Talladega still a house of horrors
NASCAR officials instituted a "no bump-drafting in the turns" edict
That rule created more than 160 laps of single-file racing at Talladega
There were two winners on Sunday: Jamie McMurray and Jimmie Johnson
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- The more NASCAR tinkers with Talladega, the more mayhem ensues.
And because of that lunacy, NASCAR can make plans on engraving Jimmie Johnson's name on his fourth-straight Sprint Cup championship.
On a day when it looked like Johnson's sizeable points lead would dramatically shrink, Johnson was able to gain by not racing. He was able to drive from the mid-30s to a sixth-place finish as his two leading contenders for the title, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon, were swallowed up in a huge crash on the front stretch that ended the race.
Jamie McMurray won the race, but Johnson's sixth-place finish gives him a 184-point lead with three races to go.
Johnson will clinch the title by finishing 10th or better in the final three races of the season without leading a lap.
"This wasn't Halloween; this was an early Christmas present," Johnson said.
This much we know -- the smaller restrictor plates that were used to slow down the cars and keep them from going airborne certainly didn't keep Ryan Newman from taking flight after he was rear-ended at the end of the backstretch just three laps from the finish.
This came after NASCAR officials instituted a "no bump-drafting in the turns" edict in the pre-race driver's meeting, warning offending drivers that if they did not see "daylight" between each car through Turns 1 and 2 and Turns 3 and 4 that they would be black-flagged.
So that created more than 160 laps of single-file racing, as drivers not only obeyed NASCAR's orders, but appeared to refuse to push the issue out of spite.
"You shouldn't race yet -- there's no need to -- so just ride along and ride lots of miles," Johnson said. "We can run 497 miles around here and it doesn't matter. It only matters what happens on the last lap."
Johnson employed a strategy of not racing for most of the race. He camped out in the back of the field, often in jeopardy of losing touch with the lead pack of race cars.
Of course, everyone knew that the end of the race would produce the same type of calamity that usually occurs in NASCAR's twice-a-year visit to the 2.66-mile "House of Horrors," and Sunday's race didn't disappoint.
How fitting that in NASCAR's first race at Talladega on Halloween Weekend the affair would end with a 13-car pileup taking out many of Johnson's closest pursuers in the battle for the championship.
Just to add to the horrifying ambience, a full moon rose over the backstretch of Talladega Superspeedway less than an hour after the carnage of mangled sheet metal and broken championship dreams was cleared away.
At least Johnson had reason to celebrate.
"I feel good about things," Johnson said. "I'm very, very happy. I hate to see so many tore up race cars.
"For us we were conservative all day long. We took fuel and other guys didn't and then guys started to run out of fuel. I was far enough ahead to not be caught up in the wreck. The guys right behind me were cleaned out, too, but we got a good, top-10 finish out of it."
David Reutimann, Casey Mears, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex, Jr., Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, David Ragan, Robby Gordon, Jeff Gordon, Robert Richardson, Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya, Reed Sorenson and Scott Speed were all involved in the final crash that happened as the leader was heading to the white flag.
But that wasn't the most terrifying incident at Talladega.
Ryan Newman's Chevrolet was rear-ended by Marcos Ambrose's Toyota at the end of the backstretch, sending it into the air in an end-over-end flip before landing upside down on Kevin Harvick's Chevrolet. Newman's car then went sliding across the track, hit the third turn wall and then barrel-rolled a few more times before landing upside down.
The race was stopped as safety workers pulled Newman from the wreckage but after he was checked and released, Newman leveled criticism at NASCAR's continued Talladega tinkering.
"It's just a byproduct of Talladega racing ... unfortunately," Newman said. "We got hit from behind that turned me sideways, then I got up in the air and just kept flipping and flopping. Unfortunately, the cage came down on top of my head and I couldn't get out.
"It was a boring race and it was a ridiculous race. To see 43 cars run single file is not worth showing up here today for.
"The more rules, the more NASCAR is telling us how to drive the race cars, the less we can race and the less we can put on a show for the fans. As I said, I will go back in the day, David Pearson, Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, all those guys, they respected each other. In the end there were some big accidents, but geez, we don't need the cars getting upside down like this. This is ridiculous.
"There is way more technology than that to help us out. Whether it is a speed issue, a roof-flap issue, whatever. It is a shame that not more is getting done.
"I guess maybe I expect NASCAR to call me. I am the only guy out there with an engineering degree. I would like to have a little respect on my end."
When it was suggested that Newman go talk to NASCAR, the driver shot back, "I am not going to talk to them. It just doesn't matter."
It was a race that ranged from boredom, when drivers joked on the radio about listening to their iPod and needing No-Doz to stay awake, to sheer horror at the end, when winning team owner Jack Roush said that he wanted to "throw up" because he didn't know which strategy to take when some of the top cars were running out of fuel.
And no matter how many changes NASCAR officials make at this racetrack, the nature of restrictor-plate racing will produce contests such as Sunday's.
"We go through this every year about how we have the gas pedal and the steering wheel, but until somebody sits in these cars they don't know what it's like," Johnson said. "Until then, we're a product of what everyone wants to see."
Well, not quite. There were long periods of the race where nobody saw any racing, just a high-speed single-file parade. Prohibiting bump-drafting in the turns may have been a good start for improving driver safety, but the two big crashes at the end were a result of cars getting rear-ended on straightaways.
This is all part of the NASCAR thrill ride known as Talladega Superspeedway, and it's only fitting that the latest horror came on Halloween Weekend.
"My recommendation to them a long time ago, and still is, I think basically we're just punching too big of a hole and we've got too much power to go along with that if you take away from that wicker," Jeff Gordon said. "When you take 40 cars or 20 cars and pack 'em, it's just bumper cars at 190 mph."
Give NASCAR some credit for attempting to remedy the situation. After all, NASCAR wanted to keep a car from flying into the fence, such as what happened last April when Carl Edwards was knocked out of the way by eventual winner Brad Keselowski while heading for the checkered flag.
But the latest tinkering has produced a no-win situation for the 43 drivers in the race.
In the end, there were two winners on Sunday -- McMurray won the race and Johnson virtually clinched the championship.
Unfortunately, both left little to celebrate.