The Phoenix Racing No. 51 has a smiley face on the hood

11 Oct

With Kurt Busch in the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 for the remainder of the season, Phoenix Racing went with a new paint scheme for its first race with Busch in another car.

This week at Charlotte, the red No. 51 has a smiley face on the hood and the sides of the car. Why? We'll let car owner James Finch explain:

From Fox Sports:

"If you wreck 25 cars this year, you haven't been smiling much," Finch said. "That's 25 wrecks. I don't think the whole garage has used that much sheet metal this year — except at Daytona and Talladega.

"Twenty-five wrecks would make anyone dizzy. For a small team to repair 25 wrecks and show up for every race on time, I think they did a great job."

Regan Smith, who was in the No. 78 until Busch replaced him this week, was scheduled to be in the car this weekend, but he was called into action over at Hendrick Motorsports after Dale Earnhardt Jr. was diagnosed with a concussion. That opened the spot for AJ Allmendinger, who is making his first start after completing NASCAR's Road to Recovery program.

Allmendinger was suspended just before the July Daytona race after failing a drug test after the Kentucky race, and was replaced in the Penske Racing No. 22 by Sam Hornish and eventually released from his contract at Penske. He qualified 38th for Saturday night's race.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. to miss two races after suffering concussion at Talladega

11 Oct

On Sunday afternoon, with the smoke of a two-dozen-car wreck still lingering in the air above Talladega, Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat on the bumper at the end of his hauler, clearly dazed. He shook off questions about his health and proceeded to give a lucid, if pointed, interview about the state of racing at Talladega. He clearly was not in the best condition, but observers attributed it to the shock of being involved in such a major wreck.

The truth, as it turned out, was much worse. On Wednesday, Earnhardt was diagnosed with a concussion. And now, according to Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt will sit out the races at Charlotte and Kansas. Regan Smith will drive the #88 in his stead.

This, of course, ends Earnhardt's championship hopes, but that's not the real issue. The issue is that Earnhardt suffered a brain injury despite all the safety improvements now in place in NASCAR. This puts a lie to the idea that drivers are perfectly safe encased in their 21st-century cars, and shines an even harsher light on the true effects of wrecks such as Talladega's "Big Ones."

Here, for reference, is Earnhardt's Talladega interview, immediately post-concussion:

Of note: This is Earnhart's second concussion. He suffered one back in 2002 during a major wreck in California, but hid it from NASCAR and his team for fear of being removed from the car. It's good, for his future, that he came forward on this one. This will end Earnhardt's consecutive Sprint Cup starts streak at 461, the fifth-longest current streak. Ahead of him: Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte.

Also of concern: how many drivers suffer undiagnosed concussions? If a driver can wheel his car back to his hauler, as Earnhardt did on Sunday, he's not required to go to the infield care center for diagnosis. Should drivers be required to undergo testing whether or not their cars are driveable?

The issue of concussions is not a minor one, as any observer of the NFL over the last few years knows. The links between head trauma and quality-of-life concerns, as well as early death, are increasing. NASCAR owes it to its drivers' future to ensure that the on-track racing is as safe as possible.

Other sports require a doctor's examination of a participant to first verify no concussion has occurred, and second to permit return to competition. In boxing and MMA -- which, granted, have a far higher risk of head trauma than a NASCAR driver -- fighters can be kept out of the ring for up to 90 days pending a doctor's approval.

Clearly, the Talladega story is not through yet.

-Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.-

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Happy Hour: So, what about this whole Kurt Busch thing?

10 Oct

Welcome to the latest Happy Hour mailbag! You know how these work: You write us with your best rant/ joke/one-liner at or on Twitter at @jaybusbee, we respond to your messages, everyone goes away with a smile on their face. Let's get to it, shall we?

Hey Busbee -- you're an idiot. Also, what do you think of what Kurt Busch did on Sunday?

— Jay Busbee
Atlanta, GA

What a witty letter, and I'm sure the writer is devilishly handsome. All right, I cheated a bit and sent myself a letter on this topic, 'cause I'm sorry, but we've already covered the whole Talladega mess ad infinitum and nobody sent me a letter suitable for printing on the KuBu situation.

