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The two-car draft was back Sunday afternoon at the Talladega Superspeedway. Along with it came the unique challenges it presents to drivers as they try to push their drafting partners to the front with limited visibility and the risk of hitting them off-center and spinning them out. Throughout the day, all three Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas took their turn at the front of the pack as they worked together in the draft.
Denny Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota in the 29th position, but quickly made it to the front early in the day. As was the case for many drivers, Hamlin would charge to the front, then drop to the rear as other cars found momentum in the two-car tandem draft. He found himself working with the No. 39 car for much of the race, which proved successful until the No. 39 had trouble late in the event. Hamlin avoided several incidents, but received minor damage to his car in the final incident of the day with roughly 15 laps to go. The FedEx Office crew was able to repair the car sufficiently for the final run at the win. With four laps remaining, Hamlin was hooked with JGR teammate Joey Logano in 12th place, but lost the draft when he got out of the throttle to avoid the No. 34 car who almost spun ahead of him. Hamlin would end up 23rd. The finish enabled Hamlin to gain three spots in the point standings, moving to 17th.
Kyle Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Pretzel Candies Toyota in the 34th position and made it clear that he had a car capable of running up front and winning the race. Busch led several laps and spent many more pushing other cars to the first position. On lap 140 misfortunes struck Busch while he was being pushed by teammate Joey Logano. As Busch and Logano shot to the high side in tandem to pass another pair of drivers, their bumpers made contact off of center sending the No. 18 car spinning into traffic in the low line and eventually into the wall down the backstretch. The incident is often unavoidable given the type of racing seen at restrictor plate races with the current rule package. Neither driver considered the other to be at fault. The crew was able to make enough repairs to the car to return to the race for a few laps before finally settling for a 35th place finish. His troubles relegated him to 6th place in the series point standings.
Joey Logano started the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota in the 36th position and was able to clinch his first top-10 finish of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Logano showed patience and skill on Sunday. At times he would suggest to his veteran drafting partners that they hold steady together at the back of the pack to avoid the mayhem of the lead group. Other times during the race, Logano charged to the front, leading laps and gaining one bonus point in his Race to the Chase. Near the end of the race, Logano had positioned himself perfectly to make a charge for the win with teammate Denny Hamlin. However, when Hamlin became disconnected from the draft, Logano’s momentum was interrupted and he was forced to pair with the No. 34 car. When the checkered flag flew Logano was in 10th and had gained four spots in the point standings to 24th.
In one of the closest finishes in NASCAR history Jimmie Johnson captured the victory, while Clint Bowyer was second, Jeff Gordon third, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fourth and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five. There were 6 cautions for a total of 24 laps and 88 lead changes among 24 different drivers over the course of the 188-lap race.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will take a week off to celebrate the Easter holiday, before returning to Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night, April 30. The race in Richmond will begin at 7:30 PM ET with live, high-definition coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 7 PM ET. The NASCAR Nationwide Series will run next week in Nashville on Saturday, April 23 at 3 PM televised live on ESPN starting at 2 PM.
Kyle Busch wins his first race at Talladega!
It appeared that Kyle Busch’s day was over. After being involved in a multi-car accident on lap 89 of Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, Busch’s No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota was a mangled mess, so much so that he was ready to take his car to the garage area so that his crew could load it up and get a head start on their trip home.
But crew chief Jason Ratcliff had other ideas. The veteran race-caller brought Busch to pit road where a swarm of Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) crewmen went to work on repairing the Z-Line Designs Camry. Quick and tenacious effort during a series of stops allowed Busch to rejoin the field without losing a lap. And with 32 laps remaining in a car seemingly held together with duct tape and sheer will, Busch rallied his way to the front with JGR teammate Joey Logano pushing him from behind.
With a shove from Logano, Busch took the lead down the backstretch of the 2.66-mile oval and kept it when a melee erupted behind him that sent Mike Wallace’s car airborne. With NASCAR having already attempted to finish the race under green twice before, this caution provided the third and final strike. The race ended under caution with the field frozen just before entering turns three and four. Busch was clearly the leader when the caution flag waved, and after leading only three laps on three separate occasions – all before lap 36 – Busch was the leader on the lap that mattered most, allowing him to secure his fourth Nationwide Series win of the season and his second Nationwide Series win in a restrictor-plate race.
“That’s why you never give up,” said spotter Eddie D’Hondt as soon as Busch crossed the start/finish line.
“I got hit like three times on the left side and I thought it was killed. I said it was killed,” Busch remarked. “These guys did a great job putting it back together with great leadership from Jason Ratcliff. This Z-Line Designs Camry doesn’t look the best, but it was certainly the best right there at the end, especially with the guy that was pushing me.
