Tony Stewart took everyone to school at Martinsville yesterday while they all beat each other like a UFC cage fight. Vettel wins F1 Indian Grand Prix but Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa can’t stop hammering each other. Jason Line became the first in the NHRA to clinch a championship at Las Vegas.
If Carl Edwards wins the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, believe me, he will have earned it.
It’s likely he will have done so after holding off drivers who pursued him like starving wolves.
Presently, one of those drivers is Tony Stewart, who threw down the gauntlet with snarling force after he won the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
The victory lofted Stewart into second place in the point standings, only eight points behind Edwards with three races remaining.
Stewart has now won three races in the Chase – he won the first two of 10 events at Chicagoland and New Hampshire – and now, after Martinsville, has an excellent opportunity to win his third career championship.
In a wild, crash-filled Martinsville event, Stewart fell out of the 20 repeatedly only to come back into contention.
He was second behind leader Jimmie Johnson on the race’s final restart with three laps to go. One lap from the finish Stewart moved to the outside of the track – where there had been little grip throughout the race – and made the pass.
Johnson might have won the race almost immediately thereafter with a “bump and run” pass, but the five-time champion chose not to make the move.
Although Stewart has two previous wins at the track, he hasn’t been particularly productive at Martinsville. He came into the Tums Fast Relief 500 with an average finish of 13.9.
When Stewart got himself in position to win on the final restart, he figured there was only one way to do it.
“To be honest I would have rather restarted third, but Jeff (Gordon) got to us and I hit the curb off of four before the restart,” he said. “Jeff got underneath us going into one, so I ran that second lane and pulled two car lengths and said, ‘Wow, this lane has a little bit more grip than I thought it had up there.’
“The key was just getting into one beside Jimmie, and not letting him run up the race track like he did Jeff Burton and holding him tight and letting myself have the opportunity to at least get through there.”
Edwards, meanwhile, survived the Martinsville mayhem and wound up with a ninth-place finish at a track on which he has struggled.
Edwards knew he was vulnerable to his challengers at Martinsville, where he’s never won and has an average finish of 16.9.
But with his sixth top-10 finish in seven Chase races – best among all competitors – the Roush Fenway Racing team driver maintained the points lead he has now held for five weeks.
“That’s just a gift to have finished in ninth and have the day we had,” Edwards said.
“We were so bad. With about 200 laps to go I was
thinking, ‘OK, the Cardinals didn’t give up the other night.’ That was a little motivation. ‘The Missouri Tigers didn’t give up the other night.’ That was more motivation.
“I had become OK with the fact that we were probably gonna finish 20th or 25th. I was thinking
already about Texas and how we were gonna have to go there and everything we were gonna do, but my guys stuck with it and we got very, very fortunate.
“I’m just glad we can move on.”
Teammate Matt Kenseth, who was second in points, 14 behind Edwards when the race began, was one of many involved in numerous on-track incidents.
A crippled Kenseth wound up in 31st place and unlike his teammate, did not survive at Martinsville where he, too, had a mediocre performance record.
As result Kenseth fell to fifth in points, 36 in arrears and faces huge odds to win a title.
Drivers in the Chase took the top five positions in the Tums Fast Relief 500. Johnson was the runnerup, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon was third, Kevin Harvick finished fourth and four-time Martinsville winner Denny Hamlin was fifth.
However, some of the top-five Chase finishers, and others, won’t figure in the championship scenario over the final three races – or at best have only a slight chance to win the title.
Even though he moved from seventh to sixth in points with his near-victory at Martinsville, Johnson is 43 points out of the lead – so daunting it would appear he will not win a sixth straight title.
Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowski came to Martinsville third in points, 18 behind, but saw what surely wound have been a top-five finish ruined when he was spun by Hamlin, who was whacked by Dale Earnhardt Jr., late in the race.
Keselowski wound up 17th and is now fourth in points, 27 behind with an uphill climb to the title.
Kyle Busch was sixth in points prior to Martinsville and dominated the first half of the race only to become one of the many crash victims – and that of a pit error in which he lost his left-front wheel because the lug nuts were not tightened.
He finished 27th and is now seventh in points, 57 behind and, most likely, has to wait until next year.
Like Stewart, Richard Childress Racing’s Harvick came away from Martinsville as a serious title contender.
With his fourth-place run, he moved from fifth to third in points, 21 behind Edwards and, therefore, still in the hunt.
Here’s the scenario as the Chase enters its final three races:
Edwards holds on, but barely, after Stewart’s victory, which makes the Stewart Haas Racing owner/driver his most pressing challenger.
