Talladega Observations

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Thoughts, observations and a few questions following Sunday's Aaron's 499 here at Talladega Superspeedway:

• With win No. 77 in the books for Jeff Gordon, who passes Dale Earnhardt for sixth on the all-time list, isn't it time we start using Gordon's record when making comparisons with other drivers? Or do we really have to wait until he retires?

• Gordon heads into Richmond next weekend with two consecutive wins under his belt and a 203-point lead over Jeff Burton in the standings. There were some in the media who predicted that due to several factors, Gordon would have an off year. I was one of them.

I'll take some mustard with my crow, thank you.

• I was at a loss for words after witnessing the disgusting display by the fans at Talladega Superspeedway. Gordon's victory was already guaranteed but the race was still under caution when fans began to throw beer cans and other garbage at cars as they traveled through the tri-oval.

Track president Grant Lynch, who made prerace announcements warning fans about throwing debris on the track, blamed the childish acts on less than one percent of the fans.

As far as I'm concerned, anyone who throws any kind of object onto a race track while the race is still under way is a degenerate.

• It was no big shock that Tony Stewart was penalized for speeding on pit road early in the race, putting him a lap down. Could it have been payback for his comments earlier in the week? Hmmm.

And am I the only one who noticed the irony of Stewart getting his lap back due to a debris caution?

• On lap 123, while leading a train of five cars that included himself, Casey Mears, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch, Gordon recorded a lap speed of 199.371 mph!

Immediately afterward, Gordon got on the radio and told crew chief Steve Letarte, "Man, that was an amazing lap."

• First it was a spectacular rollover wreck during Saturday's Busch race, and then a head-on wreck during Sunday's Cup race. Kyle Busch's weekend was a highlight reel in itself.

• Team Red Bull director of competition Guenther Steiner reassured me this weekend that despite his team's difficult entry into Nextel Cup competition, they were "in it for the long run."

"If [Red Bull owner] Dietrich Mateschitz had wanted to do it the easy way, he would have just sponsored one of the Hendrick cars," Steiner said.

• Casey Mears' disappointing first season at Hendrick Motorsports continues. A miscommunication among the Hendrick teams regarding when Mears was scheduled to pit during Sunday's race contributed to a frustrating weekend. Mears had a great run in the Busch race on Saturday (finished third) and he was a real factor on Sunday until his wreck. His Cup team is 35th in owner points and heads to Richmond on the bubble.

• Wasn't it great to see Sterling Marlin running up front early in the race? The two-time Daytona 500 winner led a total of 16 laps.

• An obviously underpowered Dale Jarrett ran at the tail end of the field from the moment the green flag flew until his engine blew up at lap 38. Teammate David Reutimann was running up front with the leaders when his engine blew up with a half-dozen laps remaining.

Can it get any more embarrassing for Toyota? I'm afraid it can and will.

Denny Hamlin's team gambled on fuel mileage. And lost.

• Rookie David Ragan ran up front with the big dogs for much of the afternoon. He's another driver that continues to impress.

• Ditto for Jamie McMurray. This was McMurray's fifth top-10 this season. It seems McMurray finally has the confidence to keep himself in the run for the Chase. He has narrowly missed the playoff twice.

• Well, so much for all the talk about the Chevy dominance this season. The top 15 finishers included six Chevys, six Dodges and three Fords.

• Comedian Jeff "You might be a redneck if …" Foxworthy was the grand marshal of the race. Before the green flag, he told the estimated 160,000 in attendance, "If I spent another two days here I would never have to do research again."

• Has the time come for franchising in NASCAR? Most team owners I talk to feel it has. The sport has become so big and so expensive that it's hard to secure multimillion-dollar sponsorship if owners have to tell their sponsors that on some weekends they might not be racing. This weekend, the Caterpiller-sponsored car driven by Dave Blaney was sent home. That's huge.

Let's weed out the weaker teams from the Cup level and have them become Busch or Craftsman Truck teams. Then lock in 43 teams that will race every weekend. This "go or go home" stuff is for the birds.


It's been a tough week for stock car racing.

It began with Stewart's allegations that NASCAR racing was fixed like professional wrestling, and despite many close race finishes over the past few weekends, most mainstream media outlets still will end up focusing on the spectacular wrecks and debris being thrown on the track during Sunday's race.