey, it wasn't me. That's what I'm being told to do."
"I just think it could have been handled better," Gordon said. "If somebody is going to screw you, you'd like them to say it to your face, you know?"
Bayne finished 15th.
Gordon realized Bayne was likely a victim of politics and acknowledged "he feels terrible about it."
"I was going to go with (Casey Mears)," Gordon said, "but Trevor lined up behind me and when he agreed to it, I said, 'Hey, we can't go with a better person than that. He's got a fast race car; we already have history of working well together' and I thought it was a no-brainer. But I probably should have known better."
When one fan tweeted Bayne and scolded him for going back on his word, Bayne tweeted his agreement.
@tbayne21: I agree. That's why I'm so sick about all this. I won't race restrictor plate races next year before I'm put in that situation
Said Gordon, when asked if Bayne was following the dreaded team orders: "It would seem to me like that's it."
Sunday's NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway turned into an elimination race for several drivers.
Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch wrecked midway through the race. Kurt Busch wrecked late. Jimmie Johnson was never able to rally after running in the back for most of the day.
As such, the Chase is down to four drivers – or maybe five – with four races remaining in the 2011 season.
Carl Edwards expanded his points lead to 14 (which is worth 14 positions) over Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth.
Darkhorse Brad Keselowski is still hanging around in third place, 18 points back, and Tony Stewart is 19 points behind.
Harvick dropped to fifth in the standings – 26 points back – which makes it seem unlikely he could win his first NASCAR title. Still, it's too early to count him out (particularly since he's good at Martinsville).
For drivers sixth and lower, though, it seems the Chase is over. That includes five-time champ Johnson, whose reign appears to be coming to a rapid end.
Here's a look at the NASCAR Chase standings after Talladega:
As cars pulled off the track following a wild race at Talladega Superspeedway, thick black smoke began rising from one section of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage area.
Drivers stared at the billowing smoke as they climbed from their cars, and crew members from several teams went running toward the smoke to see if they could assist.
As it turned out, the smoke was from a fire started when the gas man for Furniture Row Racing's No. 78 team inadvertently set off a spark while preparing the team's gas cans for transportation.
"We take the probes off the cans to haul the cans around," Furniture Row Racing general manager Joe Garone said. "And in the process of doing that, the can exploded. Something initiated a spark, and the can exploded."
Garone said no one was injured – "We're lucky nobody got hurt," he said – but the team would need to find a different hauler to get its car back to Colorado.
Because haulers park in close proximity to one another in the Sprint Cup Series garage, the incident could have been much worse.
When the fire started, it engulfed the left side of the Furniture Row hauler's cab and spread to the neighboring Earnhardt Ganassi Racing hauler of Jamie McMurray. It then continued to the other side of the 78 hauler and threatened a Red Bull Racing truck.
One witness reported seeing flames higher than the trucks themselves.
"I was standing right there, and all of the sudden we looked over and you heard a whoosh," said Kat MacDonald, who handles nutrition and food for EGR. "All we saw was flames. So we all ran over and all we saw were all the gas cans. The gas man was in there, and the flames were literally up past the top of the trucks. Then, all of the sudden, we saw the flames over here on our truck. We started yelling, 'Fire!'
"But what was so scary was it went so fast. All of a sudden, we started seeing the flames on the other side of their hauler. That's when everybody over here started thinking, 'Something is going to blow up.' People started yelling, 'Get back! Get back!' and everybody started running that way."
A fire engine drove into the garage with sirens blaring about a minute after the fire began and quickly extinguished the flames.
Afterward, crew members from McMurray's team discovered the fire had burned some of their backpacks, which contained their street clothes and personal belongings such as cell phones and keys. They sifted through the remains of their possessions with stone faces and tried to see what they could salvage.
One crew member found his phone, but it was burnt to a crisp.
Furniture Row Racing has had bad luck with haulers. Last season, its hauler was involved in an accident on an icy highway and had to be replaced.
Garone said this hauler will be fixable eventually. The biggest damage was some of the hoses under the hood of the tractor.
Pictures of the fire's aftermath (Photos: Jeff Gluck / SBNation):
Crashes, white-knuckle racing and a close finish made for another excellent race at Talladega, with Clint Bowyer earning his first win of the year thanks to a bit of teamwork and a slingshot at the end. As the field bunch up late in the race, the restarts came often, but Bowyer was able to take it by a hair on the green-white-checkered.