Anyway, at this point I almost feel sorry for Busch. Almost. I mean, he must be thinking that there's absolutely nothing that he can do that won't be misinterpreted and twisted. Problem is, he still does things that don't even need to be misinterpreted or twisted to look bad, like driving away from safety officials without your helmet on. But Busch hides behind irrelevant phrases like "my competitive fire," trying to tie himself to old-school (to use one of his pet phrases) NASCAR style when, in fact, he's just being a jerk.

Somebody needs to sit Busch down, somebody that he respects, and tell him: the days of acting however he wants without consequences are over. Yes, the rules are different for him now. He gets more media scrutiny, and less rope, than any other driver on the circuit. And the opportunities he's had to make things better, he's squandered, time and time and time again.

Here's the problem: Busch's actions have veered from his words so many times that we don't believe anything he says or does anymore. Example: I was in the press scrum surrounding Busch at Talladega on Sunday. (That's my hand and iPhone there at center left. I was trying to show Kurt the level I'd just reached on Angry Birds Space.) You can't ever know the truth of a guy's mind, but his farewell-hug-tour of his team seemed premeditated and choreographed just for the cameras. Maybe it wasn't, but we immediately suspect it was ... and that's a real problem for Busch going forward.

Hey, I want Kurt Busch in NASCAR, and I want him on a good team. The sport could use more strong personalities like his, and I'm fully aware that strong personalities don't always run exactly the way you want them to. But enough with the blame-everybody-else routine, enough with the self-professed innocence. New team, new chance to create a new image for himself. Good luck — serious, not sarcastic — to both Kurt and Furniture Row.


Your story "Dega delivers..." sounds like you are crediting the fans for the restrictor plate. What gives? Fans don't favor having the plates, never did ... don't blame the fans! Fans don't like to see such big, catastrophic wrecks. If you ask me they should shut down Talladega, period. Or build a nice road course track in the infield.

Mike Williams
Adin, CA

I didn't blame the fans, I simply said their safety was the reason for the change. Like motorcycle helmets and two-beer-per-customer limits at ballgames, it's a way of protecting fans from their own worst instincts. But oh, were there a variety of opinions on this Talladega issue ...


I can't speak for all of us, but I can say among the fans I know, no one watched for or enjoyed the pile-up at Talladega.  I'm thinking that "meme" is something akin to unicorns, yeti, and Nessie - a legend. Without question, we're drawn to watch wrecks, and to some extent, they're a part of racing. Yet when a single accident removes 25 cars, something is ghastly wrong. This isn't demolition derby.


This gives me a chance to run one of my favorite videos: the 1960 Daytona 500. Check out the back-in-the-day racing, or fast-forward to the 1:50 mark for a wreck that makes Sunday at Talladega look like a parking-lot fender-bender:


Plate racing is not racing, every driver says so.  Even the great Earnhardt Sr. said as much many times.  When drivers can go into a race knowing they have no control of their finishing position, knowing their team has no control over the finishing position, it is not racing.

Christopher Sanford

The luck factor is a huge problem with Talladega, I grant you that. But was it really bad racing? Other opinions differ ...


It was unfortunate that the raced ended in a wreck.  However, it was the best race of the season. There were over 30 cars on the lead lap, the winner could have been any of 12 to 15 cars, and the winner was not determined until the end.  This is racing, as opposed to the typical boring Sunday drive about when you have less than 10 cars on the lead lap and the winning car was determined after a few laps ... If Sunday's quality of racing continues I will return. I hope NASCAR does something to bring real car racing to all of the tracks so I can become an avid NASCAR fan again.

Robert J Honold

Restrictor plates at all tracks? Make it so! Anyway, what this race (and my email inbox) showed is that no matter how much we all want to believe our version of what constitutes a good and a bad race, the truth is, there's absolutely no consensus, and there never will be.


Why does Tony Stewart get 22nd-place points when he caused everyone to wreck? What an [body part]. He should get the worst points placement of anyone else on the lead lap in the wreck caused by him. Can you imagine if anyone named Busch would have caused that wreck?

Old School

Yeah, Tony pretty much skated on that wreck; if anyone else had been involved in it, he'd have ripped them a new [body part]. But no, of course he shouldn't be penalized overmuch, and he shouldn't be paying for anyone else's damage (another popular criticism). This is racing, and it happens. You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of 'Dega.


How does NASCAR determine where each car finished in a wreck like this? I thought the field is frozen upon signal of the yellow flag. Being a Dale Jr fan, that should have put him around 6 or 7, but he ended up 20th.

