TALLADEGA, Ala. – Thoughts, observations and a few questions following Sunday's UAW-Ford 500 here at Talladega Superspeedway:
Fan reaction to the final-lap wreck was disgraceful. Here's a question to ponder: What would the reaction from the fans have been if the roles had been reversed and Dale Earnhardt Jr. took out Brian Vickers and Jimmie Johnson to win the race?
Most of the cans being thrown out onto the track were cans of Budweiser. Just for reference, it seemed roughly eight out of every 10 fans at Talladega sported some kind of Dale Jr. clothing Sunday.
Jeff Burton retains his lead in the Chase, but just by a whisker (six points). Had he not been forced to pit with less than 10 laps to go, his lead over Matt Kenseth easily would have been double digits.
"Everybody has had a little bad luck in the Chase; we had some [Sunday]," Burton said.
Is there anything in sports more thrilling than three-wide racing at Talladega? I don't think so.
Race-winner Vickers felt it was a bit of a badge of honor that he had beer cans thrown at him. A similar display of anger by race fans was directed toward teammate Jeff Gordon at the conclusion of the 2004 spring race here. At that time, Gordon passed Earnhardt for the victory.
I hate to bring this up once again, but if the Nielsen numbers for the NBC broadcast of this race are down from last year (and I expect they will be), one has to point a (middle) finger of blame at NBC executives. In their lust for the almighty dollar, they continue to rob NASCAR fans watching on television the opportunity to watch a race for more than five laps at a time.
At least Earnhardt Jr. understood exactly what happened on the final lap.
"Brian was just excited there," he said. "I'm not really that upset. I mean, that's just the way racing goes here, and sometimes you come out on the good end of the deal."
Ironically, Junior had been warned by NASCAR race officials on lap 165 over what they felt was excessive bump drafting.
Earnhardt explained over this radio that he wasn't bump drafting. He was doing it with air.
"When it comes to drafting, man, there ain't nobody who does it any better," Earnhardt said. "Everybody wants to be in front of the No. 8 car when it's time to go. And you can ask every one of them."
Wouldn't it just be a hoot if Mark Martin won the championship? It could happen. He's only 10 points behind Burton.
Theoretically, all one needs is an average finish of eighth or better in the Chase to win the title. Martin's average is ninth.
By the way, Martin said last year that if he ever won the title, "I might just retire right then and there."
Gordon had a car that could have won the race. That makes two unlucky races in a row for the four-time champion.
Soon after NBC's Bill Weber talked about how many laps the race had run caution-free, there was a caution – on lap 72.
Speaking of cautions, how about the "Dale Jr. Caution" that was thrown on lap 130? It came right about when Junior was struggling to stay in the Lucky Dog position.
About midway through the race, a trio of veterans – Dale Jarrett, Kyle Petty and Bobby Labonte – hooked up nose-to-tail in the draft and ran laps at a pretty quick pace for about 20 circuits around the 2.66-mile speedway. Unfortunately, they were at the back of the field at the time.
In case you missed it, Junior's teammate Martin Truex Jr. scored his second top-10 in the past three races. It was his best finish in a restrictor plate race while driving a Cup car. The New Jersey native has three career Busch wins (in a row) at Talladega and another at Daytona, so he's no stranger to victory lane at restrictor plate tracks.
Robby Gordon pulled me aside in the garage this weekend and told me that Michael Schumacher, who will retire from Formula One at the end of this season, will be joining his Cup team next year in a second car.
Then he winked his eye.
Jeff Green's seventh-place finish was his best since he scored a similar result in Phoenix in October 2004.
The 63 lead changes among 23 drivers were the most for any race at Talladega Superspeedway since 1984.
Vickers became the second first-time winner in 2006. The other is Denny Hamlin, who swept both races at Pocono – where, ironically, Vickers had his best finish (second) prior to Sunday.
Kenseth had exactly the kind of day he needed to close the points gap. He led 21 laps and looked like a potential race winner all afternoon. If he had a drafting partner in the closing laps, he may have had a bigger say in the outcome of the race.
On Friday, seven-time ARCA champion Frank Kimmel scored his first career restrictor plate win. Kimmel just needs to show up for the race next Saturday in Iowa to claim his record eighth series title.
Juan Pablo Montoya will make his second stock car start in that same race at the new Iowa Speedway. The open wheel veteran told me that he knows it will be his first real test.
The other open wheel racer competing at Talladega this weekend, A.J. Allmendinger, finished fifth in Saturday's truck race and continued to show that he has the talent to run in NASCAR. I think it's a sure bet he'll be racing in NASCAR full-time within the next two years.
Talladega turned out to be exactly the race that everyone expected it would be – a wild card for the 10 Chase drivers.
The inevitable Big One was a body blow to Jeff Gordon and kick in the gut for Hamlin, who dropped three spots to fifth.
Gordon all but acknowledged after the wreck that his quest for a fifth Cup championship is over. He's 147 points back. That's a tough mountain to climb.
And what can you say about the kind of luck Johnson is having?
Perhaps the big winner Sunday was Kevin Harvick, who rebounded from two dismal outings at Dover and Kansas with a sixth-place finish that pushed him up to fourth in the standings, just 33 points behind Burton.
I'm still picking Harvick to win it all.