“Way to go Joe!” Can Joe Gibbs Racing Win Their Fifth Straight Race at Richmond?: Preview for Crown Royal Presents The Matthew And Daniel Hansen 400

Always Prepared: Whether it comes to football or racing, Joe Gibbs knows how to get his team ready.

There was a man that said, “A winning effort begins with preparation.” That man was hall of fame football coach and two-time championship NASCAR owner Joe Gibbs. When looking at the stats for this track, coach Gibbs is a man of his word. His teams have won the last four races at this track with drivers Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch (two wins each). A lot of time and effort goes into preparing for these races; and obviously the Joe Gibbs Racing teams are doing something right.

However, Joe Gibbs Racing has to watch out for Jimmie Johnson. His team is usually prepared and the five-time defending champ won three of the four races at Richmond from 2007 to 2008. Johnson is tied with Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. with the most wins at Richmond among all active drivers. Johnson’s team is a threat to win anywhere, as they have proven by winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship for the past five years. They also have momentum heading into this race. Two weeks ago, Johnson edged Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon in the closest finish in NASCAR history at Talladega. As a driver, what gets you more pumped up than that?

Richmond International Raceway has some of the most exciting action you will see in a NASCAR race. However, it is a “Jekyll-Hyde” track. In some stages of the race, you will see drivers two- and three-wide, and bouncing of each other in every turn. Then, once everything settles down, the field spreads out. For example the 2009 Crown Royal 400 had a track record 15 cautions, while last year’s race had only six cautions. Richmond usually provides some late race drama, as five of the last six races have had margins of victories of less than one second. Just look at the finish in the 2008 Crown Royal 400.

Kyle upsets Junior Nation

Denny Hamlin dominated the race only to have a tire go down with 20 to go. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the lead and was pulling away. With ten to go, Hamlin’s tire finally blew and brought out the caution. That set up a restart with five to go, and Kyle Busch would make one last attempt to get by Earnhardt. With two to go, Busch made his move. He dove low on Earnhardt in turn one, and the two drivers had a drag race down into turn three. Then, Kyle’s car got loose and drifted into Earnhardt. This caused Earnhardt to spin out, and Clint Bowyer passed both drivers to take the lead. Earnhardt’s spin brought out the caution and set up a Green-White-Checkered finish (NASCAR’s version of overtime). However, Busch’s car was never the same after the collision, and Bowyer was able to steal a win.

Favorites to Win:

The Favorites

Kyle Busch: He won two of the last four races at Richmond including last year’s Crown Royal 400. He also has the best average-finish here (5.5) among all active drivers in the past five years.

Denny Hamlin: He has won two of the last four races at Richmond and has the second best average-finish here (8.0) in the last five years.

Jimmie Johnson: He has three wins at Richmond which is tied for the most wins by any active driver at the track.

Other Drivers to Watch:

Juan Pablo Montoya: He was the fastest in final practice and he has finished in the top-ten in the last two races here.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: He is off to a strong start this year and he has three wins at Richmond as well. Does he end his 101-race winless streak?

Tony Stewart: He is the other driver with three wins here.

Clint Bowyer: He won here in 2008 and he has been the third best driver here in the past five years with an average finish of 9.8.

Dark Horses:

Marcos Ambrose: He has had some good runs this year and he has finished in the top-ten in the last two races at Richmond.

Mark Martin: He has not had a strong start, but he does have the fourth best average-finish here in the last five years.

My Pick:

Victory Lane: A Happy Place

Jimmie Johnson. I’m really going out on a limb with this pick. Not. He ended his winless streak two weeks ago, and now he has momentum coming to one one of his best tracks.

Stats Provided By: NASCAR.com, Motor Racing Network, and Jayski.com

Images Courtesy Of: USA Today (Johnson), i2.cdn.turner.com (Hamlin and Busch), Aroundthetrackonline.com (Gibbs), and Tqn.com (Junior Spin)

“There’s a First Time For Everything.”: The Nashville Predators Win Their First Ever Playoff Series

The Tiger?
Or the Monster?

