Bruce: Few unscathed, fewer clear fixes for Talladega turmoil
RELATED: Talladega results " Gallery: Sunday at the track Editor's note: The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author. TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Raise your hand if your favorite driver wasn't involved in at least one crash Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway . Anyone? Chances are, he or she was. The GEICO 500 was one of those races … let's see, how best to describe it? Wild? Yes. Intense? Yes. Explosive? Yes. Insane and I don't know why we continue to race there? Well … It is and they do, and as long as they do, drivers and fans will continue coming back. Multicar crashes certainly aren't anything new at Talladega; the 2.66-mile track has been the site of such incidents almost from the very day the track hosted its first NASCAR-sanctioned race back in 1969. As Sunday's race wore on, the number of cars involved in one melee or another continued to mount. Three cars, then three more, then seven, and they're probably still adding up all the ones involved in the latter stages of the event. What was it, 21 cars caught up in an incident on Lap 161? That's more than half the starting field. The crews that were able to push their cars back to the garage after the race were the fortunate ones. There were far too many that arrived there on the back end of a wrecker, then were cut, lifted, twisted and rolled onto the team haulers for transport back to the various race shops. It probably wasn't worth the effort, judging by the looks of several. "Body shops are gonna be plenty busy this week," one crewman said. No one was seriously injured, and for that we should all be thankful. Ever-evolving safety measures did their jobs, but that probably wasn't going through the mind of Chris Buescher when his Front Row Racing Ford tumbled down the backstretch. Or Matt Kenseth when his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota took flight, then flipped and slid on its top, the asphalt grinding sheet metal into nothingness. Or Danica Patrick , whose Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet smashed into the inside wall with great force, buckling the SAFER barrier. "Racing has always been that balance of daredevils and chess players," race winner Brad Keselowski said. "Some weekends we're chess players, some weekends we're daredevils. This has always been the more daredevil style of track, which probably offsets some of the tracks that we go to where we're the chess player. "That's what makes the NASCAR season so much fun and so unique." Those who win tend to see things in a positive light. But without watching replays of the incidents, the Team Penske driver admitted it would be unwise to comment on individual situations. "I went flying last year at Daytona, and that's not fun," third-place finisher Austin Dillon recalled. "For guys that haven't done it, it's just not a fun thing to be a part of. I don't know how to fix it personally. I know NASCAR will put their efforts towards fixing it. … They've made the car safer. That's the reason why we're walking away from these crashes." Chances are, there's no "fix" for such things. Driver after driver has noted that such incidents are expected, if not quite accepted. "I hate it," defending series champion Kyle Busch said afterward. "I'd much rather sit at home." Already a winner this season, Busch noted, "I don't need to be here." Sour grapes? Hardly. Busch finished second. And on a day when the garage was quickly filling with torn-up race car after torn-up race car, second didn't seem so bad. Fans wandered through the garage, a few stopping to collect the occasional piece left behind. Darkness was descending as teams wrapped up their auto -surgery. Rain was on the way. But the big storm had already passed.
