Sunday, April 26, 2009
Gordon, Martin among those involved
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Mark Martin's battered race car couldn't be saved. Crew members pounded away at sheet metal trying to salvage a return for Kasey Kahne and Kevin Harvick.
The parade of wreckers entering the garage hauled the smoking, dented or totaled remains of cars belonging to Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer and a slew of race favorites that all had their day spoiled before some fans settled in their seats.
It took only seven laps for the first big wreck at Talladega, and it collected several cars sitting in the top 10 in points.
"The Big One" hit early Sunday -- and came again late -- at Talladega Superspeedway.
"How could it not happen?" Martin said. "It's not guys losing control of their cars. It's so many in such a wad that you can't help but move up or down on each other and it starts a wreck."
Martin was among the drivers collected in the 13-car crash only seven laps into the 500-mile race that wiped out Chase for the championship contenders on a track notoriously known for triggering some of NASCAR's biggest crashes.
Brad Keselowski won his first career Cup race thanks to a wild finish caused by yet another wild accident involving Carl Edwards.
"It's Talladega. You expect it," Gordon said. "You just hope to survive it."
Gordon, who started the race as the series leader, was one of the unlucky drivers who couldn't escape the early carnage.
The accident started near the front of the field when Matt Kenseth made contact with Gordon as they entered the corner. The bump made Gordon's car slide toward the top of the track, and the drivers running around them couldn't avoid it.
"It was a little bit of aggressive driving, but everybody's jockeying for position here in the early laps," Gordon said. "I got squeezed and didn't have anywhere else to go. I saw an opening, went for it, and it closed up in a hurry."
Six of the drivers caught up in the wreck are Chase for the championship contenders. They were Gordon, Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Kahne, Bowyer and Martin, the winner of last week's race at Phoenix.
Harvick, Casey Mears, Jamie McMurray, Scott Riggs, A.J. Allmendinger, David Gilliland, and Brian Vickers were also involved.
Gilliland, Riggs, McMurray, Bowyer and Martin did not return.
Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Jimmie Johnson were caught up in a 10-car accident with nine laps left.
"Man, it sucks racing here," Johnson said.
NASCAR issued a stern warning before the race, telling the drivers to avoid aggressive driving, which is common at Talladega but policed heavily for safety precautions.
Race director David Hoots warned drivers at the prerace meeting to exercise caution.
"If you're thinking you're getting ready to get too close to crossing over this line then draw back," he said.
The racing at Talladega often goes three or four cars wide. All it takes is one mistake, one slip to lead to massive pileups dubbed "The Big One." The race here last October produced a 12-car accident that spread to Chase drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Harvick and Kyle Busch.
The lone positive for the drivers who lost valuable points and positioning on Sunday is that they still have plenty of time to gain some ground.
"If we're in the Chase it would be a different deal," Gordon said.
Several teams got working in the garage trying to repair the cars, get them back on the track and get in more laps. Others, like Martin, had already called it a day.
"I'm fine," he said. "I told you I wasn't racing for points. I got a win last weekend."
Not everyone was so casual. Bowyer nearly ended a streak of 81 straight races without a DNF until he made a late return.
"It doesn't pay to lead the first lap or the 50th lap," he said. "We've got to get to the end of these things to put a show on for the fans. They took out a lot of the fast cars and it's just unfortunate."