With 14 laps to go, Bobby Labonte went around and slammed hard after losing control in a turn. As Labonte spun, Kurt Busch slammed into his car in a violent collision.. Both cars sustained significant damage, though Labonte's looked like it got the worst of it. Busch took his car straight to the garage after the incident.
Just after the restart, with seven laps to go, Regan Smith was caught up in another violent crash as the field jockeyed for position heading down to the wire. Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin were also involved, but Smith clearly took the brunt of the damage. Thankfully, Smith walked away from the wreck.
After the restart, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton burst away from the field in the two-car draft. Bowyer swung out from behind Burton and just barely edged him at the line.
It's NASCAR race day at Talladega Speedway, and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about today's Chase race for you below.
What time does the race start today? The command to start engines will be given by Camping World/Good Sam Club CEO Marcus Lemonis at 2:09 p.m. Eastern time. The green flag will then wave at 2:21 p.m. Eastern. So if you want to tune in for the actual race itself and skip the pre-race show, just tune in at 2:21.
Race name/distance: The Good Sam Club 500 is 188 laps around NASCAR's biggest track, the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway. Good Sam Club is an RV club related to Camping World.
TV and radio: Today's race can be seen on ESPN. Every Sprint Cup race will be on ESPN for the rest of the season. If you aren't near a TV, the radio broadcast can be found on your local Motor Racing Network (MRN) affiliate. Click here to see a list of stations where you can listen.
National anthem: You gotta love when a military-related performer does the anthem. Talladega has chosen the 82nd Airborne All-American Chorus to do the honors today.
Tickets: There are plenty of tickets still available for today's race, with 'Dega races drawing far less fans than they used to. If you want to make a last-minute trip to Alabama today, you shouldn't have trouble getting a seat.
Weather: Chilly to start, but warming up. The unofficial NASCAR weatherman says conditions will be 72 degrees and sunny at race time, but the morning will be crisp and cold.
Last time: Jimmie Johnson won the spring Talladega race in what may have been the best finish of the season. Dale Earnhardt Jr. pushed Johnson to the win, and Junior Nation has felt Johnson has owed him ever since. One year ago, Clint Bowyer picked up the victory.
Starting lineup for today's NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway (Chase drivers in bold):
David Gilliland and Tony Stewart won't be working together in Sunday's NASCAR race at Talladega, breaking up a pairing that has been successful in the past.
As it turns out, manufacturer Ford didn't think it was a good idea for its drivers to be pushing cars from other manufacturers – particularly those who are a threat to win the championship.
In other words, Ford didn't want to see Gilliland pushing Stewart to the front when Stewart is competing with Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth for the Sprint Cup Series title.
"We're not banned (from working together), but when you lay out your initial plans, you've got to think of the big picture," Gilliland said Saturday. "Ford does a lot for us, and we'd really like to see a Ford win this championship.
"We're here to help them just like they help us."
Gilliland will work with Front Row Motorsports teammate Travis Kvapil instead of Stewart, he said. But he wouldn't rule out drafting with Stewart at some point.
"Tony was great to work with those last couple races, and you never know what happens when we get down to the end," he said. "If something happens and he's out of a partner and something happens to Travis, we're 100 percent comfortable working together."
Stewart was left hanging by Gilliland's decision, but he worked with Bobby Labonte during one practice on Friday and drafted with Landon Cassill in the other session.
The driver/team owner said Saturday he's "pretty sure" he'll end up pairing with either Labonte or Cassill.
Said Cassill: "Tony knows that I can push, and as long as he knows I can be a good lead car, too, maybe I'll be with him all day."
The problem with Cassill and Stewart (who worked together during Stewart's Daytona Nationwide Series win in February) is the youngster wants to run up front and the veteran likes to race Talladega from the back of the field.
"We talked about it yesterday," Stewart said. "He knows where I want to be, and I know why they want to be up front, so we'll just play it a lap at a time."
If Stewart decides to go with Labonte, Cassill said he'll likely team up with Casey Mears.
So why doesn't Stewart simply pair up with teammate Ryan Newman? The driver said there was "no reason" other than Newman prefers to run up front (like Cassill) and that doesn't mesh with Stewart's strategy.
Plus, Stewart said, Newman already has a good thing going with Denny Hamlin. And if the Stewart-Haas cars drafted together, he said there's a higher chance an accident "could take us both out."
"We've just got two different philosophies on how to do it," Stewart said. "He's had really good luck with Denny, he likes running with Denny. The biggest thing from a car owner's standpoint is I want him to run to whoever he's really comfortable with."
