NASCAR prides itself in making sure the sport is always competed on a level playing field. The sanctioning body does a great job of enforcing the rulebook, but the greatest equalizer that the sport may know is the restrictor plate tracks.
Talladega proved once again over the weekend that it along with Daytona really doesn’t play favorites among the teams that are well funded and those that struggle just to make every stop on the schedule. The rule package for restrictor plate cars and engines is so tight that every team basically brings the same car and engine to these tracks. The rule package leaves very little room for teams to work with, so once the green flag drops to start the race the field is as even as it will be on the entire 36-race schedule.
Talladega like Daytona lends itself to the so-called underdogs of the sport as it is all about being able to find another driver to work with you and, with the field being so even, there are always some very odd “dance partners” that find themselves working together. Working together is not just limited to teammates and manufacturers, it about two drivers, regardless of what they are driving, being willing to work together to put themselves in the best position for the win.
Sunday’s race was your typical restrictor plate race that featured not one but two “big ones” that took out some very good cars. Every driver now wants to get to the front as soon as he can and with the threat of rain, there was even more pressure than normal to get to the front.
Right before the race was stopped on lap 125 for rain, four Fords got together to beat the rain and push Carl Edwards to the lead as the rain began to fall on one end of the huge speedway. The delay lasted several hours and once the drivers got the command to get back into the cars, the field now had to race not only each other but the threat of more rain and the chance that the race could be shortened because of darkness.
When the race got back underway, drivers were content to run single file for the first part of the run but it wasn’t long until the pack once again formed as the drivers wanted to get as close as they could to the front before they had to pull down onto pit road for one more stop. The pit stop did shuffle the running order somewhat, but the three-wide racing with newfound drafting partners made working your way to the front possible for every driver still on the lead lap.
The second “big one” took place on lap 182 when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. decided to make it four wide, creating a scary scene when Kurt Busch flipped and ended up on top of Ryan Newman. In all, nine cars were caught up in the wreck, setting the stage for one attempt at a green-white-checkered finish due to the darkness that had engulfed the track.
On the caution laps leading up to the final restart of the race, drivers made their usual deals with who was going to draft with each other and overlooked was the tandem of Front Row Motorsports’ David Ragan and David Gilliland. Matt Kenseth was in the lead when the green flag came out, but Carl Edwards had the lead when the white flag waved. It wasn’t long before Ragan with Gilliland doing the pushing came up through the field and into the lead, finishing 1-2.
The win was the first for owner Bob Jenkins who started in the sport as a start and park team and has now worked his way up to fielding two full-time teams. It was also the first race ever in the sport for Ragan’s sponsor Farm Rich, which should show other would-be sponsors that sometimes the best bargains in the sport can come on the hood of a lesser known team, especially if it is at Talladega or Daytona.
Event: Bojangles’ Southern 500
Track: Darlington Raceway (1.366 egg-shaped oval, Turns 1-2 banked 25 degrees, Turns 3-4 banked 23 degrees)
Date: May 11, 7 p.m.
Defending Champion: Jimmie Johnson