In the Rearview: Recapping Talladega
May 06, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
Ragan relishes win; Hamlin readies for full-time return; plus more
Many of NASCAR’s top Sprint Cup Series teams admittedly show up at Talladega Superspeedway filled with a healthy mixture of expectation and dread. But the sport’s largest track is a bastion of hope and wide-open potential for smaller teams, who know they stand as good a shot at winning on those unpredictable high banks as the consummate big-buck favorites.
“These (tracks) and the road courses, we feel like, are our best shots to come and have a legitimate shot at winning,’’ Ragan said after the race. “The rest of our program we’re still working on and trying to get there.
“Obviously, some day we want to be an organization that can go and compete for wins on a weekly basis, but we’re not there yet. So to be able to come to these type of tracks, we definitely put a lot of preparation and a lot of emphasis on our speedway program and today we had two very fast race cars and were able to come home one-two.”
Changing lanes: While Ragan and his Front Row Motorsports sweep certainly provided a feel-good story to the masses, it was a tough pill to swallow for a couple of drivers who felt the final restart was flawed.
Brad Keselowski asserted on his Twitter account following the race that it looked like Ragan illegally changed lanes before taking the green flag. And Martin Truex Jr. -- in response to Keselowski -- confirmed what he felt was a discrepancy in the lineup.
The reigning Cup champion Keselowski offered his congratulations to Ragan via Twitter after the race, but also questioned the outcome and challenged fans to look at a replay of the final green-white-checkered restart.
“I’m happy as hell a small team won. Doesn’t change the fact the restart was blatantly wrong,’’ Keselowski tweeted.
To his credit, Ragan didn’t shy away from the controversy during his post-race press conference.
“Well, obviously Brad wanted to start on the outside, because he knew the same thing that I knew, that the outside lane had an advantage on the restart but he just didn't want to listen to NASCAR,’’ Ragan said. “So NASCAR makes the call on where we line up at, and I listen to what NASCAR has to say. My spotter told me that's what they radioed on the NASCAR channel, the crew chief said the same thing, and Brad was just trying to snooker us and get the preferred lane, and eventually he decided he should do the right thing and he restarted ninth and I restarted 10th, so there's no controversy.”
Team owner/driver Stewart was involved in the first mega-wreck of the day on Lap 43, forcing him to play catch-up in a hobbled car. Newman and Patrick looked to carry the flag for the organization and were running in the top 15, only to be collected in the other large multicar accident with five laps remaining.
Newman’s No. 39 Chevrolet bore the brunt of the damage in the massive crash with Kurt Busch’s No. 78 Chevrolet going airborne briefly and landing on Newman’s car’s hood.
No drivers were injured in the melee, but it was another annoyance for Newman, who has been involved in several spectacular “Big Ones” in the closing laps at Talladega.
He’s back: After missing four races because of a back injury, Denny Hamlin said he expects to run the full event at Darlington Raceway this Saturday. He started Sunday’s race at Talladega and was replaced by Brian Vickers during a caution on Lap 24.
100-1: Las Vegas odds on David Ragan winning at Talladega.
7: Hours and two minutes from drop of the green flag to the checkered flag, thanks to a 3 hour, 36 minute red-flag period for rain at Lap 125.
3: Weeks in a row Kyle Busch has crashed out of contention. He placed 37th on Sunday following finishes of 24th (Richmond) and 38th (Kansas). He dropped two positions to ninth in the standings.
1: Minute and 6 seconds, the best practice time for Denny Hamlin, who exited the roof of his No. 11 FedEx Toyota to make a driver change with Brian Vickers.
Still rolling: Jimmie Johnson arrived in Talladega with the largest championship lead under the new points system. Thanks to a fifth-place finish -- his fifth top-five of the season -- he still holds a hefty 41-point edge over Carl Edwards.
Backslide: While 13 drivers were caught up in the first “Big One” of the afternoon, it was costliest for Kasey Kahne, who was enjoying the best season start in his career and arrived in Talladega ranked third behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Johnson and Roush Fenway Racing’s Edwards. Kahne’s 42nd-place finish sent him on the largest free fall among the championship contenders. He dropped three positions and is sixth, 84 points behind Johnson.
On the rise: The biggest gainer in the standings this week is Richard Petty Motorsports driver Aric Almirola, who vaulted four positions to seventh thanks to his fourth consecutive top-10 effort.
The time has come: Although Tony Stewart is famous for his summer hot streaks and victories, he has more ground to make up than usual. The three-time Cup champ is still mired in a career-worst season start, winless and sitting 22nd in points -- 159 behind Johnson -- and 56 out of the final guaranteed Chase position.
Aric Almirola has had plenty of reasons to smile lately. At Talladega, he extended his career-best streak of top-10 finishes to four while also vaulting to seventh place in the points standings.
• “Btw I’m on my couch at home. This sucks!”
-- Kasey Kahne on Twitter as the cars fired their engines following a red-flag rain delay. Kahne was involved in multi-car accident on lap 43 and finished 42nd.
• “We have alligator blood. I don't know what to say. It's just we're a different breed that are willing to throw caution to the wind just to get back to what we love doing."
-- Denny Hamlin on his eagerness to return after a back injury sidelined him for four races.
• “What corner am I in again?”
-- Matt Kenseth to his spotter while leading under caution with five laps remaining and the darkness setting in -- at what was approximately 7 p.m. local (Central) time.
Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet was knocked out of the race for good following a multicar crash that brought out the caution on Lap 43. Kahne flew home to North Carolina and, thanks to a lengthy rain delay, was able to watch the remainder of the race on TV.
• Both the Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing teams have a big week ahead of them appealing NASCAR penalties and fines.
Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook will hear the final appeal from Penske Racing on Tuesday. Last week, a three-person appellate committee upheld the original penalties on the Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano teams. Both drivers’ cars -- specifically their rear-end housings -- failed pre-race inspection at Texas Motor Speedway on April 13. NASCAR found the cars had unapproved parts and docked each driver 25 points, fined their crew chiefs $100,000 and suspended their crew chiefs, team manager and a pair of engineers for six races. The crew members have been allowed to work at the races during the appeal process.
On Wednesday, NASCAR’s appellate committee will hear the first appeal from the Gibbs team, which was found to have an illegal engine part following Matt Kenseth’s win at Kansas Speedway on April 21.
The team will argue that the penalties are overly severe for the infraction -- one of the eight engine connecting rods was approximately 3 grams underweight and the team’s engine supplier, Toyota Racing Development, has taken the blame for the discrepancy.
Among the lengthy list of penalties issued, team owner Joe Gibbs would not be allowed to earn any owner championship points for six races and Kenseth’s victory at Kansas would not be allowed to count toward his Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup eligibility.
• From one action track to another, Darlington (S.C.) Raceway will host the Sprint Cup Series on Saturday night. Jimmie Johnson is the defending winner and has top-10 finishes in seven of the season’s 10 races.
But the Lady in Black has kept Victory Lane suspenseful. There have been seven different winners in the last seven races. The last repeat winner was Greg Biffle (2005-06).
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