Dale Earnhardt Jr. used to be happy with restrictor-plate racing at Talladega Superspeedway, but after the big crash in Sunday's Good Sam 500, he's not particularly thrilled about racing there anymore.
Talladega put a huge dent in Earnhardt Jr.'s title hopes after he was caught up in a 25-car accident on the final turn of the last lap.
Earnhardt Jr. had battled back from a one-lap deficit due to an early race pit-road speeding penalty before he was running in ninth while in the middle of a four-wide pack of cars on the last lap. Tony Stewart, who was leading at the time, triggered the wreck when he drove down the track and into the path of Michael Waltrip while trying to protect his lead. After being hit from behind by Waltrip, Stewart's car spun around and then flipped over onto several other vehicles. It was calamity for most drivers, particularly those who are in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
While Matt Kenseth was quickly declared the race winner, it took nearly an hour for NASCAR to review the video of the final lap and determine the finishing order. Earnhardt Jr. was credited with a 20th-place finish. He dropped from seventh to 11th in the Chase point standings, which puts him 51 points behind leader Brad Keselowski, who survived the wreck to finish seventh.
When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series runs at Talladega, you can expect someone to speak his mind after all is said and done there. That's exactly what Earnhardt Jr. did this time.
"If this is what we did every week. I wouldn't be doing it," he said. I will just put it to you like that. If this is how we raced every week, I would find another job."
With the pack running four and even sometimes five-wide during the green- white-checkered finish, it would have been a miracle had this race concluded without a crash.
"I knew somebody was going to wreck," Earnhardt Jr. noted. "There has been a last lap wreck in like 90 percent of these things for the last four years with this (current) car. We can't get away from each other with the bumpers lining up and everybody pushing all the time and spinning each other out. I mean, that's no good. It's not working. Somebody needs to change it."
NASCAR made alterations to the Sprint Cup cars for restrictor-plate racing prior to the start of this season. With changes made to the restrictor plates and the front grille openings on the cars, races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega featured traditional pack racing and a drastic reduction of the two-car tandems.
Earnhardt Jr. seemed pleased with the return of the packs following his second-place finish in the Feb. 27 Daytona 500, but after the latest melee at Talladega, his thinking has changed.
"That is what the package is doing," he said. "It's really not racing. I don't know, but it's a little disappointing how that all went down. That cost a lot of money right there. If this is how we are going to race and that is how we are going to continue to race and nothing is going to change, I think NASCAR should build the cars. It would save us a lot of money."
Over the years, Talladega has provided many ooohs and aahs for the fans when the "big one" occurs, but most drivers have been outspoken with restrictor- plate racing there. The latest incident has once again put Talladega under a cloud of controversy.
"It's not safe," Earnhardt Jr. admitted. "Wrecking like that is ridiculous. It's bloodthirsty if that is what people want. It's ridiculous."
Talladega had been Earnhardt Jr's best racetrack several years ago. He has five wins there, including four in a row from Oct. 2001 to April 2003. Now he dreads coming to Talladega. In fact, most drivers cringe when they arrive at this track.
After what we saw over the weekend, can you blame them?