Harvick is still in the mix in third place, 21 points down. Keselowski, in fourth and 27 down, has a chance.
Realistically, it’s all down to four drivers at best. Before Martinsville, it was also considered that only four drivers remained in the championship mix.
If it all comes down to Edwards and Stewart, none of us should be surprised.
That is not lost on Stewart.
“Carl Edwards had better be real worried,” he said. “That’s all I’ve got to say. He’s not going to sleep for the next three weeks.”
“He’s wound up,” Edwards responded. “He won the race. We’ll see what happens at Texas. I feel
like we’re gonna go there and have as good a shot to win as anyone.”
The first of the season-closing quartet of events is Sunday’s Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. As the only short track on the 10-race “playoff” schedule, the flat, 0.566-mile track – the smallest and oldest in NASCAR – will offer its own unique set of challenges for the competitors.
Believe me, they know it.
The top two drivers in the current point standings, leader Carl Edwards and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth, who is just 14 points in arrears, have to be a little leery at Martinsville.
Neither one of them has an impressive record at the track. Edwards’ average finish is 16.8; Kenseth’s is 15.8.
Edwards indicated he would be pleased if he got out of Martinsville with a decent finish, much less a victory.
“This place has been a really tough race track for me and our team,” he said, “but we have had some really good runs here.
“Matt’s good run in the spring (sixth place) is really what gives us the confidence we have here, and, hopefully, we can go run well and keep this points lead or extend it moving forward toward some tracks that we’re really confident about.”
Kenseth is also fully aware of what could be at stake at Martinsville.
“I really struggle at the track,” he said. “It hasn’t been one of my best tracks. Yet we’ve run really well the last two or three races so I’m looking forward to it.
“Unlike it was last week at Talladega, at Martinsville you have a little more to do, I think, with your finish at the end of the day. So I’m looking forward to that.”
I’ve said before that unless they put up some good numbers, Edwards and Kenseth are vulnerable. Waiting to pounce are third-place Brad Keselowski, 18 points out of the lead, fourth-place Tony Stewart, 19 points down and Kevin Harvick, who stands fifth, 26 points back.
Kyle Busch stands sixth and is 40 points down, followed by five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who is 50 points in arrears. The odds are heavily against both drivers.
However, that doesn’t mean they have given up.
“As long as we are mathematically in it, I’m not going to give up hope,” Johnson said. “I just never have been one to lay down on something, to quit or not to try.
“We have four races left of the schedule and stuff can happen.”’
It’s obvious Keselowski and Stewart are in the best position to challenge Edwards and Kenseth and thus break the Roush grip on the top point positions.
However, being in a good position to do something is not, certainly, the same thing as actually doing it.
Johnson alluded to that when he said there are four races left and anything can happen.
Kenseth would agree with that – fact is, all the others would as well.
“It is hard for me to comment about racing Carl down the stretch because, honestly, there is so much racing to do,” Kenseth said. “I haven’ t really looked at the points. I don’t know who is out of it or who is in it.
“I know we are in a pretty good spot right now but yet I think we have to outrun Carl every week. It seems he’s been able to get good finishes, even on his bad days. But I also think we’ve run better on all the tracks except Dover.
“So we just have to get the good finishes, too, and I won’t race Carl any different than I do any other driver out there.”
While Edwards knows full well that his teammate is his most serious challenger, he echoed the sentiments express by all the contenders: Anything can happen and anyone can win.
“I think all of those guys (Kenseth, Keselowski, Harvick and Stewart) are gonna be tough,” he said. “I know how tough Matt can be. He could literally go win three out of the next four races and dominate this thing.
“I think from what we’ve seen out of Brad this year, I think he’s a huge threat. He hasn’t made any mistakes. He’s done a really good job.
“Tony is a two-time champion and only 19 points out. I think all of those guys are tough – even Jimmie. I know a lot of people are discounting Jimmie, but those guys (the No. 48 Hendrick team) can definitely win this race and any of the others.”
Given that anything can happen, it follows that it won’t take much at Martinsville to alter the point standings and thus the Chase.
Logic dictates that for Edwards and Kenseth to avoid that, they are going to have to perform well Sunday on a track on which their performances have been mostly mediocre.
“Martinsville has been one of those tracks, to me, that I come to and, I guess for the last few races, I’ve come to it dreading it a little bit,” Edwards said. “But now I come to it just realizing, ‘Hey, I’ve got my work cut out for me. I have to perform well. I have to go out there and give everything I’ve got.’
