Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, April 30, 2018, 12:16 p.m.
Talladega Superspeedway is a moving target in several ways.
Metaphors proliferate. A parking lot going 200 miles an hour. High-speed chess. High-speed Tetris. High speed, for sure.
After Joey Logano broke a long dry spell by winning the Geico 500, crew chief Todd Gordon said, “We came to a race track where Joey is one of the best plate racers, Brad (Keselowski), as well, and they work off each other.”
Every time a race is run at Talladega, particularly in the spring when new rules are in place, unexpected changes occur in the style, the balance of power, the ability to pass or lack thereof, and which drivers are adept and which aren’t.
Four of Jamie McMurray’s seven career victories have occurred at “plate tracks,” two apiece at Daytona and Talladega. It is popularly believed that McMurray is adept, but what has he done lately? In his last four visits, his “finishes” are 19th, second, 37th and 28th. Jimmie Johnson’s last six placings (because “finishes” often don’t mean finishing) are 18th, 22nd, 23rd, eighth, 24th and 12th.
It’s not that those numbers are surprising. Many drivers have Talladega histories that might as well have come up in the Powerball tube. McMurray, though, touched off one of Sunday’s two major crashes, and Johnson, the seven-time champion, caused the other.
McMurray also flipped 11 times in a Friday practice crash.
In the last 10 Talladega races, the leaders in terms of average finish are: (1.) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 11.2; (2.) Kevin Harvick 12.0; (3.) Kurt Busch 12.5; and (4.) Ryan Newman 12.9.
Logano’s average is 15.6. Seven drivers are better. Keselowsk’s is 17.3. Thirteen are better.
The numbers mainly make numbers irrelevant. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won six times at Talladega, averaged 16.8 in his last 10.
“Lies, damned lies and statistics.” Mark Twain said it often and attributed it to Benjamin Disraeli.
I could’ve sworn it was Larry McReynolds.
If anything truly dominates Talladega, it’s a car, not a driver. Fords have won the last six. Chevrolets won 13 in a row from 1999 through the first race of 2005. Then Dale Jarrett won in a Ford, and Chevrolets won four more.
Two massive pileups notwithstanding, the race on Sunday was, by Talladega’s garish standards, uneventful. The inside line was mostly the place to be. No one seemed to have much appetite for the supposedly “all-important” stage points.
Fox commentators Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon tried everything shy of the Warren Commission to absolve Johnson of blame for a crash he most definitely caused. It’s all right. It doesn’t take much of a mistake to set off a Talladega dust storm, but Johnson made one, and there really wasn’t any need to claim a tornado swooped down over the third turn and disappeared as quickly as it arrived.
Does McGruffy-Wuffy have a tippy-wippy? Was Johnson covered for a zombie apocalypse in his policy? Who, in fact, did frame Roger Rabbit?
“Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer” was a song penned by Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh. It was about a World War II bomber, but it could have been about a stock car at Talladega.
And Kenny Wallace could have written it.
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