Having never won a race in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Talladega before Kyle Busch just happened to be in the right place at the right time when NASCAR froze the field as a caution was thrown during the second attempt at a green-white-checker finish seven laps beyond the scheduled finish on Saturday evening. His teammate, Joey Logano, who had pushed him to the front just seconds earlier was convinced he would have passed Busch before the checkered flag but had to settle for second place.
Another driver who believed he could have drafted past Busch was veteran Joe Nemechek, whose bump-draft partner, Michael Wallace had triggered the yellow flags when he flew through the air and landed on his roof in yet another Talladega wreck of which there were many. Wallace’s car continued rolling and ended up on its wheels on the apron, sufficiently intact to be driven to the finish line and credited with 18th place.
There were those who felt that final caution had been called too hastily, including, no doubt, Logano and Nemechek, as the field had been reduced by previous wrecks and with Wallace’s Chevrolet originally off the oval and upright there was little risk to the remaining cars. Who knows what the result would have been if the cars had been allowed to race to the line?
From the very start of the race all the cars had paired up to form bump-draft duets. Elliott Sadler had qualified for the number one starting position with a speed of 179.558 mph when running solo on the track and yet the cars were running laps of over 190 mph when paired up in the race. With the drivers discovering during 2010 that two-car tandem racing on the superspeedways is worth so much extra speed there is no way the genie can be put back in the bottle unless NASCAR changes the rules, probably with reference to the design of the front end of the cars. As it is the pit crews put some effort into polishing the front and rear bumpers so that the cars slide across each other easily such is the focus on bump-drafting.
Most drivers accept they have started something that they now simply have to do if they are to race competitively but a few, none more so than Dale Earnhardt Jr., are vociferous in their dislike of the bump-draft. The rear driver of the pair can only see as far as the rear spoiler of his partner and is driving blind at close to two hundred miles per hour. When Joey Logano was asked after the race how he and Busch got the front replied, “Hell if I know. I couldn’t see nothing!”
Another telling post-race quote came from veteran Nemechek who has been racing for thirty years when he said, “My heart is still beating fast and my brain is really spinning right now”, to which Logano simply added, “I second that.”
The race was red flagged twice, the first time for nearly six minutes after points leader, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wrecked after contact with Trevor Bayne and laid a trail of oil for half the lap.
The second stoppage came after the big one. On lap 89 during a restart following a short caution period 21 cars crashed including many fancied runners such as Busch, Jamie McMurray, Michael Waltrip and Clint Bowyer. Waltrip was in no doubt how the wreck started, “It happened on the radio before the restart. The No. 2 [Sadler] decided that he would manipulate the restart so that the No. 1 [McMurray] could get behind him, and they could work together like they had before. It’s the way you race, but the No. 1 and the No. 2 messing around got me crashed.”
Racing tradition continued as always when McMurray’s version differed, “I was obviously trying to get back to Elliott — we worked together really well all day. I pulled to the inside, and I think the No. 18 [Busch] behind me gave me a big shove, and I thought I was just going to have to go with him, because of the momentum we had, and then I just kind of got hit in the right rear.”
After the wreck Busch told his crew the no. 18 was finished and he would go straight to the garage but was told to run to his pit stall. His crew performed superbly to give Busch a car which ” didn’t look pretty”, and despite being sent to the rear of the field for having too many men working on his car he was able to continue racing and eventually pair up with his teammate to good effect.
Once again a race on a superspeedway created a new record for lead changes but the records are a side effect of the bump-draft – as each pair gets to the front so they are forced to swap positions periodically to prevent the “pusher” overheating.
With Toyota’s clean sweep of the first three places only third place Nemechek scored points which lifts him into the top ten of the championship table. Original points leader Stenhouse Jr’s early finish dropped him to fourth place promoting Jason Leffler, Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler into the top three positions.
Final word of the race has to go to the winner, Kyle Busch, who acknowledged Joey Logano’s help pushing him to the front at the crucial moment when the field was frozen with the words, “Nice work, young Jedi!”