“To me, to come out of here with a top 10 would be a success. So I don’t dread it as much any more. Now, I just look at it as, ‘Hey, this is going to be a challenge.’ ”
MARTINSVILLE, Va. – I truly believe that one of the goals the late H. Clay Earles had when he built the half-mile Martinsville Speedway was that it become a track that mattered; one that gained some notoriety in the world of professional auto racing.
When the speedway was completed in 1948 that goal didn’t seem difficult to attain. With the exception of Indianapolis and a few other large tracks in the Midwest and Northeast, every racing oval in the Southeast was the same – dirt, wooden fencing and rickety grandstands.
A fan that went into the outhouses that served as restrooms didn’t find much in the way of plumbing. There was a flat wooden seat with a hole to the ground and the floor was dirt. So, uh, take you pick.
Earles wanted Martinsville to be nothing like that. He didn’t want his track to be a place fathers told their daughters never, never to go. That edict was prevalent in the ‘40s and ‘50s.
Earles’ reasoning was logical and financially sound.
He determined that if he converted his speedway into a place where a man would feel comfortable taking his family for a Sunday outing, Martinsville could attract more people, and sell more tickets.
So over the years Earles constantly made improvements and added amenities.
He paved the track in the ‘50s after he saw those few female fans that attended Martinsville races leave with their high heels full of dust. Many swore never to return.
To Earles plumbing was a good thing. So restrooms became exactly that – real bathrooms with flushing toilets, toilet paper, sinks, soap, paper towels and everything else. And there were plenty of them.
As time passed there was something else. These restrooms were actually attended by folks whose job was to see that the facilities were cleaned and restocked.
That was an Earles innovation that other NASCAR tracks didn’t adopt for years.
Earles didn’t have a problem with folks bringing beverages, or lunch into the track. But he reasoned that if he provided good food at his concession stands for a very reasonable price, fans would be more inclined to purchase rather than brown-bag.
He provided bargains. For many years the most expensive item on the menu was a hamburger for $2. A hot dog cost a buck.
As any NASCAR aficionado knows, the Martinsville hot dog has become famous – at least among those who like it, and there are plenty of them.
It doesn’t cost a dollar any more but that doesn’t stop anyone. Drivers and crew members have been seen leaving a concession stand with boxes, yes boxes, of them.
Some folks like to brag about how many of them they ate over a weekend. I’m sure someone has eaten more but I’ve been told by one rather hefty fan he once ate 16.
When International Speedway Corp. purchased Martinsville Speedway a few years ago it decided to make some changes, which, admittedly, is routine under new ownership.
But ISC tampered with the hot dog. It was a simple change. Instead of being wrapped in wax paper the dog was served in a Styrofoam tray.
There was outrage and a near mutiny in the garage area, so great you might have thought NASCAR had ruled all drivers must race in the nude.
It took less than a day for the issue to be settled. You buy a hot dog today and it’s still wrapped in wax paper.
As the years passed, Martinsville continued to make changes in an effort to remain a part of NASCAR’s elite Cup circuit.
Like what was done at other speedways, more seats and amenities were added and the garage area was completely renovated.
Martinsville remains one of just three short tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule. It joins Bristol and Richmond, which, like Martinsville, are unique in their own way and remain popular with competitors and fans.
Earles accomplished what he set out to do. After his passing others maintained his legacy.
It might be the smallest track in NASCAR and one not located in a major United States venue, but Martinsville is still a competitive lynchpin in virtually every season.
I don’t think that will be any more obvious than this weekend when the Tums Fast Relief 500 is held on Oct. 30
It will be the first of four races remaining in the Chase and could well determine which driver emerges as the champion.
If you think that is hype or at best far-fetched, consider the following:
Carl Edwards is presently first in the point standings and has a 14-point lead over second-place Matt Kenseth.
The Roush Fenway drivers have records that could be politely described as mediocre – or more bluntly, that stink.
Edwards has made 14 starts at the track, has never won, has only one top-five and four finishes among the top 10. His average finish is16.9 and he wound up 23rd in the speedway’s spring race.
Kenseth has 23 starts, no wins, two top-five runs, seven among the top 10 and has an average finish of 15.8. However, he finished sixth in the spring.
Given their past at Martinsville, I think it would be reasonable to assume that, this weekend, both Edwards and Kenseth would take any positive result they could get and be thankful for it.
That’s because the numbers clearly indicate both are vulnerable.
There are a few drivers who have to take advantage of this vulnerability, or at least turn it good performances, else their championship hopes are dashed.
Jimmie Johnson, who has won five consecutive titles, is in seventh place, 50 points in arrears. He has to gain ground at Martinsville or he’s finished.
