TALLADEGA — Something was missing from a Talladega NASCAR race on Sunday … aggression.
When aggression goes AWOL at a place like Talladega, well, spoiler alert … it’s missed.
Joey Logano won in a drama-free finish. No, really. The most impressive move he made down the stretch was a block, a defensive move.
A line of Fords, with Chevy driver Chase Elliott the interloper, stayed patient and didn’t make a serious challenge.
A track known for overtime finishes because of late cautions … had none.
A track known for big wrecks had two … one because of wind, which is the best-guess analysis of why Jimmie Johnson came down the track and got teammate William Byron loose; and the other because Erik Jones made the mistake of trying to throw a little aggression into the day, getting edgy around the apron on the backstretch.
Drivers seemed risk-averse on this day, and Jones showed why.
“The cars are really challenging to drive today,” he said. “That's why you're not seeing much racing.”
NASCAR eliminated special rules packages for Daytona and Talladega. The aerodynamics run elsewhere ran at the sport’s two restrictor-plate tracks.
Car tinkerers also had more leeway to play speed vs. handling because NASCAR took away the right-height rule.
Sunday marked the second plate race of the year and first at Talladega, considered less of a handling track than Daytona.
Test all they can, there’s no test like being on the track with 42 other cars. Drivers weren’t sure, and early trips around the track had them reporting hard-to-handle cars.
Unpredictable cars make for very predictable drivers, even on NASCAR’s reputed biggest, baddest, three- and four-widest track.
“The moves you make can’t be as aggressive,” Logano said. “But that’s true for the guys behind you, too.”
Hence, we saw a leisurely, single-file finish to the first stage. Brad Keselowski won those 10 stage points with the line behind him offering little challenge.
Don’t expect NASCAR to make changes before the fall race at Talladega. Winning team owner Roger Penske made the reasons loud and clear in the postrace news conference speaking up on a question not directed at him.
It’s about money. Teams don’t need the cost of switching gears, building new cars and doing more testing in season.
Too, NASCAR’s thought behind modest 2018 rules changes was stabilization. The sport that loves to tinker didn’t want to tinker as much this year.
Besides, Logano said, not so aggressive can be “fun,” too.
“Cars were super tough to drive,” he said. “We were sliding around out there, which made it fun.”
Penske saw art in less aggressive racing.
“I saw a lot of discipline,” he said. “I kind of like it when the cars, you don’t just go out there and just stand on the gas and run around all day.
“It puts the real drivers in the driver’s seat and the ones that have experience, and I think you saw that today in who was running up front most of the time.”