No matter who you are, Talladega lived up to its reputation for being the biggest, baddest track on the Sprint Cup circuit. The drivers certainly had their work cut out for them on the track, but the hardest-working guys might have been those at the engine shop. NASCAR threw all kinds of rule change curveballs in an attempt to break up the tandem drafts that had dominated recent restrictor-plate races, and the result was a rash of engine failures.
Of course, the move that everyone will remember was made by none other than one Brad Keselowski, who so memorably stormed onto the NASCAR scene at this same venue four years ago thanks to precipitating a horrific crash by Carl Edwards. The ending wasn’t quite as scary-looking this time around, but it was no less dramatic.
With that introduction, let’s move on to analyzing the movers and shakers following the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway!
Up: Brad Keselowski
At the white flag, Bad Brad barged to the front thanks to a monster push from Kyle Busch. We all expected to see Busch’s No. 18 dart high or low and swoop past Keselowski’s Dodge, but it was not to be. Special K added another tactic to the racer’s bag of tricks, diving low in Turn 3 and breaking away from Busch’s front bumper. He pulled away and the rest was history. With two wins on the season, Keselowski has of momentum and peace of mind as far as making the Chase. Less than a year ago, Keselowski was outside the top 20 in points and hadn’t won in three years. Today, it is safe to say that this young man is for real as a bona fide Sprint Cup star. Expect to see him in the championship picture for many years to come.
Down: Ryan Newman
A blown motor doomed Newman to a 36th-place finish at Talladega. Newman’s Chase hopes are looking a bit precarious as he slipped three spots in the standings to 13th. Sure, he has a win, but a single “W” is no guarantee for a Wild Card spot. And don’t count on more wins from the No. 39: Rocket Man hasn’t had a multi-win season since 2004.
Up: Kasey Kahne
Kahne is making up ground in the standings in a hurry. He must have stolen Jimmie Johnson’s golden horseshoe, because there is no way he should have made it through some of the wrecks he was around. But emerge unscathed he did, en route to a fourth-place finish. From being in danger of falling out of the top 35 after Martinsville, Kahne is now threatening to crack the top-15. Win a couple of races, and he could be a near-lock to make the Chase.
Down: Jeff Gordon
Jimmie Johnson could easily earn a spot here alongside his teammate, but Gordon is in far more serious trouble as far as Chase contention goes. He had a great car at ‘Dega but was clipped by a sliding Martin Truex Jr. and hit the wall hard near the end of the race. Gordon is now 23rd in the standings and incredibly has just two top-10’s so far in 2012. It’s time to hit the panic button over in the Team 24 pit box.
Up: Front Row Motorsports
Talladega was arguably the team’s best day overall in the history of the organization. David Ragan finished seventh (his first top-20 in the No. 34 Ford with FRM) while teammate David Gilliland brought the No. 38 home 13th (his first top-25 of 2012). Sure, it’s Talladega and much stranger things have happened, but let’s give props to a team that had high hopes heading into the season but had been struggling incessantly before Sunday.
Down: Talladega Superspeedway (and restrictor plate races in general)
It’s official now: I hate restrictor plate racing. It’s downright boring for most of the race (who care’s who’s leading until the last 5-10 laps?). It’s only interesting when the cars are flipping, flying and flaming. And however exciting that may be, it’s not what racing is all about. And despite all that NASCAR has done to eliminate tandem drafting (causing problems galore with engine failures), that’s still what won the race in the end. It’s just a mess. My solution? To find out, be sure to read our NASCAR Bonus Points column later this week.
Up: Roush-Yates engine power
Matt Kenseth was clearly the class of the field, and his Roush Fenway Racing teammates Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards were not far behind. Unfortunately for Kenseth, Biffle was unable to stay at his rear bumper on the green-white-checkered finish, allowing the tandem duo of Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch to motor past a sitting-duck No. 17 car, but nonetheless, the engineers back in the Roush-Yates have to be pleased with their work. Oh yeah, and the aforementioned Front Row Motorsports drivers? They’ve got Roush-Yates power under their hoods as well.
Down: Engine durability
Roush power notwithstanding, engines in general had a tough race on Sunday. Tony Stewart joked that the only thing the race needed was a few more engines to blow to make things just perfect (along with more multi-car wrecks, figure-eight racing, etc.). But seriously, when you multiple engines blowing up within the first 50 laps, something is very, very wrong. NASCAR needs to address this problem before the series visits Daytona in July.