Stewart preps for relief driver switch at Talladega
RELATED: Weekend schedule " Dillon ready for action TALLADEGA, Ala. -- A week after returning to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition, Tony Stewart becomes a start-and-park driver. In a manner of speaking. Start-and-watch might be more appropriate. The three-time premier series champion missed the season's first eight points races after suffering a back injury during the offseason. RELATED: Full timeline of Stewart's injury, comeback Stewart is scheduled to start his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet in Sunday's GEICO 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Talladega Superspeedway before turning over the wheel to XFINITY Series driver Ty Dillon . It's an infrequent turn of events, but something that does happen from time to time in NASCAR. Last season, Erik Jones stepped in for Denny Hamlin at Bristol Motor Speedway after the Joe Gibbs Racing driver developed a neck spasm during a rain delay. Jones finished 26th. Hamlin was also involved in a driver swap at Talladega in 2013. Injured in an accident at Auto Club Speedway , Hamlin started the Aaron's 499 but eventually gave up the seat to Brian Vickers . J.J. Yeley replaced Bill Elliott during a race here in 2011; he also replaced Stewart in '08 during the summer race at Daytona. Stewart, speaking to the media Friday at Talladega, said he expects to do "what I always do around here at the beginning of the race … just ride around in the back until we get to the first caution." It won't be "glamorous," he said, but it meets his doctors' request. Well, almost. According to Stewart, his doctors didn't want him competing at all this weekend. "We need the points and so we talked them into letting us to at least start the race," said Stewart, who sits 101 points out of 30th. MORE: Standings pre-Talladega "I told them it normally doesn't go more than two or three laps at the beginning of the race before a caution. It might go 82 or 83 laps, who knows? But, we'll run until it gets there." Unofficially, the last time a relief driver won a NASCAR premier series race was 1977, and it occurred at Talladega as well. Donnie Allison started what was then a July race but eventually turned the driving over to Darrell Waltrip due to illness. Waltrip replaced Allison with 23 laps remaining and took the lead with six to go when race leader Skip Manning's car suffered mechanical problems. According to NASCAR rules, points earned by an entry are awarded to the driver starting the race, meaning Stewart will be credited with those earned Sunday by Dillon.
Sprint Cup qualifying order for Talladega
# Car Driver Team 1 7 Regan Smith Golden Corral Chevrolet 2 47 AJ Allmendinger Kroger/Hungry Jack/Crisco Chevrolet 3 48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe's Chevrolet 4 31 Ryan Newman Caterpillar Chevrolet 5 83 Matt DiBenedetto Dustless Blasting Toyota 6 46 Michael Annett Pilot Flying J Chevrolet 7 30 * Josh Wise Curtis Key Plumbing Chevrolet 8 32 Bobby Labonte Rimrock Devlin Ford 9 23 David Ragan Schluter Systems Toyota 10 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr Nationwide Chevrolet 11 2 Brad Keselowski Miller Lite Ford 12 43 Aric Almirola Fresh From Florida Ford 13 14 Ty Dillon (i) Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet 14 15 Clint Bowyer AccuDoc Solutions Chevrolet 15 5 Kasey Kahne Farmers Insurance Chevrolet 16 34 Chris Buescher # Love's Travel Stops/CSX-Play it Safe Ford 17 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr Fifth Third Bank Ford 18 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Express Toyota 19 19 Carl Edwards ARRIS Toyota 20 78 Martin Truex Jr Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats Toyota 21 20 Matt Kenseth Dollar General Toyota 22 44 Brian Scott # Twisted Tea Ford 23 38 Landon Cassill FR8Auctions Ford 24 3 Austin Dillon Dow - Energy & Water/Intellifresh Chevrolet 25 98 * Cole Whitt RticCoolers.com Toyota 26 27 Paul Menard Moen/Menards Chevrolet 27 18 Kyle Busch