Last year, the Nashville Predators faced the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Many people forget that this team had the Blackhawks “on the ropes”. In game 5, with less than a minute left in regulation, Nashville was winning 3-2 and the Blackhawks were shorthanded after a Marian Hossa penalty. If the Predators won, then they would head back to Nashville with a 3-2 series lead. The Predators seemed to be on their way to their first postseason series victory. However, Patrick Kane tied the game with 13 seconds left, and forced the game into over time. The goal ignited a fire under the Hawks as Marian Hossa would find redemption with the game-winning goal. We all know the rest of the story, as the Blackhawks went on to win the Stanley Cup.

This year, Predators head coach Barry Trotz started the season on the hot seat. Many people believed if Nashville could not make it further than the first round of the playoffs, then it was time for a change. Trotz is the second longest tenured coach in the NHL with 12 consecutive seasons behind the Predator’s bench. He has had a good career. Trotz has led his team to six playoff appearances in the last seven seasons (including this year). Could he finally lead his team to what has eluded him all of these years?

Well, you know what they say, “There’s a first time for everything.” Finally, the Predators reached the second round for the first time with their 4-2 win on Sunday in front of their home crowd. It took six games, but the Predators finally won a playoff series. What was nice to see for Nashville fans, is that it was a total team effort.

"United They Stand"

You had the stars: Shea Weber, Martin Erat, Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne, and Joel Ward. You had the old veterans of Steve Sullivan and David Legwand. You had Mike Fisher, the player they brought in at the trade deadline. Finally, the young guys stepped up as well, with Nick Spaling and Jerred Smithson scoring the game-winning goals in the last two games. Fisher has three goals and three assists to lead the team with six points. Weber has the best plus/minus rating with plus four, and is tied with Fisher and Ward for most goals on the team this series with three. Then you had the “energizer” Jordin Tootoo. He had a plus three rating, he was tied for the most assists on the team with four, he scored a key goal in game three, and he had been in the “sin bin” (penalty box) for 22 minutes this series.

What about Pekka Rinne? He has having the best season in his brief career. Many consider Rinne to be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, which is awarded to the best goalie. How good was Rinne? He averaged only giving up 2.12 goals per game, which was third best in the league, and he had a save percentage of 93% which was second in the league to Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins.

Rinne Stones the Ducks

Thomas actually broke the all-time save percentage record this year, but that is another story. He played in seven more games than Tim Thomas, so in my opinion he played better than Thomas, and deserves the Vezina trophy.

What about the Ducks? They were the fourth seed, which meant they had home field advantage in the first round. They had an amazing first line with Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, and Corey Perry. Perry was being considered for MVP, and Teemu Selanne, still playing well at 40 years old. Don’t forget about the “cinderella story” Ray Emery. He came in late in the season, and returned to the NHL after a one-year absence due to a serious hip injury. Emery carried the Ducks to the playoffs, and is now a finalist for the Masterton Trophy (award for “perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey”). The Ducks had returned to the playoffs after a surprisingly disappointing season last year. What went wrong for the Ducks?

Their defense. The Ducks gave up four goals in each of their four defeats this series. They gave up three goals or more in all six games. Unfortunately, the lack of depth did not help the Ducks either. They only have two quality lines. Defense and depth wins in the playoffs, and the Ducks had neither.

Series Recap

MVP: Mike Fisher

Best Goal: Bobby Ryan

Happiest Man in Nashville: Barry Trotz

Game One: Nashville starts fast by beating Anaheim 4-1. Mike Fisher scores twice and Pekka Rinne makes 27 saves to put up the Predators 1-0 in the series. Teemu Selanne scores the lone goal for the Ducks in third period.