“Joey was a great teammate today. Can’t thank everybody from the whole JGR organization. They guys on that ‘20’ car (Logano), they deserve to win just as much as we do right here. This is a team win and it’s cool to get it here. Finally, I won a Nationwide race here, so now I completed the sweep at Talladega. It’s cool to run the Nationwide Series. I love doing it and love winning, too.”
Prior to Saturday, Busch’s best Nationwide Series result at Talladega was a third-place finish in 2006. While winless in Nationwide Series competition, he did have two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victories (October 2009 and October 2010) and one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win (April 2008).
“We had a steady racecar,” Busch said. “It was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time and getting the right push when it mattered most. Fortunately, we got it there with Joey. We were kind of working with some other people throughout the day just to see what we could figure out and what we could learn. When it came down toward the end, it was really good for us to get teamed up and for us to try to keep getting in each other’s lane so we could get the push draft going as soon as we could after the restarts.”
“I was committed to pushing him and we were going to get all the way to the front one way or the other, and then battle it out to the checkered flag,” Logano said. “But the caution came out there at the end, and all I know is I saw a car go upside down in my mirror. We were beating the heck out of these poor cars. I got hit in the door, the A-post is falling apart, the bumper is falling off every car – it was crazy out there.”
“This Z-Line Designs Toyota Camry was awesome today,” Busch added. “We had the wreck on the backstretch and I thought we were done. I said, ‘The only reason I’m going to stop is because you guys are before the garage area.’ I stopped and these guys said we could fix it. They detailed it up for me and gave it a spit shine and threw some duct tape on it and let her eat. Fortunately, it was still fast enough to where we could run up front.”
“Out of all the race tracks you go to, this place and Daytona, you spend so much time getting the bodies right, straight, and you look at this thing and you can’t believe it can even run minimal speed,” said Ratcliff as he surveyed the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota from his perch in victory lane. “Great job by the guys on pit road. Came in there, three corners were knocked off of it, the crush panels were falling out of it – it was a mess. They did a great job of orchestrating the repairs to keep from losing a lap.
“Like Kyle said, you have to have a teammate and, thankfully, Joey was committed there at the end to stand behind us and push us. He felt comfortable there and that’s the only way we were going to win it. Thanks to those guys and the ‘20’ team for their hard work. If they didn’t have a fast racecar then we wouldn’t have won it either. It was a total team effort.
“This is the ugliest racecar we’ve ever had in victory lane. To think you could do it at a restrictor-plate race – maybe it’s a new car thing. Maybe we need to come down pit road next time on the first stop and knock all the fenders off of it and be done with it. Fun day.”
Busch now has 92 victories across NASCAR’s top three divisions (Sprint Cup – 20; Nationwide – 47; Camping World Truck – 25). He is now just three wins shy of breaking the all-time Nationwide Series win record of 49, currently held by Mark Martin.
Logano came home second to give JGR a 1-2 finish, while Brian Scott, driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry for JGR, finished 11th. Both drivers overcame incidets and car damage earlier in the race to post these impressive finishes.
Veteran Joe Nemechek secured third place, while Brad Keselowski and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top-five. Trevor Bayne, Justin Allgaier, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Reed Sorenson and Aric Almirola comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 11 caution periods for 38 laps, with 16 drivers failing to finish the 124-lap race, which was extended seven laps past its originally scheduled distance by a green-white-checkered finish.
There was a record 56 lead changes, besting the previous Nationwide Series record of 36 lead changes set at Talladega on April 28, 2007.
The next event on the Nationwide Series schedule is the April 23 Nashville 300 at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway. The race starts at 3 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with its pre-race show at 2 p.m.
Denny Hamlin Quotes
Do you think Talladega owes you a win after leading so many laps at the track?
“You can never expect anything at Talladega other than you are going to need a great car and a good amount of luck. We’ve improved so much here over the years and we now come to Talladega thinking we can run up front and our record here shows that we can. It’s a matter of getting that strategy just right so when the time comes you know you are ready to go. If we can keep our car out of trouble at Talladega, I think we’ll have as good of a chance as anyone to win there.
Was your best chance to win at Talladega last spring?
I think we had a race-winning car there last year and it was frustrating to finish fourth. With the cautions and the restarts at the end we just lost those couple of spots and we couldn’t make our way back to the front. For as good as we ran all day, it was the cautions that killed us and we really just needed one more corner and I think we could have won that race. I couldn’t ask any more from the team, we had a great car. It just came down to where we were when those cautions came out. I know what I need to do this time around.”