Joe G.
Jacksonville, FL

It's not as simple as freezing the field; NASCAR judged it based on each car's ability to blend back into a theoretical pack. Freezing the field at the moment of caution would have had Stewart in about fourth or fifth, and he was upside down at the time. NASCAR makes a judgment call on where cars should be able to blend back together, not on their exact position on track.


I love that the roots of NASCAR were formed in running 'shine, and there's no way Junior Johnson got away from the revenuers just turning left.  Give me a track where these guys are driving like someone is on their tails over a 180 mph parade any day.

Oscar Hopper

Hell, give me a track where someone IS on their tails. Hide contraband in one car and call the cops, Talladega Nights-style. Driving for your freedom is a lot more inspiring than driving for a snack-food sponsor, am I right?


I'm just curious, when you recently wrote that Bowyer "is the epitome of what the world expects a NASCAR driver to be," what exactly did you mean ?


Did I say that? Yeah, I probably did, what with the use of the word "epitome" and all. Pretentious jerk. Anyway, it was a compliment. Bowyer's an affable dude with a leathery look and an accent that would frighten people on both coasts. Combine those, and you've got your perfect NASCAR driver for non-NASCAR fans.


Regarding Talladega's race attendance on Sunday, one article mentioned: "The main culprit, NASCAR and track officials have said, is the global economic downturn that started in the fall of 2008." Does this mean the infield previously included a contingent of thousands of drunk Europeans and Asians?

The article also mentioned the race competes with college and pro football...though the article failed to mention Coach Satan's team [that would be Alabama; I hope I didn't need to explain that -JB] did not play this past weekend (and, I imagine, Auburn fans might complain that their team did not play this past weekend, either).

W Connor

This year, for the first time ever, I drove straight from the highway all the way into the track, and that NEVER happens. I wasn't even that early, either. Attendance is a problem that's becoming more serious by the weekend, and NASCAR's going to have to face some hard truths very soon.

And, yeah, the global economy plays a role ... Greece used to run these junkets from Athens to Talladega, and oh lordy, the parties they'd have in the infield.

And on that note, we're out. Thanks to all our writers this week. You want in? Fire up the computer and hit us with whatever's on your mind, NASCAR-wise, at . You can find Yahoo! Sports' NASCAR coverage on Facebook right here, and you can follow me on Twitter at @jaybusbee and on Facebook here. Make sure to tell us where you're from. We'll make you famous!

Tags: , Happy, Jay Busbee Atlanta, Kurt Busch, , luck, , Talladega, ,
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10 Oct
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It’s no surprise that Jimmie Johnson is tops at Charlotte

10 Oct

Entering last year's Charlotte race, Jimmie Johnson trailed points leader Carl Edwards by four points. He left trailing by 35.

It was the perfect symbol for the end of Johnson's reign. He crashed at a track that he had dominated throughout his career. In his five championship seasons, the lowest Johnson had ever finished at Charlotte was 14th. That was in 2007, and after that race, he was in second, trailing teammate and points leader Jeff Gordon by 68 points — or roughly 2o points converting to the current point system.

So this current 14 point deficit to Brad Keselowski? Nah, that's nothing. (For all of his success at Charlotte, Johnson has never taken the points lead during the race. In 2006 and 2007, he's entered and left trailing, and in 2008-2010, he was the points leader both before and after.)

Johnson's average finish at Charlotte is the highest of any Chase driver at 11.8, with six wins and 14 top 10s in 22 races. Yes, it's worth noting that since his last win (the 2009 fall race) that Johnson has finished 28th or lower three times in five races. But, it's Jimmie Johnson at Charlotte. After all, the dude did win four straight races there at one time.

Here's how the other Chasers stack up:

Kasey Kahne: Kahne's won the Coca-Cola 600 earlier this season and you can make a case that he's been the series' best on intermediate tracks this season. That bodes well, as four of the final six races are at 1.5 mile tracks. In his career at Charlotte, Kahne has three wins and an average finish of 12.7.

Tony Stewart: Think of how different the storylines would be surrounding Tony Stewart this week if he would have held onto the lead for another 1/3 of a lap. Anyway, Stewart's average finish is 14.0 at Charlotte and his lone win there came in 2003. In last year's race, he had the pole and led 94 laps, finishing 8th.