Game Two: Anaheim responds by winning 5-3. The Ducks top line (Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan) scored four goals. Bobby Ryan had two goals including the empty netter to seal the deal, Corey Perry scored the first goal for the Ducks on a power play 5:24 into the game, and Ryan Getzlaf scored what turned out to be the game-winner with 4:06 left in the second period. Selanne scored his second goal of the series, and the Ducks second goal of the game on a power play 6:02 into the game. Shea Weber, Patric Hornqvist, and Joel Ward scored for Nashville. The series was knotted up at one as they headed to Nashville.

Game Three: This game was back and forth. The first two periods were like basketball. The Predators started fast with Martin Erat’s power play goal 15:00 into the game, and Jordin Tootoo’s goal 38 seconds later. In the second period, the Ducks responded with the Teemu Selanne show, as he scored two goals to tie the game. Then, in the third, David Legwand scored 5:25 into the frame to give the Predators a 3-2 lead. Matt Beleskey answered for the Ducks just over a minute later. With just under ten minutes left in regulation, Mike Fisher scored for the Predators as they retook the lead. Nashville tightened up their defense for the remainder of the game and gave the Predators a 2-1 series lead. Anaheim only had 16 shots on goal and hoped to get more offensive production in game four.

Game Four: Anaheim stepped up their game offensively and won 6-3 to even the series at two. Cam Fowler scored on a power play 4:41 into the game to give the Ducks a fast start. Saku Koivu scored 33 seconds later and gave the Ducks a two goal cushion. Patric Hornqvist scored 31 seconds later to stop the bleeding for Nashville, and Joel Ward tied the game 5:44 into the second period. Once again, the game would come down to the third period. That is when Anaheim took control and scored three goals in the period, which prompted Nashville coach Barry Trotz to yank Pekka Rinne. Corey Perry’s shorthanded goal 1:17 into the third was the game-winner. Anaheim looked forward to game five, as they would attempt to take the series lead in front of their home crowd.

Game Five:

Bobby Ryan has scored the sickest goal of the playoffs so far.

Everyone knew this would be a pivotal game in the series. The game would need overtime to determine a winner. Who would expect any less? The game was tied at one when the third period began. Just forty seconds into the frame, Bobby Ryan scored the best goal of the playoffs so far. He stole the puck in their own zone, deked David Legwand, and then performed a zig-zag maneuver between Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne. Since Ryan changed directions so quickly, Rinne was faked out, and that opened the door for Ryan. He buried the puck into the net and gave the Ducks the lead. Even though the goal appeared on Sportscenter a billion times, it ended up meaning nothing, because the two teams would go back and forth for the rest of the period. Who ended up scoring the game-winning goal? Jerred Smithson. Who? The third-line player became the unlikely hero of the game as he scored for the Predators 1:57 into overtime. Now, Nashville looked to close the series back home in game six.

Game Six: Meet Nick Spaling. Technically, this is Spaling’s second year playing, but this was his first full year in the league. Spaling is a defenseman for the Nashville Predators and he has only eight career goals. In game six, he made a name for himself, as he scored two goals, including the game-winner, to help the Predators win their first postseason series. Steve Sullivan and David Legwand also contributed in the Predators’ 4-2 victory. After the game, Trotz summarized their success by saying that it was a total team effort. He said, “That’s sort of what we do. That’s our DNA. To win this series, we needed everybody, and everybody contributed.”

Quote Provided by: NHL.com

Stats Provided by: NHL.com, Anaheim Ducks.com, and Nashville Predators.com

Images courtesy of: 1bp.blogspot.com (Predator), cdn.content.compendiumblog.com (Mascot), Artesiannews.com (Team), Ctpost.com (Rinne), and bleacherreport.net (Ryan)

Are You Ready For Some Football?!!!: The NFL Lockout Ends

Will there be a 2011 season Commisioner Goodell?

Great news football fans! Did you hear? The NFL lockout has ended. Well, for now at least. Earlier today, in St. Paul, Minnesota, US District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson granted the players their injunction, which meant she lifted the lockout. Unfortunately for fans, the NFL immediately demanded for an appeal, which means this dispute between the players and owners is far from over.