Texas Recap: Denny Hamlin and the FedEx Racing team recorded a 15th-place finish Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway. Hamlin, who swept both races at Texas in 2010, fought a loose race car throughout the 334-lap event, lost a lap to the leaders during a long green flag run in the race’s midpoint and never got a timely caution while in position for the “lucky dog.” Carrying a special FedEx Office/March of Dimes paint scheme, Hamlin was the highest-finishing Toyota driver in the race. The 15th-place result dropped Hamlin one spot to 20th in the NASCAR point standings following Texas, 82 points behind leader Carl Edwards.
Talladega Time: The Sprint Cup Series heads to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway this weekend for Sunday’s 188-lap event on the 2.66-mile high-banked oval. In 10 career Talladega starts, Hamlin has recorded three top-five and four top-10 finishes. His best result of third came in the spring 2008 event, and he finished in the top-10 in both races at Talladega in 2010 — fourth in the spring and ninth in the fall. The Chesterfield, Va., native has led at least one lap in all 10 of his starts at Talladega, and has led more than 10 laps in six events, including 17 laps one year ago. In total, Hamlin has led 196 laps at NASCAR’s longest track, with an average finish of 18.3.
Special Scheme: The #11 Toyota will carry a special paint scheme for the second consecutive weekend, as the familiar black and blue FedEx Office colors turn blue and white to coincide with the “Print Big, Save Big” sale currently running at all FedEx Office locations.
Kyle Busch Quotes
What are your thoughts going into Talladega this weekend?
“It’s going to be a crapshoot. You have no idea what’s going to happen or how it’s going to happen. For us, what do we worry about going there? We just worry about surviving and trying to survive with our M&M’s Pretzel Camry. Right now, with the way that we saw the race play out in Daytona, we’re expecting the same thing – NASCAR is expecting the same thing and that’s why we had the restrictor-plate change, already. They’re being a little bit proactive in that, and allowing us to get some testing done – some dyno testing with the smaller plate so we can be ready for that aspect. I expect speeds to be higher because we’ll be pushing all the way around. Other than that, it’s just Talladega.”
How do you think the new restrictor-plate size will impact the racing at Talladega?
“I think what they are looking for is just to keep the speeds down, obviously, with how we all figured out how to push draft. They were expecting the speeds. We didn’t push draft all that much last year at Talladega. They’re going to be expecting us to do that. They’re going to be expecting the speeds to be higher. They’re just being a little proactive there. No problem in doing that. I think it’s actually a smart idea rather than changing it on us when we do get to the racetrack. They did a good job. I don’t think it will change much. The racing will stay the same. The push draft will still be there. Essentially, the dynamic of the race like it was in Daytona will be the same in Talladega.”
Who is your favorite drafting partner at Talladega?
“I don’t know, since things were so different at Daytona. I’ve drafted well with a lot of people over the past, but I would say (Juan Pablo) Montoya helped me win the race I won at Talladega a couple of years ago. Jimmie (Johnson) is always pretty good to draft with. My brother (Kurt Busch), as well, but many more than that. It just all depends on which other cars end up working well with your car. Aside from our teammates, we had about another 10 guys who we thought would work with us in our radio at Daytona, so I’ll expect we will figure out what other car works well with our car during practice and during the first part of the race.”
Does being a former race winner at Talladega offer you any sort of advantage over the competition?
“It doesn’t matter at all. It’s such a crapshoot there in the last 20, 30 or 40 laps that you never really know who is going to win, what’s going to happen, and where the wreck is going to come from.”
What does it mean to be up toward the lead in points this early in the season?
“It is early, but we’re excited about it. We feel like it’s a great opportunity to be up front and have some good results. Unfortunately, our engine failure at Las Vegas kind of set us back a little bit. We’ve been able to rebound nicely and get back up to the points lead and we’re not too far back headed into this weekend. I feel good with where we’re at. I feel really good with where the cars are at. I think that’s the most important thing. If we can keep building upon this momentum and our recent success, then we can keep that going all year, hopefully.”
Kyle Busch: Rolling the Dice
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (April 12, 2011) – Las Vegas native Kyle Busch might know a thing or two about “rolling the dice,” but heading into this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron’s 499 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, there might be no track on the circuit that’s as much of a “crapshoot” as the mammoth 2.66-mile oval.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Pretzel Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has conquered Talladega just once in his career, his lone win coming in April 2008. But, with only three other top-15 finishes and three Talladega outings that ended in an accident for Busch, the talented 25-year-old knows the winner of Sunday’s 499-mile race will need to have a strong car and be lucky in order to survive the seemingly inevitable multicar accident if he is to find victory again at NASCAR’s longest track.