Matt Kenseth: Here's the man that won last year's Charlotte Chase race and the guy that won Sunday at Talladega, and he clocks in with a 14.2 average finish. Kenseth has 14 top 10s in 26 starts, and is going to need to repeat if he wants to get out of the Chase cellar.

Denny Hamlin: Hamlin's average finish at Charlotte is a nice, round, 15.0 and he's got 7 top 10s in 14 starts. He finished second in the Coca-Cola 600, and unless he finishes behind Johnson or Keselowski, I'm sure second this time would be just fine too.

Gordon: Gordon clocks in with an average finish of 15.7 and 21 top 10s in 39 starts. His last Charlotte win came in 2007. You know what will probably happen on Saturday night? He'll finish fourth... behind Keselowski, Johnson and Hamlin, in that order.

Keselowski: His fifth place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 was Keselowski's first top 10 in six Charlotte starts, and he finished 16th in last year's Bank of America 500. As we've said before, Keselowski is NASCAR's small sample size outlier, so his average finish (16.5), is likely the least indicative of anyone else's.

Greg Biffle: Being in Roush equipment for all of his 19 starts at Charlotte, doesn't it seem that Biffle's average finish would be higher than 17.1 and he would have won a race at the track before? Biffle has 4 top fives and 7 top 10s.

Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has finished outside the top 10 in his last four Charlotte starts, and was 13th in the 600 in May. His average finish is 17.5, and his best run came in 2007's fall race at the track, where he finished second and led 79 laps.

Kevin Harvick: Harvick's only victory at Charlotte came in last year's 600, when he seized the lead on the final lap when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas, the second of his four straight top 10 finishes at Charlotte. And he finished second and eighth in his two rookie Charlotte starts. But in the 17 races between his rookie year and the first of those top 10s, he only grabbed one top 10 finish. His average finish is 18.1.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junior has 11 top 10s in 26 Charlotte starts, with five top fives and no wins and an 18.8 average finish. He finished sixth in the 600, and 19th in last year's fall race. In between finishing fifth in the 2008 600 and seventh in the 2011 race, Junior's highest Charlotte finish was 22nd.

Martin Truex Jr.: Here's Other Junior, and his stats at Charlotte are slightly worse than Junior in the average finish department at 19.4. He's got two top 10s in 14 Charlotte starts and was 12th earlier in the year at the 600.

Ryan Newman: Newman has nine poles in his career at Charlotte, but the worst average finish of any Chaser at 20.1 Kind of weird, eh? Newman had the pole for both 2007 races, and promptly lost an engine in the 600 and crashed in the 500 for finishes of 39th and 28th. He was 10th in last year's Chase race here.

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Matt Kenseth says Talladega win was a boost for his final six races at Roush

09 Oct

Still in 12th in the Chase points standings after Sunday's win at Talladega, Matt Kenseth's championship hopes are pretty much nonexistent in his final season at Roush Fenway Racing, and Kenseth said Tuesday that the win was integral in helping him feel better about he and the team's split when they officially part ways in six more races.

"Well, it's made me feel a little bit better about certain things," Kenseth said."I mean, it's really important for me to finish this thing off on a high note. It would just break my heart if the thing was broken when I left. So I certainly didn't want that."

"And we had a really rough few weeks in The Chase with parts breaking and following off and not getting good finishes and not running good and everybody was getting close to being at each other's throats and things like that.  So it's important for me to try to really try to keep that whole unit as a cohesive front-running championship-contending unit.  So I'm hoping in the next six weeks we can continue this momentum, hoping we can get another win or two and finish as high as we can in the points and end this thing on a high note."

Kenseth was the series' best driver at restrictor plate tracks this season, also winning the Daytona 500 and finishing third twice. Drivers rarely move on to other teams when things are going well, so that's one reason that Kenseth became just the third different Chase driver, along with Tony Stewart in 2008 and Kurt Busch last year, to win a Chase race the season before leaving for a new team. But Kenseth said that once he met with Joe and JD Gibbs, his decision to take over the driving duties of the No. 20 wasn't as difficult as you might have expected.

"When I've talked to Joe and JD and went and saw some of their stuff and spent some time with them, I just really felt like that was the right place for me," Kenseth said. "I felt really comfortable with everything.  I feel really good about their stuff, when you watch how good all their cars perform on the racetrack and how many races they win and all that kind of stuff, I just felt like that was the place for me."