Why did Nelson decide to lift the lockout? Nelson believed that the players presented a strong argument about how the lockout was causing “irreparable upon them”. ESPN reported that she also wrote, “The public ramifications of this dispute exceed the abstract principles of the antitrust laws, as professional football involves many layers of tangible economic impact.” No kidding. Imagine how much money the NFL would lose if there is no season this year. According to the website KGB answers, the NFL has estimated revenues of six billion dollars annually. Most of us can only dream of having that much money.

Even though it seems that the NFL is making progress to having a 2011-2012 season, there are still many issues that need to be settled. Next up is the hearing on whether or not players should receive damages from the owners over broadcast revenue. That’s on May 16th. In addition, there is the antitrust lawsuit where Tom Brady and Peyton Manning take on the owners, and the appeal on Nelson’s decision. The future of the 2011 NFL season seems grim, but at least now fans have hope.

Quotes provided by: ESPN

Image courtesy of: 6magazine.com (Goodell)

Capitals “Semint” Themselves Into the Second Round: Capitals-Rangers Series Recap

Yesterday, the Washington Capitals eliminated the New York Rangers with a 3-1 victory in front of their home crowd.

Mike Green brings the crowd to their feet.

Defenseman, Mike Green brought the crowd to their feet after scoring a power play goal just under six minutes into the game. After the goal, a brawl ensued between the two teams when Brandon Dubinsky shoved the Capitals’ Brook Laich into the crossbar. The fans were then treated to some “old time hockey”, as they witnessed a scene that resembled the movie Slap Shot. Six players fought, but only four roughing penalties were handed out, and the Rangers received an extra penalty for instigating the battle royal.

The first period would end with the Capitals on top 1-0. Then, seven minutes and four seconds into the second period, Ovechkin added another highlight-reel goal to his career when he blew past Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, and deked goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to light the lamp for the third time this series.

Another crazy Ovechkin celebration.

That goal ended up being the game winner, but the goal that ended the hopes of all Rangers fans was Semin’s third period dagger. The Rangers were trying to pull their goalie out in order to attempt a rally. It was a desperate time as the Rangers faced elimination. Unfortunately for the Rangers, Lundqvist was never able to leave the net. Capitals winger Marco Sturm fed a long pass to Marcus Johannson, and that gave Washington the numbers. Johannson led a “two-on-one” opportunity and set up Semin for the “one-timer” that blew past Lundqvist. It was the first time that the Capitals finished a series in five games, and now the team has been awarded a long rest before the second round. When Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau was asked about their unfamiliar position, he said, “We’ve never done it before. I’ll have to give my head a shake when I wake up tomorrow, and wonder where we’re supposed to be playing.”

Before, when you heard “Alexander the Great” in Washington D.C., Caps fans were referring to Alexander Ovechkin. Now, they have two “Alexander the Greats”, as Alexander Semin emerged as one of the Capitals best players.

Semin has been a solid player for the Capitals. He has had a plus/minus rating of at least +22 in his last three seasons, including a +36 rating last year. However, the motto in sports is “What have you done for me lately?”, and before this series, Capitals fans remember that Semin was neutralized by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Semin failed to score a single goal against the Canadiens; after scoring 40 goals in the regular season. Last year, the Capitals and Semin were disappointments in the playoffs, as they were upset by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round.

This year, Semin and the Capitals were on a quest for redemption. Semin was clutch in game one of this series, when he scored the game-winner in overtime against the Rangers.

The Alexander Show: Semin and Ovechkin have helped the Capitals advance to the second round.

Semin is tied with Ovechkin, who many people consider to be the best player in hockey, with the most goals in this series with three. Semin also never had a minus rating in any of the five games this series. Ovechkin and Semin need to continue to score in order to give the Capitals a shot at winning the Stanley Cup.

