George Diaz: Talladega wrecks competitive vibe of playoffs with random chaos
Talladega is NASCAR’s version of the spin-cycle.
Accidents happen and, whoosh, you get caught up in the dirty laundry.
Talladega’s unpredictable dynamics likely will have consequences moving on to the next elimination race this weekend in Kansas. Check out the results from Talladega, where eight playoff drivers had to find their way to the garage to repair damage during the race.
The pain could linger for a long time for Jamie McMurray, who finished 37th. Others in the mix include Ryan Blaney (18th), Jimmie Johnson (24th), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (26th) and Kyle Busch (27th), all caught up in some form of carnage.
With only eight of the remaining 12 playoff drivers advancing out of Kansas, Busch is in ninth place and seven points behind Johnson for the last spot. Matt Kenseth is eight points behind Johnson, followed by Stenhouse (22 points behind) and McMurray (29 points).
Stenhouse and McMurray each will be gone unless he wins in Kansas.
NASCAR moved its dates around this season so that Talladega would not be a cutoff race in the playoffs. While that is a good move, the fact that only 14 cars finished the race in the typical crash-fest at Talladega gives one pause whether Talladega should be involved in the playoff format.
The wild unpredictability of a restrictor-plate race can destroy the steady ride of a driver’s championship hopes.
“There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s part of Talladega,” McMurray said following his wreck after 25 laps. “We know you can come out of here with a lot of points and be a winner or you can be in the position we are right now. We’ll go to Kansas and do our best. I’m sure I won’t be the only playoff driver disappointed today.”
He was right (see above).
Of the 14 cars drivers who finished the race, only four of them were in the playoff chase. Two of those drivers finished a lap down.
“That is just Talladega,” said Kurt Busch, who was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. “That is how it works out. We need to figure out how to make the cars better so everybody can bump-draft a little harder.”
The race brought out three red flags, all within the final 17 laps Sunday.
Of course fans love it. But I don’t know of any driver who thrives on going to Talladega. It’s about surviving, not thriving.
“It’s insane. It’s a white-knuckle experience,” Jeff Gordon said before his final ride at Talladega in 2015. “If anyone in the garage says it’s not, then they’re not telling the truth. It just is. You’re holding your breath. It can make for some amazing moments and highlights. I don’t know if you need to put any added risk out there.”
Competitive chaos? Collateral damage?
Or random chaos that shouldn’t be a determining factor in crowning a NASCAR champion?
We’ll sort it all out after the next Big One rolls around in May of next season when everyone will reconvene at Talladega.
DALE SOON A DAD: Here’ something else that Dale Earnhardt Jr. can hang on his resume besides “Most Popular Driver.” How about “daddy?”
Earnhardt and his wife Amy Earnhardt are expecting their first child. The couple shared the news on Instagram Monday afternoon, alongside a pair of pink baby Converse. Hint: It’s a girl.
Congratulations are in order as Earnhardt moves into the “happily retired” phase of his career.
RATINGS: No doubt NASCAR is struggling for relevance and eyebrows these days, but a restrictor-plate race in Talladega is a sure-fire way to rekindle the passion. NBC reports that Sunday’s race from Talladega had a total audience delivery of 4.743 million viewers (up 32 percent from 2016).
The race produced a 2.84 rating, up 30 percent from last year, the highest rating for the fall Talladega race since 2012 (ESPN/2.97). And viewership peaked with nearly 7 million viewers in the 6:30-6:45 quarter hour.