Skittles Marvel Toyota 28 35 * David Gilliland Shaw's Southern Belle Seafood Ford 29 21 * Ryan Blaney # Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford 30 55 * Michael Waltrip Peak & BlueDEF Toyota 31 16 Greg Biffle Ford EcoBoost Ford 32 95 Michael McDowell Thrivent Financial Chevrolet 33 42 Kyle Larson Target Chevrolet 34 22 Joey Logano Shell Pennzoil Ford 35 13 Casey Mears GEICO Chevrolet 36 4 Kevin Harvick Busch Fishing Chevrolet 37 6 Trevor Bayne AdvoCare Ford 38 10 Danica Patrick Aspen Dental Chevrolet 39 41 Kurt Busch Monster Energy Chevrolet 40 24 Chase Elliott # NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet 41 1 Jamie McMurray McDonald's Chevrolet * Required to qualify on time, (i) Ineligible for driver points in this series
Chase Elliott earns 21 Means 21 Pole Award at Talladega
RELATED: Lineup " See all 40 cars TALLADEGA, Ala. – Numerologists doubtless will have a field day with the front row for Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (on FOX at 1 p.m. ET, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Touring the 2.66-mile race track in 49.704 seconds (192.661 mph) during Saturday's time trials, Chase Elliott put the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the pole, making the 20-year-old rookie driver two-for-two at restrictor-plate superspeedways. In his first qualifying run as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, Elliott won the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500 . The pole was the sixth at Talladega for the No. 24, the first five having been recorded by Jeff Gordon , who retired after the 2015 season and turned the car over to Elliott. And the pole run came roughly 30 years after Elliott's father, Bill Elliott , earned the top starting spot for the spring Talladega race with a lap at 212.229 mph, before restrictor plates were introduced at the superspeedways. Coincidentally, Bill Elliott also won the pole for the Daytona 500 in 1986. "This is definitely a special place," Chase Elliott said after his pole-winning run. "It's cool to get it done today. This is a team effort, and those guys and everybody at the No. 5 and No. 24 shop, in particular, and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and the Hendrick engine department and obviously (sponsor) NAPA Auto parts. "But, man, this is cool. Those guys do such a good job. And as I said in Daytona, this had nothing to do with me. This is the car that we had. This is the same car we had in Daytona. They brought another fast one here." The car Elliott beat for the pole, the No. 3 Chevrolet driven by Austin Dillon (192.424 mph), also has a noteworthy history at Talladega. Driving the No. 3 for owner Richard Childress, Dillon’s grandfather, the late Dale Earnhardt collected nine of his 10 Talladega victories and all three of his Talladega poles. "There's a lot of history here with Dale and RCR," Dillon said. "A lot of good stuff happened with RCR here, so hopefully we can continue that streak of good runs for RCR here. We’ve got a car capable of doing that, obviously, with the qualifying effort, and I'd love for it to be my first Cup win." Dale Earnhardt Jr ., who has never won a pole at NASCAR's biggest oval track but has six race wins on his resume here, qualified third at 192.293 mph. Matt Kenseth (192.181 mph) claimed the fourth position on the grid, followed by Jimmie Johnson (192.116 mph) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr . (192.089 mph). The only other driver to top 192 mph was seventh-place starter Brad Keselowski (192.008 mph), a three-time Talladega winner. Ty Dillon qualified the No. 14 Chevrolet for Tony Stewart and earned the 14th starting spot, but Stewart will start Sunday’s race and will have to drop to the rear for the green flag because of the driver change. The plan is for Stewart, who returned to action last Sunday at Richmond after injuring his back during the offseason, to turn the car over to Dillon during the first caution of the race. Note: Josh Wise failed to make the 40-car field.