Series Recap

Game One: In a defensive struggle, the Capitals found themselves trailing in the third period after the Rangers Matt Gilroy scored less than two minutes into the third. The Capitals remained persistent and Ovechkin tied the game with just under six minutes remaining in regulation. The game would go into overtime, and Semin finished the comeback with his game-winner.

Game Two: Rookie goaltender Michael Neuvirth has a spectacular game by shutting out the Rangers in a 2-0 victory. Game one was the Alexander show, and game two would be the Jason show as Jason Arnott and Jason Chimera scored for the Capitals.

Game Three:

Dubinsky gave the Rangers hope with his game-winning goal in game three.

The series visited Madison Square Garden for the first time and the Rangers crowd hoped to rally their team. It was a back and forth game. It appeared the two teams would head for another overtime game. However, the Rangers were able to feed off the energy from the crowd, and Brandon Dubinsky scored the game-winner with only 1:39 remaining in the game.

Jason Chimera demoralizes the Rangers with his game-winner.

Game Four: By far, the most entertaining game of the series. This game needed to double overtime to determine a winner. The Rangers had a strong start and led the game 3-0 after two periods. The Capitals refused to lose. For the second time this series, the Capitals showed adversity and tied the game. Marcus Johannson provided a much needed spark for the team as he scored twice in the third. No one was able to score in the first overtime, but Chimera was finally able to break Lundqvist with his game-winner. New York was demoralized.

Game Five: Neuvirth nearly comes up with a shutout and the big names come up huge for the Capitals. Green, Ovechkin, and Semin all score to help their team advance to the second round.

Key Moment of the Series: The big comeback. Marcus Johannson rallied the Capitals in the third period of game four, and Chimera finished the comeback with his game-winner.

Coach Tortorella cannot be too happy with his team after blowing two games.

Person Most Upset on the Rangers: Coach John Tortorella, the Rangers gave this series away. They had the Capitals had leads in games one and four, but ended losing both of those games in overtime. Their game four performance was disappointing and heartbreaking for their fans.

Quote provided by: ESPN

Stats provided by: NHL.com

Images courtesy of: Rootzoo.com (Angry Tortorella), Media.mercedasunstar.com (Ovechkin and Backstrom Celebration), Foxkansas.com (Semin and Ovechkin), Media.northjersey.com (Dubinsky), and Russianmachineneverbreaks.com (Chimera)

Miami Slice!: Brandon Marshall Released from Hospital One Day After Wife Stabs Him

The lockout is causing all kinds of problems for NFL players. According to a report from Sports Illustrated, ten players have been arrested during the lockout. Now you can start adding players’ wives to the list as well, after Miami Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall was stabbed by his wife. Last night, in Southwest Ranches, Florida, emergency services were contacted after the stabbing with a 911 call from the Marshall residence. However, according to ESPN, emergency services were “turned away” when they offered a ride to the hospital.  Instead one of Marshall’s friends, identity unknown at this time, drove him to Broward General Hospital in Fort Lauderdale. So what happened?

According to the Broward County police report, Marshall originally told police that he slipped and fell onto a broken glass vase. However, after further investigation, the Broward County police found out Brandon was lying after they could not find blood in the area described to them. They decided to ask Michi Nogami-Marshall, Brandon’s wife, a few questions to find out what really happened.

Michi and Brandon have a violent history.

Nogami-Marshall confessed that she stabbed Brandon with a kitchen knife and claimed it was because of self-defense. As a result of this confession, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Broward County Sheriff’s office then arrested Nogami-Marshall, and charged her with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon in connection of the stabbing. Self-defense, that rings a bell, doesn’t it?

CBS Sports columnist Mike Freeman noticed that Brandon Marshall has been in altercations with women before. In 2007, Marshall was arrested for domestic violence against then-girlfriend Rasheeda Watley. The charges were dropped, but then a year later he was accused of battery by Watley. According to ESPN, the Marshalls have a history of their own as well. In 2009, just weeks after getting engaged, they were seen hitting and kicking each other outside of Brandon’s condo in Atlanta, Georgia. What have we learned about Brandon?

