Talladega Notebook - Sunday

TALLADEGA, Ala. – The 43 competitors in the Talladega 500 were given a warning from NASCAR Winston Cup Series President Mike Helton before Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Helton told all the drivers, teams and media in the prerace driver’s meeting NASCAR officials would be enforcing a rule that prohibits cars dropping below the yellow stripe on the bottom of the track in an attempt make a dangerous pass. Helton told the drivers such an action would likely result in a penalty of a severe nature.

“We’ve had this conversation in the past,” Helton said. “Any move from below the yellow line back up into the racing groove is unnecessary and there could be a black flag given for doing that. And we’re not going to argue about it because it’s the judgment of NASCAR. If you make a move that is unnecessary, be prepared. You all are exceptionally talented, use that talent today.”

Prior to the race, many were fearful of racing under the same set of aerodynamic rules that were used when an 18-car pileup marred the season-opening Daytona 500, so Helton wanted the drivers to consider themselves forewarned about any dangerous moves on the track.

Two drivers were black-flagged during the Talladega 500 for violating NASCAR’s mandate. Helton was quick to let them know he meant what he said.

After taking over the second position with a bold inside pass, too far down on the track for NASCAR’s taste, rookie Casey Atwood was informed he was being given the black flag and had to make a pit stop, losing all hopes he had of winning Sunday’s race. On Lap 102, Todd Bodine was penalized and was forced to make a stop-and-go pit stop.

“We were going for the lead and I got under a car and got rammed,” Atwood said. “They tried to block me and they ran me under the yellow line. Then we got black-flagged by NASCAR and that pretty much ruined our day. We had it taken away from us today.”

Good DEI Lap Also Bad: It should have been a great lap for the Dale Earnhardt Inc. owned team and drivers Michael Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Park. The reason for that was on Lap 90, Waltrip took the lead for the first time Sunday with teammate Earnhardt Jr. running just behind and solidly in the Top 5.

But on that same lap, Park’s car fell off the pace and it was a long ride before he finally made it back into the pits, where crew chief Paul Andrews and the Pennzoil crew made repairs and sent the No. 1 back onto the track.

C’mon Guys: John Andretti had a solid run going Sunday before he made his first pit stop of the afternoon. His crew, however, let a tire get away, letting it roll across pit road on Lap 48. Four circuits later, NASCAR officials relayed word to Andretti he was going to be penalized with a 15-second stop and go penalty, and the No. 43 Dodge had to make an unscheduled pit stop where he lost a lap and was never again in contention.

Pole Winner Problems: Stacy Compton started the Talladega 500 on the pole, the first time during his short Winston Cup career, and had a good effort going until mechanical problems began to plague his No. 92 Kodiak Dodge.

The first sign of trouble came before the halfway point, when Compton’s car broke a shock absorber, followed by a broken valve spring just a few laps later.

“It looks like we finally dropped a valve,” Compton said. “We had a real good car and we were just waiting until there were about 50 laps to go, but we ended up breaking the motor.”

First Timers: There were two drivers who did something at Talladega that they’ve never done before – they lead a Winston Cup race for the first time in their careers. Rookie driver Andy Houston made his way to the front of the pack on Lap 62, followed by fellow first-year driver Kurt Busch who took the lead on Lap 78.

Busch stayed up front for most of the latter part of the event and eventually finished a career-high third. It was his second top-five finish of the season.

More Firsts: It was a day of several firsts for several people involved with driver Bobby Hamilton and the No. 55 Andy Petree Racing Chevrolet team.

Sunday’s victory in the Talladega 500 was the fourth of Hamilton’s career but the first with his new team. It was also Petree’s first victory as his fifth full season as a Winston Cup team owner.

Square D, who suffered through several tough seasons with Kenny Wallace behind the wheel of its Chevrolets, got its first victory as a Winston Cup team sponsor. And last, but certainly not least, Jimmy Elledge earned his first victory as a Winston Cup crew chief.

Get Me Out Of Here: Kevin Harvick got his first taste of Winston Cup racing at Talladega Superspeedway, and he did an admirable job with a 12th-place finish in the No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet. Afterwards, the driver who took over the Richard Childress Racing ride following the death of Earnhardt at Daytona said the experience was something he’d never forget.

“It was a stressful day to tell you the truth,” Harvick said. “It was a learning day, a stressful day and one I’m glad to have over. I spent most of the day trying to figure out how to stay in the pack instead of at the back of the field. I learned a lot. After about 180 laps (of 188), I figured out what I needed to do.”

Quote Of The Race: “Everybody always told me I couldn’t draft, so now those people can kiss my tail,” Talladega 500 winner Bobby Hamilton on criticism of his drafting ability.

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