Mark Martin won the pole for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway, jumping to the top spot with five cars left in Saturday's qualifying session.
As such, the 52-year-old Hendrick Motorsports driver will lead the starting lineup, ahead of teammate Jimmie Johnson and Richard Childress Racing's Clint Bowyer.
Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne and Martin's other teammates, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., rounded out the top six, followed by Paul Menard, David Ragan, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth.
The pole was the 51st of Martin's long career and his second of the season. The veteran also picked up a pole in the July Daytona race – another restrictor-plate event like Talladega.
Josh Wise, Scott Speed, Geoff Bodine and T.J. Bell failed to qualify.
Here's the starting lineup for Sunday's NASCAR Talladega race:
Andy Lally is adamant about wanting to stay in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next season. He's just not sure who might give him the opportunity.
Lally said Saturday after qualifying at Talladega Superspeedway he's unsure of his future plans and doesn't know if TRG Motorsports – his current team – will retain him in 2012.
"What I know about next year is that I'd like to stay in NASCAR," he said. "And that's about all I know about next year."
He added with a chuckle: "I don't even know that much about next week, to be honest with you."
Lally said his goal has been to finish the season and complete all the races, but "money is tight." Like many other teams, Lally said TRG's marketing department has been working overtime – but he's unsure if it will result in enough sponsorship to run the final few events of 2011.
In regard to 2012, Lally said, "this is definitely where I want to stay."
"I love this," he said. "I've got a huge mountain to climb and a whole lot of things to learn, and it's been a humbling experience getting your butt kicked week-in and week-out. But I wouldn't trade it for the world. I just want to keep going on it and make it happen."
Will TRG decide to invest in Lally for another season?
"I'd obviously love to continue with TRG," he said. "If they have other choices and options they decide to go with, I'd certainly love to talk to whoever I can to stay in the sport."
Lally, a sports car veteran running his rookie season in the Sprint Cup Series, is 33rd in points and has a top finish of 19th.
The windshields of Martin Truex Jr., David Reutimann and Bobby Labonte were confiscated on Friday after NASCAR found "unapproved modifications" to the parts.
NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said penalties are expected at the beginning of next week.
Though Truex, Reutimann and Labonte's cars all operate out of the Michael Waltrip Racing shop, Michael Waltrip's No. 15 car did not have an illegal windshield.
Kyle Busch Motorsports is moving up to the NASCAR Nationwide Series on a full-time basis in 2012, team owner Kyle Busch announced Friday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway.
Busch said he was unable to provide details on a sponsor, driver or crew chief for the team, but said he was announcing the move before it could be leaked online.
The announcement comes as rumors about Monster Energy Drink and Ricky Carmichael coming to KBM have picked up steam in recent weeks. NOS Energy would depart Kyle Busch Motorsports as a sponsor if Monster joined the team.
"Obviously, it takes funding to do these deals and we wouldn't be able to do it without the partner that we have acquired," Busch said. "Working with them and going through all the due diligence and getting everything put down on paper, certainly it's been an exciting time."
Busch said the Nationwide effort would be full-time, but indicated the car would have at least two different drivers.
"It's safe to assume that I will be running in some Nationwide races at Kyle Busch Motorsports," he said. "I will also still commit to my current obligations that I have at (Joe Gibbs Racing) and run over there, too. I'll be split between two Nationwide teams, essentially, driving some races."
KBM will continue to run a full-time Truck Series team, Busch said. If the mystery driver is indeed Carmichael, perhaps it would allow the motorcycle legend to keep running some Truck races on the weekends when Busch is in the KBM Nationwide car.
Busch said he was confident that his role as a Nationwide team owner wouldn't change his focus on winning a Sprint Cup Series title.
"Going forward into the ownership role, my idea is to have a foundation of a company that will run off itself," he said. "Rick Hendrick isn't there every single day making sure the inner workings of Hendrick Motorsports work correctly. He's got the people in the right places to do that for him.
"...That's my idea with KBM just as well. To have (general manager) Rick Ren, to have our PR department, our marketing department and all that stuff just doing its own deal where it can survive without me there on a daily basis."
UPDATE: We caught up with Carmichael after qualifying and asked him the possibility of him moving to KBM along with Monster. This is what he said:
"You know more than I know, because that's funny. I was out in California this week and was at Monster headquarters, and they didn't tell me anything. They take pretty good care of me, so if that was the truth, you know, I'd have something to tell you.