Brandon Marshall is not a good “people” person. He has had disputes with multiple women, and he had issues in the NFL as well. Just look at the 2009-2010 season. First it was Marshall had a feud with former Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels. After quarterback Jay Cutler was traded to the Chicago Bears, he wanted to be traded.

Brandon Marshall was not smiling Friday.

The Broncos refused to grant his wish, so Marshall rebelled by not showing any effort or desire to be a part of the team. Marshall was punished for his actions by being suspended for most of training camp. Later, in that same season, Marshall got into an altercation with teammate Knowshon Moreno during a game against the San Diego Chargers. After the running back fumbled at the goal line; the two players shoved each other and Marshall spit on Moreno. No class. To finish off the 2009-2010 season, Marshall was benched by McDaniels for insubordination. Last year, he was finally traded to the Miami Dolphins.

Marshall has been compared to Randy Moss. Both players are very talented receivers, and both are deemed “cancers” to the locker room. Is Marshall a cancer to his team? Yes, he has been too big of a distraction to his team with his incidents on and off the field; and he is not a good teammate. If Marshall does not get his act together, then he will be a cancer to society as well.

Images Courtesy of: Helmet2helmet.net (Brandon Marshall) and the Sun-Sentinel.com (Michi)

History!!! Talladega Makes History for the Second Year In a Row as Jimmie Johnson wins by .002 Seconds!

The Closest Finish in History. Two thousandths of a Second!!!

This was a win that Jimmie Johnson will never forget. With two laps to go, Johnson seemed down and out as he was running 12th. Then, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Johnson’s teammate, said it was go time and latched onto Johnson’s bumper. When the white flag waved, Johnson was back in the seventh and catching the two-car tandem of Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle. Edwards led with two to go, but Jeff Gordon had just taken the lead away from him with one lap to go. Meanwhile, up front, there were four drivers in two two-car tandems. Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer, and Kevin Harvick were fighting for the win. None of them saw Johnson coming.

Making their Move

Coming out of turn four, Gordon was still in the lead. When the leaders entered the tri-oval, Bowyer pulled along side Gordon. Earnhardt and Johnson were now right behind them, and Edwards and Biffle were coming fast. In the center of the tri-oval, Johnson made it three-wide for the lead, and now Bowyer was in the lead.

Mad Dash

It was a mad dash to the finish line. Ten feet before the finish line, Bowyer was the leader, but in the blink of an eye, Johnson nipped Bowyer at the line by .002 seconds, and Gordon right behind Bowyer. That margin tied the closest finish in NASCAR history. The win gave Johnson his first of the season and his second career win at Talladega.

Two-car tandems were the story of the day. The 30-car packs were a thing of the past with this new style of racing that was introduced in February. Drivers found a partner and worked with them for most of or the entire race. Teamwork is key now at restrictor-plate races. Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. worked together all day; and in the end, it paid off, as Earnhardt Jr. pushed Johnson the push to victory. Johnson knew he would not have won without the help of his teammate. So after the race, he gave Earnhardt the checkered flag. Johnson said, “Can’t thank Junior enough. They are responsible for this win today.”

Earnhardt’s winless streak now stands at 101 races. However, he was still pleased with the outcome of the race. Earnhardt said, “If I couldn’t win the race, then I wanted Jimmie to win the race because I worked with him all day and he’s my teammate, and I wanted him to the race.”

Bowyer was devastated. He was so close to winning, only to have it taken away from him at the finish line. Bowyer had led the most laps of the race, and was trying to win two cup races in a row at Talladega. A disappointed Bowyer said, “What a bummer. I saw him coming. We (Bowyer and Harvick) did everything we could do. Circumstances man, I saw them coming in the mirror.”

“The Big One” is a crash of ten cars or more and is always associated with Daytona and Talladega. There was no “Big One” this time at Talladega, but that did not mean they did not try to have one. Drivers Jeff Burton and Ryan Newman made spectacular saves in the late stages of the race to prevent the “Big One” from happening. However, there were two little ones.

