Working the garage yields fun results

November, 1, 2009

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- A few sights and sounds from the Sprint Cup garage at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday as a Halloween weekend gave way to a full moon:

•  Most drivers were long gone when points leader Jimmie Johnson greeted crew chief Chad Knaus behind the NASCAR hauler with a hug.

"Dude, seriously!" Johnson said as they embraced.

Johnson was ecstatic because he finished sixth and all but wrapped up a fourth straight title -- he is 184 points ahead of Mark Martin with three races remaining -- despite strategy gone bad.

"Our strategy backfired," said Johnson, referring to the decision to lag around 30th much of the day. "Our strategy killed us. Our strategy didn't do us any good because there wasn't the big wreck midway through the race. What saved our butt was [Knaus'] decision to take fuel during the red flag."

OK, we get that. A lot of cars ran out of gas or had to pit for more gas after the late red flag.

But that doesn't explain why Johnson still was behind the NASCAR hauler while most drivers were on helicopters or planes headed for home.

"I came to lobby for two more spots," he said.

That's why Johnson is so good. He doesn't miss any opportunity to improve his position, in this case being moved from eighth to sixth, which he was after NASCAR unraveled everything from the last-lap crash.

"You never know," Johnson said. "Every point counts."

•  Crew chief Pat Tryson was standing beside his crumpled No. 2 car that was involved in the last-lap crash when I asked what started the wreck. Having been chasing down Ryan Newman, who was involved in another wreck a few laps earlier, I missed the final lap in which Kurt Busch and the Blue Deuce were among 13 cars that wrecked.

"Go ask Brad Keselowski what happened," Tryson said of the rookie who will arrive at Penske Racing to take over the No. 12 at about the time Tryson leaves for Michael Waltrip Racing. "He … wrecks somebody every damn week."

Tryson, by the way, said there are no plans for him to step aside and begin his new job now that Busch is 312 points behind Johnson.

•  Mark Martin was walking back from the infield medical center with a large turkey sandwich and an even larger smile.

"That's the first time I ever got upside down," he told former Roush Fenway Racing teammate Jeff Burton.

For the record, Martin has driven in 755 Sprint Cup races, 231 Nationwide Series races and 23 Truck Series races. That's over 1,000 races of staying right-side up. Impressive.

•  Richard Petty was making his way out of the garage when I asked what he thought about AJ Allmendinger, who will drive his famed No. 43 in 2010, getting charged with driving under the influence on Thursday in Charlotte, N.C.

"Didn't you read all my quotes?" the seven-time champion and co-owner for Richard Petty Motorsports said.

"Hum, no, didn't see those," I replied.

"Cause I didn't give any," Petty said.


For the record, Petty said the plan to move Allmendinger from the 44 to the 43 will not change.

•  A final thought from Petty, who never was a fan of restrictor-plate races at Talladega and Daytona: "When we used to run without the plates there was a few people who could run wide open. Now you put plates on them anybody can run wide open. It makes good drivers out of everyone, as far as they think."

He didn't mention names, but Sunday's winner, Jamie McMurray, has three career wins. Two are at plate races.


David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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