"Unfortunately, it's news to me. I got a pretty good deal where I'm at (Turner Motorsports), and with Chevrolet. Like I said, I haven't heard anything about it. So you guys know more than me."
Tony Stewart is suddenly single and needs to find a partner before Sunday's NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway.
No, we're not talking about Stewart's infamous "dead weight" comment after New Hampshire. Come on, folks – get your minds on racing, not gossip!
We're simply referring to Sunday's Good Sam Club 500. Stewart recently learned he was being dumped by traditional two-car drafting partner David Gilliland (the Ford drivers are being encouraged to hook up with their own kind, Stewart said) and is actively searching for a new on-track relationship.
"I'm definitely going to be more proactive than reactive with it, for sure," he said Friday afternoon. "If I can go out and pick somebody that I want, I'd rather do that than wait for them to come. There's no benefit on waiting for somebody to come to you."
As with dating, Stewart has certain attributes he's looking for in a partner. He said he wants someone who will share a similar philosophy at Talladega in regard to either running up front or hanging in the back for the first half of the race (like Stewart does).
Stewart's teammate, Ryan Newman, already has a drafting relationship with Denny Hamlin. Would Smoke consider breaking up another duo to find himself a suitable partner for Sunday?
"I don't think they signed contracts for pairing up, so I think everybody is fair game at this point," he said. "And there's going to be times in the race where you don't necessarily get with the guy you want to be with anyway. You've always got to do the Peyton Manning and be ready to call an audible at any point."
Stewart hooked up with Bobby Labonte in the first practice session and could try out another partner in the second practice. For now, he's not sweating his single status.
"We've got all day today and tomorrow to figure out who exactly it's going to be with," he said. "We don't really have to know right now. It'd be nice to know. We thought we had a plan and it sounds like it got dismantled, so we're going to have to come up with something else for Sunday now."
When Dale Earnhardt Jr. learned of NASCAR's rule changes at Talladega Superspeedway – a larger restrictor plate to increase speeds among the tweaks – he was initially pleased.
After all, he figured, faster cars would make it harder to hook up in the two-car drafts he dislikes so much.
But the other part of NASCAR's rule changes was confusing to Earnhardt Jr.: A pressure relief valve that would pop off at a lower water pressure.
The idea behind the more sensitive pop-off valve is to make the drivers switch out of their tandem drafting more often. But that's exactly the part Earnhardt Jr. questioned.
"When we do make position changes and you've got to change more often, that's when it kind of gets crazy," he said. "You lose a lot of speed and the guys that are not changing come flying up on you really quick. If they don't have a lot of room and everybody doesn't know what's going on, bad things can happen."
Earnhardt Jr. added "I don't really see what we're trying to do there" about trying to get drivers to swap more regularly.
"I don't think it can bring about any good," he said. "I think it'll put us in difficult situations more often. When we make a swap, it's a difficult situation for the other drivers that aren't swapping to have to sort of dodge you and hope they know where you're going and what you and your teammate are trying to do."
The Hendrick Motorsports driver said the tandem drafting was created by the Talladega pavement, which is still holding up well after the track was repaved a few years ago.
NASCAR's changes might break up the pairings a little bit, Earnhardt Jr. said, but it's likely not the solution.
"I don't know, man," he said. "There's just so much grip out there."
Welcome to the "wild card" race of the 2011 Chase. This weekend, the championship battle hits the high banks of Talladega Superspeedway for the Good Sam Club 500.
Carl Edwards heads to Talladega with a five point advantage over Kevin Harvick in the Chase standings, while Jimmie Johnson faces an uphill climb after his championship hopes took a hard hit at Charlotte.
With the ''big one" always looming at Talladega, Sunday's race could make or break a team's chance at the title.
With April's race at Talladega coming down to photo-finish between four two-car tandems, teammates and a good pusher could make all of the difference in the final laps.
That race saw a record number of lead changes, 88, prompting the track to put $100,000 on the line if the field is able to reach 100 lead changes, with the bonus going to the driver that completes the most lead changes.
Here is a look at the weekend schedule (all times EASTERN):
10:30 a.m. - NASCAR Camping World Truck Series final practice (2 hours)
2:30 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice (45 minutes)
4:00 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series final practice (1 hour)
5:10 p.m. - NASCAR Camping World Truck Series qualifying (2 laps)
12:15 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying (2 laps)
4:00 p.m. - NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race (94 laps, 250.04 miles)
2:00 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles)
The 2012 Daytona 500 could look a whole lot like the 2011 Daytona 500, if Thursday's electronic fuel injection test at Talladega Superspeedway is any indication.