Truex, Logano at odds at Auto Club; Pearn peeved
RELATED: Johnson rolls to Auto Club victory " See photos from Sunday's race A late run-in between Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr . led to some pointed post-race discussion Sunday at Auto Club Speedway . The fallout: A warning from Truex that the two will race against each other on different terms from now on, and a jolting insult from the Twitter account of Truex's crew chief Cole Pearn, who would later issue an apology. Truex, who led 21 laps and spent most of the day among the top five, was in a close contest with Logano in the 150th of 205 laps. Both ran the high groove entering Turn 1 on the 2-mile track, and Truex's Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota wiggled into the outside retaining wall -- the driver claiming contact from Logano's Team Penske No. 22 Ford. Truex drove on, but faded before making a pit stop four laps later. A caution flag emerged while he was on pit road, catching him out of cycle. After absorbing a pit road-speeding penalty and damage to his No. 78 entry, Truex limped to a 32nd-place finish, one lap down. "How did the air get taken off if he was behind me? He just ran me over," Truex told Motor Racing Network in his post-race interview. "It's ridiculous. We had a great car all day and (I) hate for my guys we've got nothing to show for it. I don't know why he was trying to fake me out. Just pass me. He just screwed up. He knows he screwed up, and I'm going to race him differently from now on." Logano finished fourth, leading twice for three laps. During the race, Logano's spotter apologized to Truex's spotter; afterward, Logano accepted his share of the blame, though he claimed the two cars did not make contact. "It was completely my fault," Logano said. "I was gonna go in on the outside of him and he was gonna go in on the top, as well, and I just ended up being right on him. We never touched each other, but just taking the air off these cars makes them uncontrollable. I didn't mean to do that. I was gonna try to go to the top and I just got a little bit close to him and got him free, so I'm taking the hit on that one." The post-race discussion between the two drivers didn't escalate further, but the debate took a scalding upturn after a tweet from Pearn, the No. 78 crew chief. Pearn returned to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage this weekend after serving a one-race suspension for technical infractions. Well I guess you shouldn't tweet when you're mad. My apologies for being over the line. — Cole Pearn (@colepearn) March 21, 2016
Danica, Kahne wreck at Auto Club; No. 5 summoned
WATCH: Kahne explains incident with Danica Danica Patrick took the brunt of contact with Kasey Kahne on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway , sending Patrick's No. 10 Chevrolet hard into the frontstretch wall. Patrick's Stewart-Haas Racing entry was trying to overtake Kahne's Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the low side of the 2-mile track's frontstraight, but the two cars touched -- Patrick's right-rear fender with Kahne's left-front. The contact sent Patrick's car into the outside retaining wall, causing severe damage and abbreviating Patrick's day in the 120th of 200 scheduled laps in the Auto Club 400 . Patrick exited the car unassisted, but before walking to the ambulance for the mandatory trip to the infield care center, she stepped toward the race track to raise her arms at Kahne's passing car -- while still staying below the uppermost white line separating the racing groove from the apron. "She's moving the car so expect a helmet or a steering wheel being thrown your way," warned Kevin Hamlin, Kahne's spotter. "Glad she's OK. Definitely didn't mean to do that," Kahne told his crew during the caution period. "Was just trying to side-draft." Kahne and crew chief Keith Rodden were summoned to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series hauler for a post-race consultation. The driver remained apologetic after talking with NASCAR officials. "I felt bad. I'm glad she got out and is all right," Kahne said after emerging from the hauler. "I passed her in (Turns) 3 and 4, and then she had the momentum off the top and just went back under me going down the frontstretch. So I went just to kind of catch a side draft to make sure that I was in position getting into Turn 1, and it didn’t hold me up when I got there because I was the one coming. I just got too close. Cars moving around, we hit and she had a bad wreck. I felt really bad because it was far from anything but just trying to hold my position that I had just gained." Patrick had her own version of events, suggesting that Kahne's position off the front-running pace may have factored into their full-contact racing. "I don't know what kind of day he was having," Patrick said after exiting the care center. "I just heard he was a lap down, actually, so I feel bad if he felt like he was put in a position to have to be that desperate a lap down, because it's just unfortunate. He must be having a very tough time. "I was having a pretty good recovery day, kind of like last weekend, just running good race laps and on the lead lap at the end of the race, back up into the top 20 from a bad