TALLADEGA, Ala. — The championship contenders said Talladega Superspeedway would be the wild-card race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
That was an understatement.
Talladega delivered yet another “big one” Sunday, when defending NASCAR champion Tony Stewart triggered a 25-car pileup as he tried to protect the lead. His bid to block a long line of traffic on the last lap backfired, and his car was sent sailing through the air in a chaotic crash that collected 10 of the 12 title contenders.
Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth won under caution, and everyone else was left wondering when NASCAR will do something dramatic to alter the dangerous racing at restrictor- plate tracks.
“It’s not safe. It’s not. It’s bloodthirsty,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “If that’s what people want, that’s ridiculous.”
Stewart, who assailed the wreckfests at Talladega with a sarcastic diatribe in May, took full responsibility for creating the latest carnage.
He had charged to the lead on the first lap of a two-lap sprint to the finish, but got too far ahead of the pack to hang on to any drafting partners.
Kenseth was charging on the outside of him and Michael Waltrip was leading a line of traffic on the inside. Stewart was blocking all over the track, and said he mistakenly chopped across the front of Waltrip’s car to trigger the accident.
The contact hooked Stewart to send him into a spin, and his car lifted into the air and sailed on its roof and then on its side over several other cars. It created chaos through the pack, which was running three-wide in a frantic dash to the finish.
“I was trying to win the race and I was trying to stay ahead of Matt there and Michael got a great run on the bottom and had a big head of steam, and when I turned down, I turned across the front of his car. Just a mistake on my part but cost a lot of people a bad day.”
Stewart gamely waved to the crowd as he climbed from his battered car, while Jimmie Johnson sat on the ledge of Earnhardt’s window for a lift back to the garage. Everywhere they looked, they saw crumpled cars.
Five-time Talladega winner Earnhardt said enough is enough with the carnage. He was credited with a 20th-place finish that dropped him four spots in the standings to 11th.
“If this was what we did every week, I wouldn’t be doing it,” he said. “I’ll just put it to you that way. If this was how we raced every week, I’d find another job. That’s what the package is doing. It’s really not racing. It’s a little disappointing. It cost a lot of money right there.
“If this is how we’re going to continue to race and nothing is going to change, how about NASCAR build the cars? It’ll save us a lot of money.”