Kyle Busch is one spot ahead of him and is 40 points in arrears. His brother Kurt is in eighth place, 52 points down and has to rely on a good run at Martinsville lest he is mathematically eliminated.
Judging by past records Johnson might be in good shape. He’s won six times at Martinsville and has an average finish of 5.0. Good stuff.
Kyle Busch has no wins and six top-five finishes but his average finish is just 15.0. His brother Kurt doesn’t have much to crow about. Yes, he’s won, but otherwise his average finish is a poor 21.0.
Of course, this is all about numbers, but it clearly establishes a very important Chase scenario.
Unless two drivers, who are, incidentally, atop the standings, can reverse their past fortunes at Martinsville it’s like they will fall prey to others.
Three drivers whose title hopes are fading will either see them restored or dashed altogether at Martinsville – and only one has a record to suggest any sort of positive outcome.
All of this helps make the Martinsville race intriguing. Indeed, all sorts of scenarios could play out, but then, that just adds to the anticipation of what might happen at the half-mile track Earles built.
His speedway has long since gained the notoriety and significance he sought.
And now, it’s likely to be a major player in the outcome of what may become one of the closest fights for a championship in NASCAR’s history.
Martinsville is critical to Carl Edwards, matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson. Formula One and New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie Confirmed A 2013 Race along the Hudson River. The late Marco Simoncelli’s team owner, Gresini Honda, will pay tribute in Valencia.
It’s been suggested by many that Trevor Bayne ease up on himself following the circumstances in which he was involved at Talladega.
After all, he didn’t do anything wrong.
Bayne expressed abject dissatisfaction with himself, and others, when he abandoned Jeff Gordon in the Good Sam Club 500’s high-speed draft to assist fellow Ford driver and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth.
Bayne, who races part-time for the Wood Brothers but is under contract to Roush, was distressed that he could not keep an arrangement with Gordon that would allow the two drivers to remain hooked up in a two-car draft until the end of the race, only two laps away.
Instead, Bayne maintained he was “strong armed” to assist Kenseth and added that he would never be put in such a situation again.
Prior to the race, persistent rumors suggested that Ford officials had told their drivers that in the “dancing partner” draft, that is now prevalent at Talladega and Daytona, they should work with other Ford drivers only.
Do not assist any other driver with any other manufacturer.
Jamie Allison, director of Ford racing, has denied such orders were ever issued. He said the only time the matter of Ford drivers helping Ford drivers arose was in conversations before the race. If it could be done, it should in order to show appreciation for their relationships with Ford Motorsports.
Added Allison in a published report, “At the end of the day, when you look at it, it’s very cut and dry. Trevor did what he needed to help a teammate.”
Which is correct. When Kenseth lost drafting partner David Ragan, Bayne felt obligated. He had no choice. He had to abandon Gordon, even if the end results might have been better.
Kenseth came to Talladega as a strong challenger for the championship after his victory in Charlotte. He was in third place, two spots behind leader and Roush teammate Carl Edwards, in the standings.
With a good finish at Talladega Kenseth could have pressed the championship issue. But that would never happen without a drafting partner.
So Bayne was his man. And, as said, Bayne had no choice.
If he had stuck with Gordon while Kenseth lost position after position, what kind of post-race reception do you think Bayne would have received from team owner Jack Roush – not to mention from Kenseth and his No. 17 team?
As a young driver striving to solidify a career in Sprint Cup racing, Bayne wisely avoided any confrontation with the team that has, to date, offered him his best competitive opportunity.
To me, the entire issue is something of a tempest in a teapot. It’s certainly not unique. In fact, when it comes to restrictor-plate racing and the draft – no matter how many cars are involved – this sort of thing has been part of NASCAR for decades.
It’s all meshed into the strategy and, perhaps more so, the politics required in plate racing and the draft.
One of the vital keys to success at Daytona and Talladega is to find the right drafting partner. It’s always been that way.
Naturally, teammates want to help each other – and should. They work with each other many times over practice sessions to determine if they can find the combination that clicks. Sometimes they do. Many more times they don’t.
If things don’t work a team’s next task it to find another with which it can potentially win the race.
Little thought is given to what team that could be. More important, the model of car it uses doesn’t matter one bit.
If a team with a Chevrolet finds that in the draft its highest speeds are turned with another that fields a Ford – and the Ford team likes the results as well – then a deal is made. They will hook up in the draft for as long as possible.
Call it diplomacy or politics, that’s how it has always worked.
While I’m fully aware that manufacturers have issued edicts from time to time, I don’t think any one of them has been stupid enough to decree that teams with their models must help each other only in the draft.
That includes Ford, incidentally, and is why I believe Allison.