And as if the challenges of the past weren’t enough for teams to navigate, a completely new style of restrictor-plate racing was introduced at this year’s season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway as a new front bumper replaced what was an important but fragile front splitter on Sprint Cup Series cars this year. With that front-end design change came a whole new phenomenon of racing at the restrictor-plate tracks. Until this year, the typical race at Daytona and Talladega would feature lengthy lines of cars that would bunch together, mere inches apart. But the new look to restrictor-plate racing, as seen at Daytona, involves cars running in pairs, almost as if the rear of the lead car is connected to the front bumper of the car following.
It’s a style of racing no driver or team has seen before. And everyone, including Busch and the M&M’s Pretzel team, look to learn more as the two-car draft evolves, and how it might be different this weekend at Talladega than it was in February at Daytona. Furthermore, unlike most everywhere else on the Sprint Cup circuit, the competitors know their fate depends on other drivers, oftentimes not even their teammates, if they want to find success in this new style of restrictor-plate racing.
If Busch has learned anything at the restrictor-plate tracks, it’s that you have to be good to be lucky. He knows he has great equipment underneath him, thanks to the No. 18 M&M’s Pretzel Toyota provided to him by JGR. He also knows he’ll need to slice and dice, and find the right draft partner to help him land on the right number, which first means surviving Talladega, and second, having a chance at repeating his lone triumph there from three years ago.
Joey Logano Quotes
“I’m expecting Talladega to be a lot like Daytona this weekend. Everyone will be pushing each other around the track in the two-car tandems. To be successful at this type of racing you really have to set your car up to be pushed and be able to push the car in front of you. It’s a fine balance.
“At the end of Daytona, I figured some things out so The Home Depot Toyota could push cars longer. I also think everyone learned a lot from Daytona. I’m sure teams have figured out how to keep the engines cooler to push longer without having to switch so much, so I don’t think you will see as many tandems stalling out as often and getting freight trained. The good thing about Talladega is that it’s wider than Daytona, so when you get a run on a group there’s more room to pass them. It should, and hopefully help, eliminate many of the wrecks we saw in Daytona.”
The Home Depot Team Notes of Interest
- Joey Logano and The Home Depot Team return to Talladega Superspeedway where Logano has earned three top-10 finishes in just four starts at the Alabama track. The 20-year-old finished fifth in his last race at Talladega in October where the front five cars, including The Home Depot Toyota, broke away from the pack as they took the white flag of the 188-lap event. Instead of seeing how the chess match would play out the caution flag waved ending the race. Logano was unable to make his run at the top spot, but earned the top-five finish.
- About last weekend: Logano would prefer to have no luck rather than the hand he’s been dealt for the first part of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Logano and The Home Depot Team were once again caught up in an accident not of their own making early in the Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night when the No. 20 car was hit on pit road by David Reutimann. Despite valiant attempts to get back onto the lead lap, the team could not recover from the early race deficit and eventually finished the race in 24th position.
- Lights, camera, action! Logano along with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitors Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart will be at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Tuesday filming an upcoming episode for A&E’s The Glades. The Glades, a one-hour long crime drama, is the highest rated original program for the network.
- The Home Depot Team is tied for 27th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings following the race at Texas Motor Speedway. Logano is 30 points behind teammate Denny Hamlin who sits 20th in points, and 69 points out of the top10.
- Welcome aboard The Home Depot associates from store #2608 from Quincy, Mass. The store number will draft along with Logano this weekend on the rear quarter panel of The Home Depot Toyota.
- The No. 20 Home Depot Team is taking chassis #293 to Talladega Superspeedway this weekend for the restrictor-plate race. Logano drove this chassis in the season-opening Daytona 500 where the No. 2 car spun late in the race and clipped the right rear of the No. 20 Camry causing extensive damage. Logano came into the pits for repairs and was able to finish in the 23rd position. The back-up chassis is chassis #212 which Logano drove in the 2010 Daytona 500.
- To access information on The Home Depot Team visit: www.joegibbsracing.com and follow twitter.com/homedepotracing, twitter.com/joegibbsracing andtwitter.com/jlogano.
“I celebrated with two of them last year, one after I won the pole and one after I won the race,” said Gresham, who wheeled his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to both honors in the 2010 South Boston 150. “They are quite good. Hopefully, I’ll get to have a couple again this year.”
restart at the end of the race that I wasa little worried about. I have to thank Cole for racing me clean.” Gresham will be looking to extend his streak of top-finishes at South Boston to three this Saturday. In addition to last year’s victory, Gresham had a fifth-place finish in his NASCAR K&N Pro Series debut at South Boston in 2009.