Its Going To Take A Miracle

A friend of mine once put forth a proposition there is no such thing as miracles. Miracles he felt were misconceptions arising from the randomness of chance. (And yes, the night he developed what we came to call Morgan’s Miraculous Misconception, we were hanging around outside a Grateful Dead concert pretty well spent.) By his standard an incredible catch a football player made which the media called a “miracle” was simply the one time in fifty a player was bound to come down with the ball under similar circumstances.

I don’t know if my buddy was watching Sunday’s Talladega race but my guess is seeing Elliott Sadler getting out of his car under his own power after a horrendous wreck would have caused him to rethink his theory. That qualified as a major miracle in book. I saw two minor miracles as well when the spinning cars of Jimmie Johnson and later Sadler lost control in tight packs of traffic and no other drivers hit them. Either incident could easily have wiped out a huge pack of car and put drivers in grave danger of serious injury. While a lot of credit for those tragedies narrowly averted has to go to some very heads up driving by several drivers and the new “no racing to the yellow” rule that didn’t force drivers to try to advance or even defend their position in the middle of a wreck, I saw some divine intervention at work as well. The thing is banking on a miracle to keep our drivers safe isn’t anymore valid a concept than playing the lottery is a retirement plan. And if the madness of restrictor plate racing isn’t stopped soon, soon enough we’ll run out of miracles again and lose another driver.

Even Michael Waltrip’s win can be considered a minor miracle. For one thing it occurred somewhere other than Daytona. For another Waltrip’s team was penalized for not having the catch can in place during an entire pit stop (I’d never heard of that rule either.) Waltrip also made fairly hard contact with Matt Kenseth and it was a miracle both drivers didn’t spin. Kenseth cut down a tire in the incident and the yellow letter were rubbed off the side of Waltrip’s right front tire, but it remained inflated. While Waltrip’s celebration popping up through his rooftop escape hatch was pure theater, it was nice to see he’d insisted the device be installed on the car. Waltrip has long been calling for such a hatch to allow larger drivers like him to quickly exit a car and putting the preaching into practice was notable. Some teams had apparently worried the roof hatch might be an aerodynamic disadvantage but Waltrip’s win at Talladega, one of the most aero-sensitive tracks on the circuit, ought to put that fear to rest.

Dale Earnhardt had an eventful week. First there was some question as to whether he’d be allowed to drive at all in this weekend’s event after suffering a concussion at Dover. (Sure. NASCAR was going to sit out the driver of a top dollar sponsor for a race at a track where he’d won four straight times with NBC doing a full court press on the Earnhardt angle in the days leading up to the race.) A decent qualifying effort was negated Friday when the car was found to be too low after the run, forcing Earnhardt to start towards the rear of the field. A pit road incident knocked in the nose of the 8 car and Earnhardt eventually went down a lap. And oddly enough while he was in position to get his lap back under the new rule, Earnhardt got into the 15 car, which then hit the 48 car and sent Jimmie Johnson spinning. Back on the lead lap Earnhardt charged back towards the front and made an abrupt move that caused Elliott Sadler to swerve left and catch the nose of the 97 car. At once Sadler and his Ford were sent flying in a sickening series of flips. A valid argument could be made that Earnhardt bought into the hype himself thinking he was fated to win Sunday’s race and he might as well have been running a bumper stick that read, “As a matter of fact I do own this road.” He also left himself open to questions whether post-concussion symptoms affected his hand eye coordination and judgement.

At Talladega lately it always seems that Tony Stewart will finish one position behind Earnhardt. Clearly Stewart has figured out if you want to head forward you latch onto the tail of a car heading that way and the most likely car heading towards the front is the 8.

For a second straight week Ryan Newman benefited from the new rule that gives the first driver a lap down a lap back in the event of a caution. Newman had had a strong car early in the race but a flat tire dropped him deep into the pack. Newman is on quite a roll with eleven finishes of eleventh or better in the last twelve races.

Jeff Gordon finished fifth for a second straight week. Amazingly that’s only the second time Gordon has managed back to back top 5 finishes this season. (For comparisons sake in 1998 Gordon had top 5 finishes in 26 of 33 races run that year.) Gordon clearly was going all out for the win and came up just short weaving when he should have wagged.

Kurt Busch’s finish might also be considered a minor miracle. His right front fender was pushed into the tire when Elliott Sadler’s out of control car clipped the 97 car’s nose. Busch was forced to the pits for repairs while most lead lap cars remained on the track with only five laps left to run after the red flag period. Busch charged his way back to sixth to score his fourth top 10 finish in just six Talladega Cup starts.

It appears there’s some sort of feud brewing just beneath the radar screen between Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon and that it most frequently comes to boil on the plate tracks. But lately it seems the 24 and the 29 cars swap a lot of paint and Sunday was no exception. Harvick remains second in the points and narrowed Matt Kenseth’s margin to 354 points after Kenseth’s rough weekend ended with a blown engine. Can Harvick now catch Kenseth for the title? Considering Kenseth is still the equivalent of two races ahead of Harvick it’s going to take a major miracle for that to happen.

While Ricky Craven and Talladega are best recalled for a wreck he had here while driving the Kodiak car, he quietly scored top 10 finishes in both Talladega races this year.

While his title aspirations are history this year Rusty Wallace is trying to salvage a little pride and perhaps a top 10 points finish. (Wallace hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since 1992 and prior to that back in 1986). Wallace has four straight top 10 finishes including his ninth place result at Talladega Sunday.

Some fans might have been surprised that Mike Wallace finished tenth at Talladega but it seems he’s got the knack of restrictor plate racing. Back at Daytona in February Wallace finished in the top 10 in all three touring division races and his 125 qualifier race as well.

Sunday’s race the fourth and final plate track event of the season. No drivers were seriously injured in those four races though there were some notable close calls and a tremendous amount of carnage. The writing remains on the wall that this sort of racing is insanely dangerous and the situation needs to be addressed. So what’s it going to take for NASCAR to finally do the right thing and force the ISC to address the track design issue rather than proposing more speed limiting crutches paid for out of the team owners’ pockets? It’s going to take a miracle.



Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2003

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