For a manufacturer to make such a mandate could potentially remove any chance at victory. You can bet a team that posted its fastest laps drafting with another with a different model is going to be highly irritated. So is the driver.
The goal is to win. It’s what racing is all about. It’s what the team owner wants, the driver wants, the team wants and, most important, what the sponsor wants.
Manufacturers know all this because victory is what they also crave. Wins can provide a heckuva lot of successful sales pitches at the dealerships.
So never expect a manufacturer to make a decree that could cramp any of its teams’ styles. It makes no sense.
Drafting is all about partnerships. And any two drivers can be partners for a single race. There have been some unlikely combinations in many past plate races but sometimes they worked to near perfection – as it was for Bayne and Gordon in this year’s Daytona 500, won by Bayne.
But at other times, for many reasons, as good as the combination might be circumstances force a change.
It might be due to what is unfolding on the track. Or, indeed, it might be due to politics.
But it has happened and will continue to happen. In the future there will be a driver who, at the end of a plate race, will feel every bit as frustrated as Bayne.
It’s plate racing. It’s the draft. It is what it has been, is now and will be.
Clint Bowyer took the win at Talladega, Dan Wheldon was laid to rest in St. Petersburg, Florida and Marco Simoncelli was killed in a horrible crash in Moto GP. Formula One annouced a second date for a U.S. Grand Prix and Sebastian Bourdais receives the Dan Wheldon Memorial Trophy in Australian Supercars.
The Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, the sixth race in the 10-event Chase, was characterized as the “wild card” event of the “playoffs.”
That’s because of the typical unpredictability of the race. With high speeds and two-car “dance partner” drafting that is a part of the 2.66-mile Talladega track and its sister, Daytona, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint what is going to happen – much less an outcome.
Championship contenders could have poor finishes, or fall by the wayside, for many reasons – all related to the complexities of restrictor-plate racing. A driver in the lead on the last lap could very well find himself outside the top 10 by the time he got to the finish line. An unheralded, even unknown, competitor could find the means to win – consider young Trevor Bayne, who took the victory in the Daytona 500.
The Good Sam Club 500 lived up to its billing. It was indeed a “wild card” race.
The winner was certainly not unheralded or unknown. But he was unexpected. It’s very likely few, in any, predicted he would triumph at Talladega.
But that’s exactly what Clint Bowyer did. He won for the first time this season – his last victory came in this race in 2010 – he became the first Chase non-qualifier to win in the “playoff.” He earned the distinction of providing the 100th Cup series victory for Richard Childress Racing.
Ironically, it came five races before Bowyer’s tenure with Childress comes to an end. Largely because of a lack of sponsorship, Bowyer will move over to Michael Waltrip Racing next season and RCR may well be reduced from four teams to three.
As for the Chase contenders, overall, they fared worse at Talladega than in any other race since the title hunt began at Chicagoland on Sept. 19.
Only three of them finished among the top 10. Two placed 11th-20th and a whopping seven were 25th or worse.
Replacing them at the head of the pack were such drivers as Jeff Burton (second), Dave Blaney (third, his best finish of the season), Brian Vickers (5th), Kasey Kahne (6th), Waltrip (9th) and Martin Truex Jr. (10th).
Really, now, who could have predicted that?
And who could have predicted that the Chase leaders, those drivers atop the standings when the Talladega event began, would experience mediocre to dismal results?
Carl Edwards, No. 1 in the standings, finished 11th, his first run outside the top 10 since the Chase began. Kevin Harvick, who was hot on Edwards’ heels prior to the race, experienced on-track misfortune and wound up 32nd. Matt Kenseth, third when the green flag fell, could do no better than 18th.
Resurgence for Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch came to an end as they saw momentum die with finishes of 26th and 33rd, respectively.
For all of that, Edwards not only retains his lead in the point standings, he now has largest margin in the first six races of the Chase – largely because he finished ahead of all but two of his rivals.
Edwards now has a 14-point margin over the new runnerup, Kenseth. He’s 18 points ahead of Brad Keselowski, who ran fourth at Talladega, and 19 over Tony Stewart, who finished seventh and was a victory contender for a large portion of the race.
Harvick came into Talladega No. 2 in points, just five behind Edwards with steady Chase performances. But he was involved in a multicar accident after 107 of 188 laps and was forced to report to the garage area for repairs, including a broken oil line. He finished nine laps down and is now fifth in points, 26 in arrears.
