Monday, October 09, 2006

Just Racin': Talledega Review (Of Sorts)

Every driver in the race at Talledega knew that the possibility was very real that something could happen to ruin his chances for a good finish. They were all certain that things would get wild on the last lap.
We can't blame the multitudes of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fans for being angry. He didn't necessarily have the race won--by his own admission, he expected Jimmie Johnson to win. But he did have a top five finish in the bag, had it not been for the wreck on the very last lap.
Junior was leading the race, and being the most popular driver at Talledega, the crowd was ecstatic. He had already taken the white flag and was on the final lap. Johnson was on his bumper, with Brian Vickers drafting him. Junior tried to block the faster cars, then, realizing the futility, pulled up into the outside lane to let Johnson and Vickers pass. When Johnson moved down to make the pass, Vickers followed him, which is to be expected from a drafting partner. When the #48 car left Earnhardt's draft, Johnson was faced with a head wind, which slowed the car slightly. So Vickers was following a little too closely, and his momentum, still being in the draft of both Johnson and Earnhardt, carried him into the right rear corner of Johnson's car. There contact was a mere touch, or less, but it was enough to cause the #48 car to spin--right into the side of Earnhardt's car. Both cars spun into the infield, and Vickers went on to win, followed by Kasey Kahne. The crowd at Talledega was stunned into silence. Women cried and men threw their beer cans onto the track. But, when all was said and done, it was one of those racing incidents, when no one is really at fault.
In football, a team could have a game seemingly in the bag, only to be tied up by a field goal, then lose in overtime. Or they could be on the one-yard line, first and goal, and six points down, with 10 seconds left in the game, only to fumble the ball on the goal line and have the opposing team recover the fumble and win.
In baseball, imagine a team with a one point advantage over the home team, in the bottom of the ninth inning. There are two outs, and the home team has a runner at second and third, and the count on the batter is one ball and two strikes. The batter hits the next pitch--a long high fly between left and center. Both the Center Fielder and the Right Fielder run toward the spot at which the ball is falling, calling for the catch, as they are supposed to. However, the crowd noise is so loud, the players do not hear each other, and they collide, and the ball falls to the turf, allowing two runs and the win.
This is the sort of incident,.NASCAR style, which happened to Jimmie Johnson, and prevented him from gaining a much needed victory.
But it wasn't the Johnson fans who were angry, it was the Earnhardt Jr. fans. There likely aren't very many Jimmie Johnson fans at Talledega. Last year, their beer cans were aimed at Jimmie Johnson, when he won the race at Talledega.
Of course, in spite of Junior's assertation that Vickers was not a dirty driver, and would not purposefully wreck anyone, there are things that fans could point to that would show otherwise. For instance, there was the Open, at Lowe's earlier this year, when Vickers spun Jeff Green to win and qualify for the All Star race. Then there is the perception that it is team orders for any driver for Hendrick Motor Sports to do anything to win; a perception Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Kyle Busch have often reinforced. In addition, having signed to Red Bull racing next year, and being replaced in the #25 car next year by Casey Mears, it is feasable that Vickers would have no qualms about taking out a teammate. So, it is not unlikely that Vickers could have intended to spin
If one watched the replays, however--which were shown multiple times--one would see that the accident was inevitable. Vickers only error was that he was following Johnson too closely, as often happens in racing. It takes at least two to make this kind of accident happen, and that's all it really was--an accident. Any fan who would argue that NASCAR favors HMS, would be laughed at, as it was an HMS driver who lost the race due to the accident. It is sad that what should have been a time of great celebration for Vickers, winning his first Cup race, turned into a hatefest for the young driver.
Vickers deserved the win, and no matter who the fan's favorite driver is, that win should have been recognized. A racing incident such as that which occurred in the last mile of the last lap should not have taken away from what was a well-run and exciting race.
It is, after all, just racin'.


Babs said...

I thought the men cried and the women threw their beer on the race track! :)

RevJim said...

Yeah, it's Talledega. You're probably right!

Cheyenne said...

Ahhhh...Brian Vickers...the red-headed stepchild forevermore.