News & Media


'Big one' returns with a vengeance

May 07, 2012, Viv Bernstein, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com

The chain-reaction crash with 45 laps left marked the return of 'the big one' to Talladega and Sprint Cup. (Getty Images)

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Gordon, other contenders feel impact of four multi-car wrecks in the final laps

Three races without a multi-car wreck in the Sprint Cup Series left some wondering if there was something wrong with NASCAR. But don't worry. The sport is not broken, though more than a few race cars were when the "big one" finally came during the Aaron's 499 on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

It was only a matter of time with pack racing back at Talladega, but it took a while for it to happen. With 45 laps to go, Aric Almirola ran out of gas, and the cars behind him weren't able to check up in time. The chain-reaction crash collected Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr., Juan Montoya, Joey Logano, Terry Labonte, Dave Blaney and Landon Cassill.

* Gordon, Edwards, Truex Jr. collected in "Big One"

"I feel bad if I don't spend at least $150,000 in tore-up race cars going back to the shop so we definitely got to do a better job with that."

--TONY STEWART

With that, the big one was back. It was the first of four multi-car wrecks in the final laps, including another nine-car crash that involved Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, Logano, A.J. Allmendinger, Paul Menard, Michael Waltrip and Robert Richardson Jr.

There hadn't been a multi-car crash since Martinsville, when Clint Bowyer took out leaders Gordon and Jimmie Johnson with 10 laps to go.

Notice the familiar theme? Gordon was front-and-center at both tracks, yet another sign that this is not his year. Gordon finished 33rd and dropped from 17th to 23rd in the points standings.

"This is just one of the most bizarre years that this Dupont Chevrolet and Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet has ever gone through,'' Gordon said. "I mean, it's almost comical at this point.

"That was not fun. I didn't like hitting the wall, but gosh, I thought I was clear. I was just kind of cruising by on the inside. It looked to me like somebody came down and got Martin [Truex Jr.], and that turned him into me. That's just the way our season's been going."

Almirola wasn't the only driver who ran out of fuel. It was another common theme, with Jeff Burton nearly causing a wreck when he ran out of gas shortly before Almirola's crash. Stewart said he ran out of gas twice along the way.

"The way these fuel cans work, they appear as if they're filling up and the tank is full, but there's just so much air pressure that's in the system because it's ventless. And we're not getting the tanks full is what's happening,'' Gordon said. "So that was one issue. Ours was just wrong place, wrong time.''

He wasn't the only one. Stewart led 16 laps early in the race and was a contender before he was involved in the final wreck. He finished 24th after a long, hot day, apparently hot enough to set off Stewart's legendary temper.

"Sorry we couldn't crash more cars today,'' Stewart said. "We didn't fill the quota for the day for Talladega.

"Honestly, I think if we haven't crashed 50 percent of the field by the end of the race, we need to extend the race until we at least crash 50 percent of the cars. 'Cause it's not fair to these fans for them to not see any more wrecks than that. We still had over half the cars running. It shouldn't be that way."

Stewart, who had snapped at a reporter a week ago at Richmond when he was asked about the lack of multi-car crashes in the Cup series, wasn't done.

"I'm upset that we didn't crash more cars,'' he said. "I feel like that's what we're here for. I feel bad if I don't spend at least $150,000 in tore-up race cars going back to the shop so we definitely got to do a better job with that. ...

"I had a blast. It would have been a lot more fun if I could have got caught up in one more wreck. If I could have done that, it would have been perfect."

At least Stewart has two victories and is seventh in the standings. He's a near lock to make the Chase this year, even with Sunday's performance. Gordon is not as fortunate. The four-time champion, who has finished outside the top 10 twice in his career and once since his rookie season, is on pace for the worst season of his career.

After dropping six spots in the standings, Gordon now has to worry about winning races and, just as critically, getting back into the top 20 in points. Because wins won't matter if he's outside the top 20.

"When you're where we're at in points, other than getting us [back inside] the top 20 -- we understand we've got to be there if we're going to win races and get into the Chase -- but I mean at this point we just have to just kind of smile and laugh about it and find it comical and go into the next race and try to win,'' Gordon said. "That's all we can do."