TALLADEGA, Ala. – Maybe this one will be debated for a while, maybe it won’t, but it was a somewhat calm race on Sunday at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway for NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Series.
Surprisingly calm in fact. Particularly for a playoff race.
Not that it didn’t have its moments. Or moment. But for the most part, the track that used to bill its annual race dates as “white knuckle weekends” looked about as tame as an afternoon drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
“Look Ethel, the leaves are changing.”
They used to blame the track for being too fast and too dangerous when multicar pileups left more drivers in the care center than on the race track. Others pinned the fault on the drivers and that’s an argument that will never be won by either side.
The track is still fast and the racing, at 200-plus mph, continues to carry a certain danger. Sunday’s race wasn’t really any different.
But the lion seemed to have lost a few teeth.
You can send the thank you cards to Kannapolis, N.C., c/o Stewart-Haas Racing,
There are four SHR drivers competing in Cup and three of them combined to lead 155 of 193 laps in a race that went five laps beyond the originally scheduled distance.
Clint Bowyer was the only one out of the SHR camp who failed to lead a lap and he finished second.
Aric Almirola led only one lap. Actually, he only led a few hundred yards.
The distance didn’t matter. He was first to the checkered flag.
Meanwhile Kurt Busch started on the pole and kept his No. 41 Ford out front for 108 laps. Teammate Kevin Harvick led 46.
And that’s the way it appeared it would finish, all four team cars running 1-2-3-4 in one order or another.
And it would have, until a wreck involving Alex Bowman and William Byron and JJ Yeley and a couple of others brought out the eighth caution flag of the day on lap 187.
That incident pushed the race into overtime and fuel mileage suddenly became a hot topic.
Harvick was forced to pit road just before the final two-lap run when his car’s fuel cell began to run dry.
Busch stayed out and it looked as if he was going to make it. Until he didn’t.
He got as far as Turn 4 before his car sputtered and slowed. The finish line never looked so far away.
It took organization and cooperation, an all-for-one, one-for-all effort by SHR to make it work at Talladega and maybe folks will say that’s better than big crashes and injured drivers and there’s no argument there.
But it certainly was different.
Right up until the end of course.