You know folks, we have just witnessed one of the best Talladega races I have ever seen – and possibly even one of the best races.
When you think about the kind of intensity and action we had on display for 500-plus miles with the green-white-checker finish on Sunday ... Well, I just don't think it gets much better than that.
I know I've said this a number of times already this year, but these drivers and teams are putting forth the best effort I've ever seen Sprint Cup teams put forth. There's just this air of excitement every time I show up at the track. I get the feeling that everybody is glad and excited to be there, they want to get on the racetrack to see what their car will do and they want to get out there to compete with each other. I've heard very little gloom and doom this year – most everybody is optimistic. All the drivers are pumped up about the things that NASCAR is doing.
That goes to show that a few, minor adjustments can make all the difference in the world. How many times have we seen Chad Knaus and other crew chiefs make those minor adjustments to their race car – tweak on it just a little bit – and they change from also-rans to winners? In my mind, that's what NASCAR has done this year. As much as we have emphasized the fact that they said "Take the gloves off, go out there and have at it boys" – and there's been a few times that it seemed like it wasn't the best idea – but when you see a race like you saw Sunday at Talladega, you realize that it was a great decision by the governing body. The racing Sunday was never out of control. Yeah, it was chaotic and wild a few times, but that's what happens when you race at Talladega. We didn't see anybody ramrod their way through the field or taking advantage of people.
Overall, it was just an exciting race.
You make the call
Now granted, there was one time things did get a little wild and that's certainly gained attention. There's been a lot of conversation about Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson not getting along, and the buzz picked up significantly after Sunday's race. But let me say this, what Johnson did is acceptable at Talladega – you cut somebody off, you block somebody, you bump somebody, you push somebody ... that's just Talladega. The only thing I'll say about that is that it's OK, as long as it's not your teammate. You need to be more cautious and give your teammate a little bit more room than you would another competitor. That would just be common courtesy to take care of your teammate.
When Gordon had that run on Johnson going into Turn 3, Johnson had every right to block him or cut him off, but when it's your teammate you sometimes have to give it a second thought and say "OK, I'm going to work with my teammate and show him a little more courtesy than I would somebody else." If that was the last lap of the race, then all bets are off. But at a point in the race where you can overcome getting passed, it would have been more courteous of Johnson to let Gordon go.
I'm not faulting Jimmie, he didn't cause the wreck that damaged Gordon's car and bottled up a few other cars – we've seen chain reactions like those all the time at 'Dega. But if I were Jeff Gordon's teammate, and I saw he had a good run behind me, I think I would've eased up a bit and let him go. That's just my opinion, and I'm not saying Jimmie Johnson did anything wrong.
That's just the observation of a guy who had teammates in the past.
The Talladega Tango phenomenon we talked about this past weekend is when two cars can hook up together and run about 10 mph faster than the rest of the pack.
The reason for that, and initially it did just happen as a couple of guys a year or so ago noticed that when they hooked up with such-and-such a driver but then they studied the draft and learned that two cars pushing each other all the way around the racetrack could be that fast. That's the key folks, in the past we've just bump drafted – run up on a guy, push him down the straightaway, get off of him and let him roll off the corner before repeating the process again. What's making these two-car packs work is that you can lay into the guy in front of you and you don't ever have to back off, you push him all the way around the track. The effect is that instead of having let's say 450 horsepower, you have double that when you race with a partner and that's what's making it work.
It's phenomenal, and the teams realized what was going to take place down there and adjusted properly. The radiators the guys were using and the cooling fans that they were using to try to keep the engines cool enough so you can get hooked on to somebody and push each other for 2, 3, 4 laps is amazing. I've never seen radiators that big ever. But it's part of the evolution as teams learn more and more about this car.
The Talladega Tango was one of the reasons Sunday's race was fascinating to watch. Guys go all the way to the back of the field only to come all the way back to the front – I saw Dale Jr. do it a dozen times, and he wasn't the only one capable of that. I listened to Kevin Harvick and I talked to him and he said his plan worked out perfectly. They took four tires when they needed to, they took fuel when they needed it, and Harvick put himself in position to win that race. Harvick had practiced going from the back to the front all day long to see how long it would take and see what he could do once he got there. A number of guys did that – Dale Jr. did it the most, and his dad used to do the same to set up for the end of the race.
I was surprised Jamie McMurray left the bottom open on the last lap of the race the way he did. I think once McMurray looks at the tape he'll see he left a lot of room between the yellow line and his car and that opened the door for Harvick to do what he did. Yeah, Harvick got into him a bit, got him wiggling and broke his momentum a bit, but McMurray should have been down on that yellow line a little tighter and that would've made it more difficult for Harvick to get by. As a matter of fact, I didn't think Harvick had what it took to get by him – I thought he would push McMurray to the line and settle with the 1-2 finish. But the door was opened when McMurray didn't hug the yellow line, and he jumped all over the opportunity.
Leading the way
A couple of numbers to chew on: We had 29 leaders on Sunday – isn't that ironic, we had 29 leaders and the No. 29 car won? Seems to have been the magic number Sunday. There were also 88 lead changes. It was like every time you looked up you had a different race leader and you never knew who it was going to be.
Sunday's Cup race was really, really fun to watch. It gave everyone a chance to get up front.
Speaking of getting up front, how about my brother Mikey? He doesn't race full-time anymore, but he was at Daytona and at Talladega. He and Dale Jr. hooked up and it looked like days of old as they drove away from the field a few times. Michael had a great car and he did a good job – he loves restrictor-plate racing and I was really proud of him on race day.
No need to wing it
I've got no complaints about the rule changes or the spoiler. You know, when they took the wing off and put the spoiler on it, everybody just felt like it was going to be a positive change and it has been. It's proven that the cars are better and more stable – I saw a number of cars get turned around backwards but no cars went airborne, the rear wheels didn't even come off the ground. The spoiler not only made for better racing, it made the car safer – that's a win-win. I'm glad we got around to switching back to the spoiler. The car looks better, they drive better, the guys are happier with them, fans like them – ditching the wing for the spoiler has become a big, big plus for NASCAR and I applaud them for it.
Do the math
We got us a nice little points battle going on: Jimmie Johnson leads, but now Kevin Harvick has jumped back up to second with Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch right there. Mark Martin, who has come from pretty far back, has made some great progress – you don't talk much about him, but at the end of the day when you look at the rundown he's always among the players at the top of the sheet.
Oh by the way
I think the Jimmie Johnson-Jeff Gordon feud is overblown a little bit, but I did think it was pretty funny when Gordon said that he doesn't get mad very often but that the No. 48 car has him at his breaking point.
I thought to myself, "That's odd, Jimmie Johnson is going for his fifth championship in a row. He'd have been getting on my nerves about three or four years ago."