In this era of "have at it, boys" in NASCAR, nice-guy Jamie McMurray is somehow going to have to develop a nasty streak.
If he wasn’t such a fair fellow, McMurray wouldn’t have let Kevin Harvick play him for a patsy yesterday and steal the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway right from under his nose.
But Harvick, you can bet, knew that McMurray has always raced clean and that he’d dutifully leave a lane open for him to slip past unmolested and win the ninth race of the 36-race NASCAR Sprint Cup season by a bumper – or by, officially, .011 of a second, the second-closest finish in Talladega history and the eighth closest since NASCAR adopted electronic scoring.
After McMurray, who officially finished second, came Juan Pablo Montoya in third, Denny Hamlin fourth and Mark Martin fifth. Jimmie Johnson, who crashed out, is still the series leader, with Harvick second and Greg Biffle third.
NASCAR made several changes – philosophical and otherwise – over the winter in an effort to make the on-track product more exciting. Besides the famous "have at it, boys" instruction, technical changes included smaller restrictor plates for superspeedways (which means drivers have more power at places like Talladega) and the use of a rear spoiler instead of a wing. Oh, and bump-drafting on superspeedways was A-OK.
They hit the jackpot on all counts yesterday at Talladega, where there were a record-setting 88 lead changes and 29 different leaders. Oh, and there were plenty of pileups, too, with several happening during three – count ‘em, three – attempts at a green-white-checkered finish.
It was on the final attempt that Harvick set up McMurray for what would essentially be victory by robbery.
When the green flew, Harvick settled in nicely behind McMurray for a two-lap run to the finish. You knew that, at the last second, Harvick would slip out from behind McMurray and try to slingshot past him on the run to the line.
Which he proceeded to do, except that he destabilized McMurray’s car in the process, enough so that McMurray had to fight to maintain control.
Now, if it had been a simple slingshot, c’est la vie. That’s life; that’s racing. But when McMurray started to bobble, it meant that Harvick did something to impede his progress. It meant that the move was much more than a simple slingshot and Jamie McMurray should have started, at that instant, plotting his revenge to either ensure he won or Harvick lost.
Instead, Mr. Nice Guy – who’s so nice he’s been in the Cup series for eight years and has only won four races – stayed in his lane and allowed Harvick to draw alongside and that’s what lost him the race.
Regan Smith wouldn’t have allowed that to happen. Remember him – at this very same race track two years ago in the fall? When Tony Stewart forced him below the yellow line when Smith went to pass him for the win at the finish? He passed Stewart – below the yellow – and NASCAR said that was illegal and gave Tony Smoke the race.
So I’ll guarantee you that if Regan Smith had been in Jamie McMurray’s shoes yesterday, he would have forced Harvick below the yellow line so that any pass wouldn’t have counted. Or else wrecked him to prevent him from finishing first.
Which is what McMurray is going to have to learn to do or they’ll continue to eat him alive, just like Kevin Harvick did yesterday.
NASCAR Notebook jottings
– Harvick hadn’t won a Sprint Cup race since the Daytona 500 in 2007. His employer, Richard Childress Racing, hadn’t won in Cup competition since 2008.
Harvick’s sponsor, Shell-Pennzoil, announced this past week that it was leaving Childress for Roger Penske’s operation, where it will be primary sponsor of Kurt Busch’s car. And Harvick has been rumoured to be leaving Childress to form his own Cup team.
But most observers figured Harvick’s proposed team would have Shell sponsorship, but that’s out the window. So if they’re winning, perhaps Harvick will now stay with Childress.
– Ryan Newman had this observation after yesterday’s Talladega slugfest: "Let us come here and entertain the fans but don’t award any points because this isn’t racing. It’s just not racing. These shouldn’t be points races. If we want to have races for the fans, let’s come here and do that but don’t let it affect the championship."
Newman doesn’t enjoy racing at Talladega. You’ll recall that last autumn, he got upside down in a late-race wreck and rescuers had to use the jaws of life to get him out of the car.
– Last week, Jeff Gordon was angry because he and teammate Jimmie Johnston had a coming-together during the race at Texas. (I blogged that since Gordon owns half the car that Johnson drives, perhaps the inevitable discussion would be more employer-employee than one between equals.)
Well, they had a more serious disagreement at Talladega yesterday and Gordon is reportedly furious about it. I still think it will blow over eventually but it could very well be approaching the serious stage. As Gordon said: "He’s been testing my patience and it’s reaching the boiling point."
– In the Nationwide Series race that was rained out Saturday and held immediately following the Cup race at ‘Dega yesterday, Steve Arpin, the Fort Frances, Ont., stock car super nova, finished a disappointing 26th after qualifying a very promising fourth.
After dropping well back shortly after the start, Arpin fought his way up into the top five but was caught up in a late-race wreck that also involved Kyle Busch, Morgan Shepherd, Colin Braun and Parker Kligerman.
Arpin will get another chance to show his stuff next week at Richmond. Meantime, he’s been getting the star treatment on nascar.com and here is one of several stories about him this weekend.
Meantime, Brad Keselowski won that Nationwide race, with Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick second and third. It was eerily similar to the Cup race, with a number of late-race pileups.
Dennis Setzer emerged unscathed but his car nearly went out of the arena and then caught fire in one of those wrecks.
Incidentally, nearly a dozen Cup drivers raced in the Nationwide race, meaning they drove more than 800 miles in anger yesterday.
Keselowski nearly missed it. His carbon monoxide readings were so high following the Cup race that they forced him to take oxygen. Sam Hornish Jr. was on standby to take his place if he was unable to race. But he recovered - and how.
Other News ‘n Notes:
– Forty entries (nearly 80 cars) have been filed for this year’s Indianapolis 500. Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani will represent Canada. Four women – Danica Patrick, Sarah Fisher, Simona De Silvestro and Milka Duno – are entered and a fifth, Ana Beatriz, is possible.
– Scott Pruett won this weekend’s Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series race with Mark Wilkins of Toronto and his American partner, Burt Frisselle, second. (see post below). In the Continental Tire Challenge race, also at Virginia International Raceway and won by Joey Hand and Michael Marsal in a BMW M3 Coupe, Scott Maxwell of Toronto and Joe Foster were seventh in a Multimatic Mustang Boss 302, Kenny Wilden of Oakville and Ryan Winchester were 18th in a Mustang GT whle the ST class was won by Karl Thomson’s Compass360 Racing team from Toronto with Ryan Eversley and Zach Lutz aboard.
– Both Formula One and the IZOD IndyCar Series were quiet this weekend. F1 won’t go again till Spain in two weeks while IndyCar will be in Kansas next weekend.
The most delicious F1 news was that desposed Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IRL president and CEO Tony George took in the Chinese Grand Prix and spent time with Bernie Ecclestone. This has led to all sorts of rumours about George bringing F1 back to the United States but to a location other than Indianapolis.
I would suggest that this will never happen. Not that F1 won't return to the U.S. someday. I just don't see T. George playing a role .