Maybe the good ole days will return at Talladega
Nov 01, 2010 | 8113 views |  0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TALLADEGA — There was something pointed about watching Jamie McMurray race around Talladega in a car with a Dale Earnhardt tribute paint scheme Sunday.

It reminded everyone of the late local favorite’s last NASCAR victory, which also happened to be his last victory before the “Daleadega” fans that loved him most.

It reminded everyone of that glorious fall Sunday 10 years ago, when Earnhardt rallied from more than 20 cars back in the field with three laps to go.

By “reminded everyone,” we mean the estimated 110,000 fans at Sunday’s race. That’s a crowd that even track president Grant Lynch acknowledged is “off from past years pretty significantly.”

He didn’t have to offer such candor. Wide swaths of green in the track’s campgrounds spoke just as well.

The lightly speckled checkers of the Allison Grandstand spoke volumes, as well.

Then throw in a race that ended under caution.

Throw in a race without Talladega’s signature “Big One.”

Though A.J. Allmendinger’s last-lap tumble looked spectacular and forced a caution finish, none of Sunday’s incidents involved more than seven cars.

Throw in a wreck that started with and collected local favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., dooming him to 39th place after he led a race-best 24 laps.

“I said bad words,” Lynch acknowledged, “and you can print that.”

Then throw in Jimmie Johnson. The dull, not-like-us guy who keeps dominating the sport came and left with the points lead.

Factor it all in, and Talladega has seen better days.

That’s not to say it was awful. Lynch rightly points to 87 lead changes in Sunday‘s race, one short of the track record set in the spring race.

Talladega remains NASCAR’s most competitive track, no question.

Other positives included the weekend weather, which was excellent after storms ruled the first half of the week.

Concerts and “Hallowdega” activities like the costume and scream contests — things track officials can control — went off well.

“I think the fans enjoyed it,” Lynch said.

The problem was how few fans came to enjoy it.

That fact prompted Lynch to acknowledge in a pre-race interview that he can’t much control who comes, just how the track treats those who come.

As for why fewer people come these days, Lynch acknowledged that Johnson’s dominance in recent years plays a role.

Dale Jr.’s struggles in recent years play a role, too. He’s 19th in the points standings, nearly 2,500 back of Johnson and 2,100 back of Clint Bowyer, the 12th man in NASCAR’s 12-man Chase for the Championship playoff.

There are other issues beyond the control of track officials — and measures they can take to mitigate the damage.

“The economy has gotten a lot of fans who were struggling to get here in best of times,” Lynch said. “They probably can’t get here right now, so we’re going to have to relook at our ticket package and find more value for fans.”

Lynch said a change in the fall date for 2011 will help. Though track officials might keep “Hallowdega” activities, next year’s race will fall on Oct. 23.

No more Halloween conflict.

“We know enough now that we’ve had enough people tell us they have kids that have to go trick-or-treating, and they can’t come,” Lynch said. “We would really like to get back to first of October.”

Dale Jr.’s father roared through the field for his final victory on Oct. 15, 2000.

That was a better day for Talladega, one of many great ones.

May the days when local favorites race ahead of the pack — and local fans have some jack — return soon.

Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or jmedley@annistonstar.com. Follow on Twitter @Jomedstar.

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