TALLADEGA – “Predictable.”
“Knowing that all hell was gonna break loose at some point.”
“This is just Talladega. That is how it works out.”
“It was just chaos.”
“Just part of this racing.”
Quotes that could have come from this Sunday or a Sunday four years ago or eight years ago, or even back in the Paleolithic Era when cars were All-American muscle machines, fans piled Schlitz cans in the infield and drivers chewed roofing nails for snacks.
On this particular Sunday, when Talladega Superspeedway hosted more than 100,000 guests in its lovefest for Dale Earnhardt Jr., there were 11 yellow flags and three red flag periods. Only 14 cars of the 40 who started were running at the conclusion.
There is much to-do about the Talladega “Big One,” the inevitable multi-car wreck. It is indeed, “predictable,” as the seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson said.
It makes for mesmerizing footage for the late-night highlight shows. It makes for a unique reputation for the sport’s largest track.
What Talladega and NASCAR need to figure is if all this crashing helps sell tickets. Or keep TV viewers tuned in. And, if it doesn’t, what do you do to make it better?
The three red flag periods combined for 35:30 of inaction. Sure, that’s just a typical half-inning of postseason baseball, but for a 200-mph sport, it’s a 33 1/3 rpm feel.
It’s not fun for the inactive. As Earnhardt said of sitting in his car during a red flag period, “It’s 110 degrees in there. Ain’t nothing washing over you except your own sweat. I was sitting there cussing NASCAR the whole time if you want me to be honest with you.”
He wasn’t the only one.
To watch in person as a 30-car field blow past, inches apart on the steep banking, it’s exhilarating. It’s a beautiful, blinding choreography of ton-and-a-half machines.
Alas, as you watch it, you know that all hell is eventually going to break loose. That’s how it works out.
It becomes chaos.
Funny thing, it’s not the callow drivers who go and mess things up. It’s almost as if they know to mind their manners, to not try something dare-devilish.
Look at Sunday. Jamie McMurray and Jimmie Johnson, with 1,115 Cup-level starts between them, caused a pair of dust-ups when they tried to go to make a left-hand turn to pit road from a center lane, like the bozo in the Volvo did to you just last week.
Martin Truex Jr., the points leader, was left embarrassed and apologetic after causing a major incident. Then Chase Elliott, young but talented, tried to fill a 68-inch hole with a 72-inch-wide Chevrolet.
After that one, there were 14 drivers left. That one of them was named Dale Earnhardt Jr. kept the fans’ attention.
That one of them was named Brad Keselowski, the best racer at this speedway in a decade, meant it was a done deal once the last green flag dropped.
On the restart, Ryan Newman took the lead. Then he got hoodwinked. He got double-teamed by Keselowski and fellow Penske-ite Joey Logano. So, understandable that Newman might have been a touch grump when he visited the media center for a benedictory interview.
Is Talladega good racing or bad? Is it just in the eye of the beholder?
“It is what it is,” Newman said, uttering the millennium’s most popular cliché.
“It don’t know that there’s a desire to have a different product here at this type of race track.”
It is what Talladega is.
It’s the good racing that leads to the bad results. And it’s unpredictable, once Dale Junior isn’t around to deify, how that product will thrive.
Mark McCarter is a special contributor to The Anniston Star. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.