If there was an award for worst driver of the race, then Kurt Busch definitely won that award. He spun three people out and the wrecks he caused took out eight cars.

Help me Tom Cruise!!!

On lap 90, Busch accidentally turned his teammate Brad Keselowski, and triggered a five-car wreck which also collected Kasey Kahne, David Ragan, Marcos Ambrose, and Daytona 500-winner Trevor Bayne. Kahne ended up with the most damage as his nose was crunched, and his car exploded into flames at the entrance of pit road.

Wrong way, Kyle.

The other little one occurred on lap 140. Teammates wrecked each other again. This time Joey Logano turned Kyle Busch and triggered a four-car wreck which also took out Matt Kenseth, A.J. Allmendinger, and Denny Hamlin (Logano’s other teammate).

Even though Talladega did not produce the big wreck, the race was still entertaining. The Aaron’s 499 was not perfect, but it had its moments. What was boring? Only six cautions and no 30-car pack. What was exciting? The 88 lead changes which tied the all-time record set here last year, the little ones, and the three-wide photo finish, which ended up being only the closest finish in history. Every NASCAR fan will be talking about this finish for the rest of their lives. Talladega always provides excitement. The last eight races at the track have all been decided on the final lap. Enough said. If you are into racing, then Talladega is the place to go.

Images Courtesy of: Autoracingdaily.com (Kyle’s spin), Globaltvcalgary.com (Kahne on fire), brusimm.com (Race-winning move), 26.media.tumblr.com (Cars coming to the line), Hailfaxareanewswatch.com (Grandstand Photo Finish Shot), and media.kansascity.com (Flag Stand Picture of Finish)

Quotes Courtesy of: Fox Sports and ESPN

“It’s Anyone’s Race.”: Preview for NASCAR’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega

Last year, ESPN came up with a new slogan for their NASCAR Nationwide Series campaign. I wonder if they had Talladega in mind when they came up with “It’s anyone’s race”.

Talladega: The Most Competitive Track in the World

Ever since NASCAR mandated teams to put the restrictor plate in their cars, Talladega has been known as the most competitive track on the circuit.

Talladega has always been known for exciting racing and “The Big One”. NASCAR on Fox commentator, Mike Joy said, “Every lap at Talladega could be the one you remember most for the rest of your life.” If you look in the record books, you will see Talladega pop up. In 2007, Talladega Superspeedway set records for most lead changes and highest number of leaders in a NASCAR Nationwide Series race with 36 lead changes among 20 different leaders. Last year, the Sprint Cup series broke the old record of 75 lead changes (also held at Talladega) in the Aaron’s 499 by swapping the lead 88 times. Twenty-nine different drivers led in last year’s Aaron’s 499 which also set a record. Talladega has produced some exciting finishes. Last year, every race held there was decided on the final lap. The Aaron’s 499 has been decided on the final lap the last two years.

Major Air!

In 2009, Brad Keselowki was pushing Carl Edwards towards the checkered flag, until he decided to dart low with half a straightaway left. Edwards went to block, but he was a little too late and spun himself out. Then, Ryan Newman hit Edwards and launched him into the air towards the main grandstand. Edwards’ car bounced off the catchfence and remained on the track. Edwards hopped out of his burning car and did his Ricky Bobby impersonation by sprinting across the finish line and bowing to the crowd.

Wow
Photo Finish

Last year, Kevin Harvick pushed Jamie McMurray until he could see the checkered flag. Then Harvick dove high, and in doing so he clipped McMurray’s car which caused him to get loose and slow down. Harvick kept the “pedal to the metal”, and clipped McMurray in a photo finish. The margin of victory was only .011 seconds, which was the eighth closest finish in NASCAR history.

Besides the finishes, everyone remembers “The Big One”.

