TALLADEGA — You turn the corner in the Talladega Superspeedway garage to hustle down the back row in hot pursuit of a quote, you see a sign with an arrow planted on the pavement:
At the far corner of the garage area, scrap was returning.
It was the mangled No. 1 Chevrolet of Jamie McMurray, which 15 minutes earlier had been traveling 203-plus-mph for the fastest time of the practice session. It now sat like a modern-art sculpture on the back of a rollback wrecker after flipping a half-dozen times.
McMurray’s left rear tire blew apart. The painful irony: the “scrap return” sign sits outside the tire manufacturer’s territory in the garage area. Don’t blame Goodyear. Racin’ happens.
Leave it to Talladega. It can’t even get through a practice session, much less a race, without some gravity defying circus performance.
The blowout sent him sideways in front of a whole pack of traffic. Ryan Newman was right behind him and momentarily wore McMurray’s car as a hood ornament. Then came the gymnastics. First, a subtle somersault, followed by a flurry of violent flips. Over and over and over and over…
“You can’t tell what’s up and what’s down it’s spinning so fast,” McMurray said.
Spinning so fast … and oh so slowly. Remember the “Talladega Nights” scene where Ricky Bobby tumbles so long, the broadcast goes to commercial? That slowly. Said McMurray, “It seemed like forever.”
So what’s going on inside the mind inside the cockpit?
“I just want it to stop rolling at some point,” McMurray said. Most of the time, his eyes were closed. “I didn’t want to see what was going to happen.”
The main concerns were not being hit by others, hoping nothing caught fire since the tank was nearly full and “thinking, ‘Please, land right-side up.’”
He may have been going as fast as 210 when the tire blew. That was too fast. NASCAR poohbahs decided to whoa ’em up a little bit. The restrictor plate intakes will be shrunk by 1/64th of an inch, from 7/8th to 55/64th . A subtle difference but it may translate into several miles per hour.
“The cars are about five, 10 miles an hour faster than have been here the last two or three decades,” Brad Keselowski offered. “The liftoff speed is probably a concern. … With the cars handling the way they’re handling, you’ll need to single-file to survive this race.”
McMurray emerged from his mandatory visit to the infield care center looking not like you’d expect him to look. Which would be the look of the family cat just freed from 30 seconds tumbling inside your dryer.
He patiently waited for the Fox Sports telecast to be tossed his direction, then watched with an absolute poker face as he viewed the replay on a monitor.
“I wasn’t counting the rolls,” he said. “When it first started rolling, it felt like a lot more than that. And then (the replay) kept playing and I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s what it felt like right there.’”
McMurray, with his PR man as escort, walked toward his team’s hauler, looking no worse for the wear.
Meanwhile, halfway between the scrap and the scrap return, the No. 1 Chevrolet team already had the backup car in its garage stall, hood yawning open, crewmen furiously at work. The show rolls on and on and on and on …
Mark McCarter is a contributor to The Anniston Star. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.