Tuesday, May 2, 2006
Talladega wrecks didn't have to happen
By Rusty Wallace Special to ESPN.com
The 48 and 20 cars have been strong all year long, especially at Daytona (which is the other restrictor-plate racetrack). The 48 had a backup crew chief at Daytona, started in the back of the field and made it to the front to win the Daytona 500. The 20 car had so many problems in Daytona and still finished fifth. I predicted Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart would finish one-two at Talladega, and boy did I get lucky.
It would appear other teams have caught up with the restrictor-plate prowess of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The 48 and the 20 made great decisions coming down pit row, putting on new tires and filling up with fuel. When you put tires on, you get a lot better grip, and the extra fuel in the back sinks the rear spoiler out of the air, which makes the car run faster in a straight line. That was a great call by both crew chiefs of both cars.
Jeff Gordon had something going on Monday at Talladega and was really looking good, but I guess he had pit stops and other things that didn't work out for him. Gordon has had more restrictor-plate wins than anyone recently and it looked as if he was going to prevail before things started falling apart. It looked as if Gordon had it wrapped up, then he got him himself caught up in the back of the field between pit stops and just didn't have the right drafting partners. That's basically what did him in.
Monday was a breakout race for Jamie McMurray. He's been struggling with getting his rhythm going with Roush Racing, but at Talladega he looked great running up front the entire day. In the Busch Series race on Saturday, he ran great until his engine blew up. He really shined the entire weekend and looked like the veteran that he is.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been doing a great job. His team is ahead of where it was last year. Restrictor-plate racing doesn't have a darn thing to do with how you are going to perform anywhere else, especially in Richmond, Va. Talladega is all about horsepower and getting the coefficient of drag just right and Dale was doing a great job with that for a long time. But the Roush and Hendrick teams have caught up to Dale Jr. If Dale's team is going to get back to being the dominant team in restrictor-plate racing, it has to get back and do more research and development. It's going to be hard to do that because the rest of the field is competitive.
I was very surprised with the accident on the ninth lap. Unfortunately at Talladega and Daytona, when you see a hole and you can make a run, everybody goes for it. And that's what those guys did Monday. Somehow, they got themselves five-wide going into Turn 3, and the 99 car of Carl Edwards got loose and got into the 5 (Kyle Busch) car. When the 5 car went sideways, it body-slapped a bunch of cars. A lot of drivers are talking about that and how it could happen so early in the race. These guys made a mistake, that's for sure. Restrictor-plate racing is like bowling a strike: When one driver has a problem, he takes everybody out with him.
That crash was absolutely avoidable. The 99 and 5 jammed it in there and forced the issue when all they had to do was wash back off the throttle. You saw Stewart lay in the back all day long because he was afraid he was going to get in a wreck and when it happened, he just drove right through the field with the draft. But the Big One and second crash Denny Hamlin triggered were avoidable.
This is a very busy week because Lowe's Motor Speedway has its track open for a two-day test session on Tuesday and Wednesday. All the drivers flew Monday night to Lowe's, and they are burning the midnight oil there testing before heading to Richmond on Thursday to get ready for Saturday's race. Those are the things I don't miss: Racing 500 miles, testing the next day, then heading to the next week's event. Charlotte is going to be tough with a brand new track surface. It's smooth, with fresh new pavement, and will be a little scary because the track is going to be so darn fast.
I loved racing at Richmond, it's a great track. It's so cool that I'm taking some of the similarities to Richmond and am incorporating them into the track I'm helping design in Iowa. Richmond is one of the most perfect tracks on the circuit right now because it's tight enough where it creates a lot of excitement. Everyone runs on the bottom of the -mile track and all of a sudden the groove widens and drivers are running around the top of the track. It turns into a multigroove racetrack, small enough yet big enough to put on a great show.
Former Cup champion Rusty Wallace will provide coverage for ESPN and ABC during this year's IndyCar Series and selected Nextel Cup races.