starting position, and was looking forward to a good finish and a good off week. Unfortunately now, there's more work to be done at the shop, which is not, I'm sure, what they want." Kahne said he was not surprised to be called in for a post-race discussion with NASCAR competition officials. "I don't see the NASCAR hauler very often other than signing-in on Friday mornings," Kahne said. "So, yeah, I had to go talk to them. They just wanted to make sure that everything is OK from my perspective and that there were no hard feelings prior to the wreck or anything like that. Man, not at all; I've never had an issue with Danica at all. It was an avoidable accident in the middle of the straightaway that was far from anything other than just trying to hold my position that I had just gained." Said his crew chief, Rodden, of the hauler visit: "I don't think NASCAR wants anything to start between any of the drivers. Stuff escalated quickly last year. I think they're just making sure there was no bad blood. Just a normal deal." Kahne took to Twitter post-race to offer his apologies to Patrick. Feel really bad about what happened today with Danica. I'm glad she was ok! That should have never happened and that was all on me. — Kasey Kahne (@kaseykahne) March 21, 2016
Busch, Stevens fighting tire issue at Auto Club
FONTANA, Calif. -- Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch , said his team hasn’t resolved a left rear tire wear issue that surfaced during Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice sessions at Auto Club Speedway . "I don’t know what it was," Stevens said. "We tried multiple things to remedy it and it’s getting better, but it’s not like it’s gone. We still have some concerns after final practice." Goodyear officials said the problem was traced to air pressures and camber settings, but Stevens said his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team was not “out of the box on any one of those things compared to every car that we’re capable of looking at and past history.” JGR fields four Sprint Cup entries and has a technical alliance with Furniture Row Racing . "But we’re the only ones that seem to be having a problem," he said. "I don’t know what to do to fix it because everybody else is quite similar." Busch qualified sixth for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM Radio). He was fourth fastest in Saturday’s opening practice under cool conditions and 16th in Happy Hour after track temperatures had increased. The wear improved in the final practice, according to Stevens, "but you (still) saw excessive wear," he said. "When it gets hot and gets slick and slows down, a lot of those problems tend to go away," he said. "I don’t know that anything that we’ve done has made it any better, other than just the normal rubbering in of the track and the lap times falling off to be honest." "It’s a worn surface, guys are searching for grip; one of the ways they’ve attacked that in the past and are doing it still is (by) trying to reduce air pressures, trying to run a little bit more camber,” Goodyear’s Greg Stucker said. “Just trying to push the envelope and get as much as they can." Stucker said Goodyear has "gone, in very general terms … softer at every track." "One of the goals was increased falloff and we certainly have seen that, significantly more at Atlanta," he said. "About the same (falloff) at Las Vegas. … More at Phoenix and we’re trending right now at least as much if not more here." As for the No. 18 team, Stucker said officials "are over there working with them and trying to make sure they know where they stand … what kind of changes they’re making. "It’s just one of those levers that they pull," he said. "(NASCAR) took aero away so they are going to go about getting grip back mechanically and that’s one way they do it." Stevens said his team didn’t see the wear issues here last season, but a similar problem did surface at Atlanta earlier this year. "A lot of times you’ll see (that) when it’s real fast and gripped up," he said. "It was (at Atlanta); it was a concern the entire race. And it’ll be a concern tomorrow until we get a couple of sets across it tomorrow, too."
Kyle Larson ready for Martinsville after Auto Club wreck
RELATED: Larson sidelined after hard hit at Auto Club MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Kyle Larson says he feels no ill effects from a heavy crash two weeks ago at Auto Club Speedway , despite soreness in his upper body and legs that lingered for a handful of days after the impact. Larson declared himself fit Friday in advance of Sunday's STP 500 (1 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM) at Martinsville Speedway , where he's running double duty this weekend in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series. "Yeah, I feel fine," said Larson, who opted out of an extracurricular sprint-car race in his home state of California last week to rest up and heal. "I was only sore for just a few days. I'm pretty surprised I healed up as quick as I did. I was definitely pretty sore right after it and the next day, but then I got a lot better. Went and saw a chiropractor and after that, I was pretty good." Missing Martinsville this weekend wasn't a serious concern for Larson, but last year told a different story. