Surprising and Not Surprising: Talladega Aaron’s 499By Mary Jo Buchanan
With a three hour plus rain delay pushing the Aaron’s 499 from day into a Talladega Night, here is what was surprising and not surprising from the Alabama 2.66 mile oval.
Surprising: While Talladega has seen its share of calamities, the 44th annual race running seemed to be the granddaddy of all mayhem. There was not just one ‘big one’ but two, with sixteen cars involved in the first wreck early in the race and twelve cars in the second ‘big one’ near the end of the race.
In between the crashes, there was the weather red flag, which lasted three hours, 36 minutes and six seconds, pushing the race to its finish in what some called darkness.
There were two drivers, however, who experienced the most ‘Dega mayhem. Kurt Busch, driving the No. 78 Furniture Row/Beautyrest Chevrolet, was having a great run until getting clipped by another car as it slipped down the track.
This sent Busch airborne and rolling over and over to eventually land smack dab on top of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet of Ryan Newman.
“We just got hit from behind and along for the ride we went,” Busch said. “It’s Talladega, what can I say.”
“That’s no way to end a race,” Newman said. “You got what you wanted but that’s just poor judgment restarting the race, running in the dark and running in the rain.”
Not Surprising: While ‘Dega may have been filled with mayhem for many drivers, it was a dream come true and the luckiest track ever for two Ford drivers, who both just happened to be named David.
For David Ragan, winning his first race at Talladega and scoring the first ever victory for his team Front Row Motorsports, Talladega was indeed a dream come true.
“I always knew in my heart I would get another chance,” Ragan said. “We know we are an underdog but we know ‘Dega is an equalizer.”
“How sweet to see all those Fords up there for the win,” Ragan continued. “I’m looking at my mirror and I was wondering if I was dreaming.”
While David Ragan stood in Victory Lane, he would not have been there without the push of his teammate David Gilliland, who himself pronounced Talladega as the luckiest track ever.
“It was a big day,” the driver of the No. 38 Love’s Travel Stops Ford said. “A lot of it had to do with this little note from my 10-year-old daughter Taylor wishing me good luck.”
“She wrote that with a little horseshoe on it and put it on my dash before the race,” Gilliland continued. “And she had some horseshoe good luck earrings in too.”
Surprising: The race at Talladega was surprisingly nightmarish for one Trevor Bayne, who had once asked if he was dreaming after winning the Daytona 500. The driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford blew up, bringing out the first caution of the race.
“There was no warning at all,” Bayne said of his engine issue. “I got to turn one and it let go.”
“I’m surprised the whole field didn’t crash with as much oil that was pouring out of this thing.”
Not Surprising: Given the carnage on the race track, it was not surprising that Trevor Bayne was not the only driver watching the remainder of the race from his motor home. In fact, Kasey Kahne, who was involved in the ‘big one’ early on, watched what was left of the race from his couch at home.
“Btw I’m on the couch at home,” Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet for Hendrick Motor Sports, tweeted after being knocked early. “This sucks.”
Kahne finished 42nd and lost three spots in the point standings, falling from the third to the sixth position.
Surprising: Demonstrating a new-found maturity, Kyle Busch accepted full responsibility for causing the first ‘big one’ at Talladega.
“Kind of caused it,” the driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota said. “I really don’t know what happened.”
“I know I got in the back of the No. 5,” Busch continued. “I hated that I caused a melee for everybody especially early in the race.”
“I hated that we all got crashed in that deal.”
Not Surprising: Restrictor plate racing does indeed make strange bedfellows. There was no better demonstration of this than the ‘friends’ that Denny Hamlin made to enable his successful comeback to the sport after his back injury.
“It means a lot as a driver to have your peers have your back like that,” Hamlin said of Tony Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, Michael Waltrip and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., all of whom fell to the back of the pack to help him. “They really sacrificed the first part of the race for me.”
“I can’t thank them enough.”
Also, not surprisingly, the driver change between Hamlin and Brian Vickers went perfectly, allowing Hamlin to escape through the roof hatch to the broadcast booth in the Hollywood Hotel while watching his replacement Brian Vickers take the wheel, only to wreck out in the ‘big one.’
“Everything went seamless and painless,” Hamlin said. “Every week I feel a lot better.”
Surprising: Danica Patrick showed some surprisingly skilled evasive moves in avoiding the first wreck and was in good position until the late-race accident on lap 182 ended her day. The driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for Stewart Haas Racing finished 33rd.
“We were watching and we were like, ‘Holy Cow’,” Tony Gibson, crew chief, said of Danica’s avoidance of the first ‘big one’. “I don’t know how she missed it.”
“It’s just unfortunate how it ended up with the late-race crash,” Gibson continued. “But that’s part of restrictor-plate racing.”
Not Surprising: With a rain delay of the magnitude at Talladega, it was not surprising that several drivers and cars had issues attempting to go back racing. Juan Pablo Montoya could not get his No. 42 Clorox Chevrolet re-started after the rain delay and ended up behind the wall before returning to the track for a 25th place finish.
Joey Logano was right there with JPM struggling to restart after the rain delay, however, his problem was more serious and ultimately fatal. The No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford had some sort of engine issue that led to his 35th place finish.
“We’re not sure what happened,” Logano said. “We’re thinking maybe an air pocket somehow got in the water system, but it doesn’t make sense.”
“It’s a bummer when you’re sitting third when it is raining and you don’t finish the race.”
Surprising: Toyota had a good day at Talladega with occasional Toyota driver and team owner Michael Waltrip surprisingly leading the way. Waltrip was the highest running Toyota with a fourth place finish, followed by Martin Truex Jr. in seventh and lap-leader Matt Kenseth in eighth.
“I love being a part of the Toyota family,” the driver of the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine/Alabama National Champ Toyota said. “We had a great run.”
“I had a ball,” Waltrip continued. “I love being at Talladega and I love racing.”
Not Surprising: Jimmie Johnson extended his points lead to 41 over second place Carl Edwards with his fifth place finish at Talladega.
“It was obviously a very good day for our Lowe’s Chevrolet,” Johnson said. “We had a very fast car and I felt like we were a player all day long, and that’s awesome.”
Surprising: Regan Smith, behind the wheel of the No. 51 Hendricks.com Chevrolet, was surprisingly disappointed with his top-ten finish, especially after winning the crash-filled Nationwide race.
“Well the last few laps I didn’t see much because it was pretty dark,” Smith said. “A little disappointed.”
“I kept getting stalled out by the cars on the outside.”
Not Surprising: Even with the mayhem of restrictor plate racing, Aric Almirola, behind the wheel of the No. 43 Gwaltney Ford, continued his streak of consecutive top-ten finishes. In fact, he will make history for Richard Petty Motorsports at Darlington if he finishes in the top-ten there.
“We sure are on a roll lately,” Almirola said. “I think we are the only people that aren’t surprised we are seventh in points and have the longest current top-10 streak in the series.”
“We just need to keep it up and start moving to top-fives and hopefully a win soon.”