In other words, the field will likely be split into two-car drafts, as has been the case for each of the restrictor-plate races this season.
But NASCAR hopes that won't be the case. The sanctioning body understands many race fans are less enthusiastic about the tandem racing than when it started, NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton said Thursday.
"We are worried (about the quality of the plate racing)," Pemberton said. "But you have to be very careful, because the cure can be way worse than the disease."
Pemberton said he thought the two-car drafting was "OK when it first came on board" in the eyes of NASCAR nation.
"And then, I think, the novelty of that wore off somewhat with some fans," he said. "... We do understand the likelihood of (two-car drafts) gaining popularity is not there."
Some had hoped the new EFI cars being tested at Talladega on Thursday would help to break up the "lovebug racing" – a group that included Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood III.
Chitwood recently told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that fans were tired of the two-car drafts and they could expect changes for Daytona Speedweeks. Like Pemberton, Chitwood also called tandem racing "a novelty that has worn off" and cited a Daytona study that showed an increase in fans dissatisfied with the racing at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
But the EFI cars alone certainly didn't change anything. Instead, the two-car drafts looked just as strong as they did with cars powered by engines with carburetors.
Pairings like the combination of Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard ran lap after lap on Thursday without having to switch (which would occur if the pusher started overheating). Other tandems discovered the same.
"The whole deal with the two-car draft comes down to aero," Menard said. "These COT cars punch a huge hole in the air, and until you make the cars slipperier and get a lot less drag in the cars, you're going to continue to see this.
"It has nothing to do with motors, as far as I understand it."
But Pemberton said Thursday's test was "not necessarily" a sign of how the Daytona 500 would go. He noted some teams brought the old (smaller) restrictor plate to the Talladega test and were not running the newly mandated pop-off valve that requires even less water pressure to activate than before (the idea of the pop-off valve being that cars would overheat if they lost water, so it would force drivers to "swap" more often).
Pemberton also said NASCAR was looking at the cooling systems for next year and was considering making a change to something "much different" than is currently used at plate tracks.
So there's hope yet that pack racing could return and two-car drafts could go away. Unfortunately, there's only so much NASCAR can do to break them up.
The two-car drafts were created when drivers realized the grip level at newly repaved Daytona and Talladega would allow them to push a partner for virtually as long as they wanted and break away from the pack.
Now, Pemberton said, every driver knows the technique.
"Once you learn something," he said, "you can't unlearn it."
A couple other things you should know:
• The cars are still using restrictor plates, even though there's no carburetor. The restrictor plate is used to restrict air flow to the engine, so NASCAR believes it's still the best way to slow the cars down. And lower speeds remains a priority for officials, since Cup cars could perhaps approach 230 mph with unrestricted engines at Talladega.
• At Thursday's test, teams used a restrictor plate the same size as the one used at Talladega in the spring race (7/8 inch holes) – which is not the same plate that will be used this weekend. The top speeds remained virtually the same, however.
• Some of the cars practiced a simulated pit stop (getting in and out of their pit boxes). The reason is the power curve on the EFI engines is still a work in progress. At lower RPMs, the engine can have a tendency to skip (it has some problems starting up, for example).
• Teams can no longer grease their bumpers, but drivers are still able to pull halfway out behind another car and get clean air on their nose while racing on the straightaways. The proposition becomes riskier when a pushing car tries to get air in the corner, because there's an increased chance of inadvertently spinning the drafting partner.
We have a great weekend for racing in western Alabama. Skies will be mostly sunny and temperatures will be very comfortable. The only thing I can find will be the cold morning temperatures. Those camping make sure you stock up on the wood. You're going to need it.
10:30 a.m EDT
Truck Final Practice – Sunny skies – temp: 50
2:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Practice– Sunny skies – temp: 62
4 p.m EDT
Truck Qualifying – Sunny skies – temp: 63
5 p.m EDT
Nationwide Race – Sunny skies – temp: 61
12 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Qualifying – Sunny skies – temp: 62
4 p.m EDT
Truck Race– Sunny skies – temp: 67
2 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Sunny skies – temp: 69
Please follow me on Twitter @NASCAR_WXMAN for the latest Weather updates during the race.
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