2005 Big One

At Talladega and Daytona, NASCAR races a restrictor plate, which restricts speeds, and keeps all of the drivers in a tight pack. Mike Joy summarized this racing best as “Bumper-to-bumper, rush hour traffic at 200 miles per hour.” This kind of racing wears out the drivers mentally, and fatigue usually causes errors in judgment, thus creating “The Big One”. One driver’s mistake can take out half of the field. In the 2003 Aaron’s 499, the Cup series had a 30-car pileup, which by the way is another record. This crash takes out 10 or more drivers. We have also seen crashes at Talladega containing 20 or more drivers. Will “The Big One” strike again this year?

What to watch for:

The Big One: The crash that every fan wants to see and that no driver wants to be a part of.

Two-car Tandems:

Bump Drafting

Lately, we have see this phenomenon in restrictor plate racing. This is where two cars hook up together and fly through and away from the pack at 210 mph, until the driver’s cars begin to overheat causing them to separate. When they separate, the pack eats them up and those drivers have to start over and try working their way through the field again.

The Yellow Line: Only Daytona and Talladega have the double yellow line, which means out-of-bounds in NASCAR. Any pass made under the yellow line results in a penalty.

Favorites: At this race track, anyone can win, but here are some of the drivers who have had the most success here.

Jimmie Johnson: He has the best average finish here among all cup drivers in the past five years, and won here in 2006.

Kyle Busch: The 2008 winner of this race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: He has won here five times.

Jeff Gordon: He has won at this track six times, which is the most among active drivers.

Kevin Harvick: He won this race last year, finished second in the last race here, and won the summer race at Daytona. He is also one of the best restrictor-plate racers out there.

Jamie McMurray: He nearly won this race last year, he won the fall race at Talladega in 2009, and he won last year’s Daytona 500.

Clint Bowyer: He won the last race at Talladega.

Others to watch:

Trevor Bayne: He won this year’s Daytona 500.

Kurt Busch: He won the Budweiser Shootout and his Gatorade Duel at Daytona this year.

Jeff Burton: He won his Duel race at Daytona this year and usually has good cars here. Unfortunately, bad luck has haunted him the past few races here.

Denny Hamlin: Just like Burton, good cars, but has had bad luck here.

Tony Stewart: He won here in the 2008 fall race. He has won many races at Daytona.

Matt Kenseth: He has had strong runs here, but has bad luck recently. He won the 2009 Daytona 500.

Dark Horses:

David Ragan: He has a Nationwide Series win here, and he has the fourth best average finish here among all cup drivers in the past five years.

Joey Logano: He has the third best average finish here among all cup drivers in the past five years.

Brad Keselowski: He won this race in 2009, and has the second best average finish here in the past five years. He also won last year’s Nationwide race.

Michael Waltrip: He is a two-time Daytona 500 winner and has one win here. He is also just racing part-time, which means he is just going for the win.

Juan Pablo Montoya: He has finished third in the last two races here; and has the fifth best average finish here in the past five years.

Regan Smith: He crossed the finish line first in the 2008 fall race, but he went out-of-bounds, so the win was taken away and given to Stewart. He also had a strong car at Daytona.

Martin Truex Jr.: He won two Nationwide races here, and he also had a strong car at Daytona.

My Pick:

Earnhardt!!!!!!!

JUNIOR!!!!!! He is the most popular driver in NASCAR and he has gone winless in his past 100 races. This is Dale Earnhardt Junior’s favorite track. He has the equipment behind him with Rick Hendrick Motorsports. Now, he has to get the job done. It is now or never for Earnhardt.

Images courtesy of: Iracing.com (Earnhardt), Fotothing.com (Two-car Tandems), I2.cdn.turner.com (Photo Finish), Roundofwedge.com (2010 Aaron’s 499 Pack), USA Today.net (2009 Big One), Media.lawrence.com (2005 Big One), and Canttim.com (Edwards flying toward the stands)

Stats provided by: NASCAR.com, Jayski.com and Motorracingnetwork.com