Kyle Busch, 33rd at Talladega after his involvement in a multicar wreck, is presently sixth in points, 40 behind Edwards. Johnson’s bid to win a sixth consecutive title took a serious hit with his 26th-place finish, which puts him seventh in points and 50 out of the lead. Kurt Busch wound up 36th at Talladega, also the victim of a wreck, and he’s eighth in points, 52 down.
The remainder of the top 12 in points has, for the most part, been removed from championship consideration. They are Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman.
“I don’t know that I have ever been so excited about 11th place,” said a relieved Edwards. “This race was one that was nerve-racking for everyone but we came in here with a small points lead and so it was a huge day for us.
“I cannot believe how much Greg (Biffle, Roush Fenway Racing teammate) helped us today. I owe him a lot. Greg stuck with me all day. On the last lap he was driving my car from back there. It is good to get a good finish and even though it is not a win, it is a big battle in the war and a huge day for us.”
Edwards wisely added that although he’s boosted his points lead, competitively, he couldn’t let up.
“We’d have to have a 100-point lead to take a breath,” he said. “Anything can happen. I’m proud of our team, where we’ve come from, how far we’ve come in the last 18 months. We’re doing well.
“But I’m a little nervous about Matt, honestly, because I know how good he is and how good his team is. Having him in second doesn’t make me breathe easier, competitive-wise.”
Despite Edwards’ surge in the Chase, the most compelling Talladega tale was Bowyer’s victory.
The Emporia, Kan., native, who has spent all of his six full Sprint Cup seasons with Childress, finished among the top 10 in points in three of the last four seasons.
But he was 14th when the Chase began this year. And as the season wound down, it became clear that all attempts to secure a sponsorship package that would allow him to remain with Childress were going to fail.
To win at Talladega, Bowyer hooked up in the draft behind leader and teammate Burton when the race restarted from its ninth, and final, caution period with just two laps to go.
The two were well ahead of the pack when Bowyer made his move, pulling to the inside of Burton on the last lap. Burton retaliated, the two bumped, but Bowyer held on to win by a half-car length in yet another Talladega race decided by a last-lap pass.
“Trust me, I was prepared to push Jeff to the win no matter what the cost was if we would have had people breathing down or necks,” Bowyer said. “It just wasn’t meant to be for him. He’s been a great teammate and I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s already won a lot of races. I think he’s won like 20 or so. I’ve only won five.
“You owe it to your team and to your sponsors to go out and win the race.”
Bowyer quickly admitted he wanted to win to reward the efforts of his team and to indicate he wasn’t going to be the typical lame duck.
“It’s just so important to me to be able to cap off such a good relationship with Richard,” he said. “Everybody at RCR, it’s like family over there. It meant a lot for me to be able to win before we end this deal.
“The stars were lined up today with having the hundredth anniversary of Chevrolet on my race car. If I won the race, it was going to be Richard’s hundredth win.
“I’m excited that it was.”
After Darrell Waltrip joined Junior Johnson & Associates in 1981 following the buyout of his contract with DiGard Racing Co. – done with funds Junior provided – it was widely acknowledged that Waltrip could now win his first Winston Cup championship.
Which he did. It was also the fourth for Junior as a team owner. It was obviously financially rewarding and Junior was able to recoup everything he had spent to acquire Waltrip.
Thus the Waltrip-Johnson association quickly proved successful. The only question that remained was how much more could it accomplish in the future?
That question was answered quickly. Waltrip and Johnson won a second consecutive title in 1982.
But by no means was it easy. Waltrip had to overcome a huge points deficit and a serious challenge from a driver who had been one of his, and Junior’s, most unrelenting rivals for many years.
Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.
The only real strategy I had in 1982 was for the team and Darrell to keep right on doing what we did in 1981.
We hadn’t undergone any major changes; there were no alterations in the makeup of the team. That was also the case when we won three straight championships with Cale and I could see no reason why that scenario couldn’t benefit us again.
But something else didn’t change – namely, a poor outing in the Daytona 500.
In ’82, NASCAR had dropped Riverside as the first race of the season – fine by me, by the way – and thus the 500, our biggest event, became the inauguration of the year.
Darrell was in the lead with 49 laps to go when the engine blew – which happened in 1981. However, this time the results weren’t quite as bad. There was a high attrition rate in the 500 and as a result there were only 17 cars running at the finish. So Darrell wound up 20th and that’s the position we held in points.
Bobby Allison won the race. He had taken over the DiGard ride that Darrell left to join Junior Johnson & Associates – which cost me some money that he repaid nicely with the 1981 championship.
Competitively, Bobby had always been a thorn in my side after his only season with me in 1972. With DiGard, he would be again. As 1982 rolled on he established a fierce, and I mean fierce, rivalry with Darrell.
