Sunday’s race was a typical Talladega race with almost non-stop action from the drop of the green clear through the third attempt at a green-white-checkered finish. For the most part the cars were two or three wide the entire time, and while there was plenty of crashing going on, no cars went airborne during this restrictor plate race.
I’ve gone on record as saying that I don’t like Talladega. In fact, I hate it. It’s nerve wracking because you have no clue what kind of day your driver is going to have until he has actually crossed the finish line for the final time. With most other races, you have an idea of what to expect based on how he is running early. If his car is good, you’re hoping for a top 10 or a top 5. If he’s not doing so well, you have to set your sights on just making the most points possible. But at Talladega, you can go from 1st to 30th on the last lap. My stomach was churning with anxiety the entire time.
So why did I watch? Because I couldn’t not watch. Fear of the unknown is worse than just facing the anxiety of AJ having a bad finish, or god forbid, a bad accident. The racing was exciting, though. It certainly makes your adrenaline pump while watching, so I can see the fascination with it. And I definitely enjoyed watching that #43 Best Buy/Insignia Ford Fusion leading the freight train a few times. Still, give me a race where the drivers have more control of their destiny and I’ll be happier.
With only three starts at Talladega and finishes all in the 30-something range, AJ’s finish of 19th on Sunday actually wasn’t that bad. He was also the highest of the four RPM cars, but that was mostly due to him being the only one of the bunch that wasn’t involved in an accident. Getting in a wreck was one of the few things that the #43 team didn’t have to face during the race, even though there were a few close calls.
While AJ and spotter Tony managed to keep the Insignia car out of all the big pileups though, the team still had their share of trouble. Problems with the front shock rebound made it difficult for the front tire changers to pull the tires out of the wheel wells during pit stops and setting AJ back each time he made a stop.
Then there was some sort of hiccup with the fuel supply system on a restart that made the engine not run good. There was a moment of panic as the fuel pressure gauge bounced around before finally settling back into place, but unfortunately the sputtering car had lost the draft and was drifting further and further behind each lap. A timely caution saved AJ from going a lap down though, and the mysterious problem never resurfaced.
AJ did get some drafting help throughout the race from a somewhat unlikely source – the #18 JGR car of Kyle Busch. The two seemed to be very fast together, and AJ shot right to the front of the pack on several occasions. While the lead swapped back and forth often in the same lap, AJ was officially credited with leading at the line on three different occasions, for a total of five laps.
As the race wound down and the inevitable triple green-white-checker situation set itself up, AJ and the team faced the most troublesome of the problems that had plagued them all afternoon. For whatever reason, the motor in AJ’s car was very sluggish coming up through the gears. Once up to speed in the draft, he ran just fine.
On the final restart though, the #43 car just couldn’t get going and the line he was in wasn’t going to wait for him. He got left out in the cold and dropped like a rock through the pack, barely managing to latch on to the back end of the field. From there he had no one to draft with and move back up into the top 15 where he had spent most of the day.
AJ ended up finishing in 19th place, which really wasn’t indicative of how the Insignia Ford ran all day. But I said before the race that a good day at Dega for me means all the drivers get out of there safely, and that was achieved. Now onto Richmond and some REAL racing.