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver fainted as he wrapped up a Saturday afternoon autograph session last March, then sat out the historic track's spring event the next day as a precaution, watching from a hospital bed as fill-in driver Regan Smith wheeled his No. 42 Chevrolet. "I remember, I got through the whole thing and right at the end, I was just talking to a fan and kind of just got light-headed and passed out," Larson said. "It was pretty weird, but it took me a little bit afterward to be able to remember the time from when I passed out to when I got to the care center." Further evaluation, including a battery of tests from a Charlotte-area neurologist, pointed toward dehydration as the cause of Larson's fainting spell. But it also raised the issue of driver health and pre-race medical certification for NASCAR's participants. That matter came under further scrutiny this week with Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s announcement that he would donate his brain for medical research of sports trauma upon his passing. Larson welcomed the decision, saying the impact of helping the study of brain injuries could have a reach far beyond the world of motor sports. "Any extra data you can get is great for us, great for the sport," Larson said. "We wreck a few times a year, we're not getting hit in the head as much as football players, but concussions still happen in our form of racing. For him to donate his brain hopefully may help and make every sport better." Larson has more on his plate schedule-wise this weekend, joining GMS Racing to make his first career Truck Series start at the .526-mile bullring. But Larson said the decision to double-dip wasn't completely designed to make up for lost time last year. "I think it's more so just because I've run here, this is my third year now and I still feel like this is probably the track where I run the worst at," said Larson, who has fared no better than a 19th-place finish in four Sprint Cup tries here. He'll start 17th in Sunday's 500-lapper. "So to just be able to get more laps, I think helps a lot. So far today, I feel like it's helped. I was able to practice the truck before Cup practice, which helps get your rhythm. Hopefully it helps keep my rhythm before qualifying because normally you have such a big break before qualifying. In the race (Saturday), it'll just help my rhythm and help me understand how to pass better."
O'Donnell: NASCAR reviewing Kahne, Patrick incident at Auto Club
After a weekend full of passionate moments at Auto Club Speedway , this week's NASCAR competition meeting might run a little longer than most. NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell indicated that officials at the NASCAR Research & Development Center would evaluate a handful of on- and off-track incidents this week. O'Donnell's remarks came Monday morning on one of his regular appearances on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio's "Morning Drive" program with hosts Mike Bagley and Pete Pistone. Among the ground that O'Donnell said would be covered was a high-profile incident with Kasey Kahne and Danica Patrick . Shortly past the halfway point of Sunday's Auto Club 400 , the two drivers made contact with Kahne's car hooking Patrick into a severe, nose-first crash on the 2-mile track's frontstretch.
Biffle, Larson wreck during Auto Club practice
RELATED: Full practice results " Kenseth, Edwards pace wreck-filled practices FONTANA, Calif. -- "Happy Hour" practice at Auto Club Speedway wasn't so happy for Kyle Larson and Greg Biffle . Midway through the final practice session on Saturday, Larson's No. 42 Chevrolet became loose and went high on the race track, brushing the wall. Biffle's No. 16 ride, equipped with a fresh set of Goodyear tires, was unable to stop and made significant contact with Larson. "We were on new tires … (and) the 42 was on old tires, so our closure rate was super-fast," Biffle said in the garage afterward. "I was kind of looking at my mark on the wall and on the race track and he wrecked in front of me and I just couldn't get stopped. There wasn't anywhere for me to go. "The groove is right up against the fence and I was going probably 15-20 miles an hour faster than he was. By the time I saw him sideways I was catching him so fast that I don’t know what happened." The wreck was especially unfortunate for Larson, who has struggled to find speed throughout the weekend. "It's been the first time all week that I’ve felt decent speed, especially long-run speed," Larson said in the garage, following a brief conversation with Biffle. "So, disappointed in myself. … Hopefully not too much work for them." Both cars have significant damage, but neither Larson nor Biffle are sure whether or not their teams will defer to a backup car for Sunday’s race. Both drivers would need to forgo their qualifying positions (Larson, 32nd; Biffle, 22nd) if they decided to switch to backup cars. "We're still trying to decide if we need to go to a backup or not, it's more just body damage," Larson said. "… Hate it those (No. 16) guys have to work really hard on their car, as well. Hopefully we can get our car fixed up, and so can they, to have some speed." MORE: At-track photos, Auto Club