At first it appeared we wouldn’t have a rivalry with anyone. Darrell won the third race of the season, at Bristol, and that started a streak of five victories in eight races. We also won at Atlanta, North Wilkesboro, Talladega and Nashville.
I remember the Atlanta and Talladega victories as being particularly impressive. At Atlanta, rain threatened and sure enough big ol’ drops started falling. It was obvious NASCAR was going to end the race early.
Darrell was battling with Richard Petty and passed him in the final turn as NASCAR threw the red flag. There was a side-by-side finish and NASCAR gave us the win by inches over Richard. It was one of the closest finishes I had seen anywhere.
At Talladega Darrell was racing Benny Parsons, who had won the pole at over 200 mph, the first driver ever to qualify that fast.
I figured there was something left in the car, Darrell just had to find it and use it. I got an idea as to how to make him do just that.
With about three or four laps remaining, I said over the radio, “Pick it up a little down the backstretch Cale.”
I knew exactly how Darrell would respond.
“Damn it Junior,” he said in a huff, “my name is Darrell!”
I knew he would be agitated and he was. He indeed picked it up and made a slingshot pass around Benny to win the race with Terry Labonte in tow.
If you asked me then what reverse psychology was I wouldn’t know the answer. However, it seems I knew how to practice it.
After all we had accomplished early in the year Darrell was not on top of the points. After Nashville, the 10th race of the year, he was 60 points behind Labonte.
Then we went into a swoon. Darrell did not win in the next six races. Fact is we had some pretty mediocre finishes, the best of which during was second at Michigan. That’s where, I think, Darrell displayed his frustration over what was happening.
Darrell had a great duel with Cale at Michigan and was actually in the lead on the last lap. But the two made contact and Cale retook the lead and won the race.
Darrell was not happy. He made that clear when he intentionally bumped Cale on pit road. When Darrell did that, our car slid off into the wet grass and got stuck in the mud.
These two drivers hadn’t been the best of friends for years, ever since the “Jaws” and “Cale Scale” thing in the ‘70s.
So, naturally, Cale had a good time needling Darrell about being stuck in the mud. Darrell jawed about the last-lap contact.
Cale responded, “Reckon I’m going to have meet ‘Jaws’ in the Big K parking lot.”
Never happened, of course, but I think that at Michigan Darrell might have learned a lesson: If you are going to dish it out, you have to learn how to take it.
As we were going through somewhat of a slump, Bobby came to the forefront. When he won at Daytona in July it was his third win in six races and he was first in points. Darrell was third, 186 behind.
We won a week after Daytona at Nashville. Bobby won the next race at Pocono. Six days later, Darrell won again at Bristol.
There followed the Southern 500, which was won by Cale. Then Bobby won again – his seventh victory of the season – at Richmond. Just a week after at, at Dover, Darrell was the winner.
During the course of 14 races, including the July Firecracker 400 at Daytona, Bobby and Darrell combined to win 13 of them.
I had never seen anything like it. It was just like a couple of heavyweights exchanging blow after blow with neither one giving an inch, much less hitting the canvas.
It was at Martinsville that things changed. Darrell won while Bobby blew up and finished 19th. Darrell took the points lead – he was 37 ahead of Bobby.
Danged if they didn’t keep doing the same thing. Darrell won at Rockingham – but didn’t gain in points – and Bobby won at Atlanta to set up a duel for the championship at Riverside on Nov. 21, the last race of the season. Darrell was just 22 points ahead of Bobby.
Tim Richmond was the Riverside winner. Darrell finished third and Bobby lost a lap with two flat tires and stripped lug nuts. He then blew an engine with seven laps to go. Darrell won the title, our second in a row, by 72 points.
This championship was very satisfying in many ways, but perhaps even more so because Darrell made up a 147-point deficit with seven races to go.
And he won after a terrific slugfest with Bobby. Given that Bobby was with the DiGard team for which Darrell once drove, and won, there was a lot of irony in it all.
I have to admit at the time I didn’t think much about any of that. I was just so pleased that in 1982 with Darrell, Junior Johnson & Associates had won 12 races, nearly a million dollars and a second consecutive championship.
Admittedly, thoughts of another third-straight title entered my mind.
But common sense told me to push them aside.
It took just one race in 1984 for two significant things to happen:
A major speedway’s soiled reputation was eradicated and replaced with the acknowledgement that it was the fastest and most competitive in NASCAR.
And a driver who burst onto the scene with almost instant success, and had quickly become a sensation, brought his career out of the doldrums.
When it opened in 1969, what was then known as Alabama International Motor Speedway in Talladega, Ala., was intended to be the fastest in the world. That wasn’t hard to comprehend given that it was a 2.66-mile, high-banked monster.
Indeed, it was fast; very fast. By 1982, a driver was able to qualify at an astounding 200 mph. That driver was Benny Parsons.
Just a couple of years later many drivers routinely broke the 200 mph barrier. In 1987, Bill Elliott set what remains the speedway’s qualifying record with a lap of 212.809 mph – which never again be approached, by the way, in this era of restrictor plates.
But as potentially exciting as high speeds were, the track never came forward as a NASCAR competitive showplace.
It was plagued with controversy. It erupted quickly at the first race, scheduled for Sept. 14, 1969.
During practices, as tire after tire shredded under the strain of unusually high speeds, drivers became concerned about safety and confronted the track’s owner, Bill France Sr., who obviously disagreed.
Emotions boiled and eventually spilled over. NASCAR’s Grand National competitors boycotted the race. France, determined to stage the speedway’s debut, pulled in a field of drivers from NASCAR’s minor circuits and the event was held.
The speedway never again endured such a situation but that didn’t matter. As the years passed it was besieged by all manner of misfortune.
There were frightening multicar accidents, some of which ended drivers’ careers. There were on-track fatalities and even worse, there were others under condition so unusual – even eerie – that stories about a “Talladega curse” became prominent.
There were many other controversies that involved such situations as cheating and sabotage. It reached the point where some cynical media members, and fans, called Talladega a “white elephant.”
This in spite of the fact there was nearly always speed and excitement on the track. For many, races in Alabama became some of the most anticipated every year.
However, it still had a reputation as a place immersed in controversy, mayhem and misfortune.
In 1979 Dale Earnhardt entered the Winston Cup ranks. He won a race at Bristol and became the circuit’s rookie of the year.
A year later he won five races and the Winston Cup championship. He became the first, and only, driver to win both the rookie and series titles in successive years.
He was a blazing star in NASCAR’s firmament. But in 1981 his career swooned.
Discontent with J.D. Stacy, who had purchased the Rod Osterlund team with which he had won his titles, Earnhardt quit late in the year to drive for former independent competitor Richard Childress.
Earnhardt did not win a race in 1981.
In 1982, he moved over to Bud Moore’s Ford operation. He stayed there for two years, during which he won three races, but was never a title contender and never recaptured the form he had displayed in his dazzling debut.
In 1984 Earnhardt returned to the Childress organization. It was the culmination of an earlier arrangement. Childress had told Earnhardt that if the day ever came when he felt he could field competitive cars that could win races, he would like to have Earnhardt return. Earnhardt agreed.
Besides, Earnhardt never liked racing Fords. He was a General Motors man. Childress ran Chevrolets.
Many observers felt that a Childress-Earnhardt combination wouldn’t work. Childress was a relatively new team owner who didn’t have the experience and resources of the top operations – never mind that he had already won two races with driver Ricky Rudd.
On July 29, 1984, the second race of the season at the “white elephant” was run. Among the entries was the driver who hoped to revive his slumping career with a fledgling team owner.
That race, then known as the Talladega 500, was to be the turning point for both speedway and competitor.
With 68 lead changes among 16 drivers it was highly competitive. Well beyond that, it had a finish that featured 10 cars racing like a batch of angry hornets At 200 mph toward the checkered flag.
This was unmatched in NASCAR’s history.
Earnhardt was involved and broke away from the swarm on the last lap to pass leader Terry Labonte and sprint to a 1.66-second victory.
At the finish he glanced in his rear view mirror and saw a glut of cars racing side-by-side for position. It was then he knew he had won for the first time with Childress.
But behind him the finishing order was difficult to determine. Cars had been racing so closely together, and separated by just inches, that NASCAR had to consult at least three photographs from the photo finish to figure who wound up where.
Buddy Baker was second, followed by Labonte. Then came Bobby Allison in fourth by a fender over Cale Yarborough.
Rounding out the top 10 were Darrell Waltrip, Harry Gant, Lake Speed, Tommy Ellis and Bill Elliott.
That will always be debatable but what is not is that from that year on, Talladega was seldom, if ever, viewed as a “white elephant.”
It had clearly shown that it could indeed provide that for which it was built – speed, competition and excitement.
Earnhardt won another race with Childress in ’84 and finished fourth in the final point standings after leading for several portions of the season. It was his best run since 1980, his title year.
It was obvious he had returned to championship form. That he could succeed with Childress was no longer questioned.
The only real question was, just how successful would Earnhardt become with Childress?
At the time no one could imagine how great it would be.