"It really wasn't as hard or I wasn't probably as conflicted as one might think."

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Join us for the latest Yahoo! Sports NASCAR live chat, Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET

09 Oct

Time again for another weekly live chat! Join us here at 1 p.m. ET on Tuesday to talk Dega, Charlotte and oh so much more. Be here, won't you?

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Chase Power Rankings: Really? You want us to make sense of that Talladega mess?

08 Oct

The fourth race of the Chase is over, and that means it's time for Power Rankings! But we're doing things a little differently now that we're in the postseason. It's all-Chasers, all the time. Good job, good effort for those of you that didn't make it, but we've got bigger fish to focus on. We'll be judging who's running well, considering not just finishing position but quality of run, expected potential, and general gut feelings. As always, we hate your guy and are biased against him. Now, enjoy.

1. Brad Keselowski: All right, here's the deal. There's absolutely no way to make any kind of objective judgment about how each driver is doing based on Talladega, so we're going completely the other direction. We're using the Mafia Name Generator to transform your favorite NASCAR drivers into the world's fastest mob. Hey, it makes about as much sense as determining a race winner by who survives a 31-car pileup. Brad Keselowski? He's @Kes no more. Now he's "Slug-Like Marco Santoro," which makes like no sense in any direction. Hmmm. Clearly this isn't a flawless system.

2. Jimmie Johnson: "Valentino the Stink-Eye." Don't know about the Valentino aspect, but when Johnson lasers his eye on you, you're going to start stinking. Just like the end of Sunday's race did for most Chasers.

3. Denny Hamlin: "Tony Lottaspaghetti." Hmm. No bueno for Denny. But you know what was bueno? The way he managed to dodge most of the mess on Sunday. Of course, hiding out in Birmingham while the rest of the race happens is one way to do that.

4. Jeff Gordon: "Green Jack Ricci." That sounds more like a post-Bieber singer than a made man. Gordon, for his part, continues his amazing run of top-3 finishes, and so once he takes that mulligan he'll be in fine sha- what? No mulligan? Oh. He's screwed.

5. Clint Bowyer: "Luca the Wolf." Yes. YES. Now THAT'S a badass name. Of course, Bowyer ended up like the three little pigs, not the wolf, on Sunday. He looked like he was in line for a big jump, but, well ... no.

6. Kasey Kahne: "Angelo the Bookie." Nah. Kahne's too pretty to be a bookie. Bookies look like they blocked punts with their faces. Kahne? Not so much. He won the pole but not much else at Talladega, and the debt is coming due on his season.

7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: "Paolo Rubberface." Rub 'er face? But I don't even know her! OHHHHH! Junior was in the lead for awhile, which is mandatory at Talladega, but he got caught up in that whole bloodthirsty wreck and looked more than a little shellshocked afterward. Time's up.

8. Tony Stewart: "Decrepit Roberto Rossi." If there's one thing Stewart is NOT, it's decrepit. Whatever. Just curious, though: what do you think Smoke's reaction would have been if any, and I mean ANY, other driver had caused that wreck? He'd have pulled the guy's skeleton out of his skin.

9. Martin Truex Jr.: "Fat Alphonso Barrow." Aw, come on. Hell, Truex is the only Chase driver who legitimately looks like he could be IN the Mob. AND he's from New Jersey! Hmmm. Anyway, as we've discussed, Truex's window is pretty much slammed shut at this point.

10. Matt Kenseth: "'Heavy Load' Bruno." Yeah, victory when you just happen to be in the right place at the right time is indeed a heavy load to carry. Little bit too late, though, for Kenseth's Chase chances.

11. Kevin Harvick: "Tony Fatface." Hmmm. That seems like it might best apply elsewhere. You know who else ought to apply elsewhere? Anybody working on the 29 crew this season.

12. Greg Biffle:
"Twisted Oscar DiMarco." Twisted like Biffle's championship chances, amirite? Better luck next year, Greg.

All right, this didn't quite turn out as well as we'd hoped. Hey, sometimes these columns are ridearounds, too. Anyway, your turn. Oh, and by the way, my Mafia name? "Carlo Chainsaw." YEAH.

Tags: , mess, , , , sense, Talladega
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Why does NASCAR need restrictor plates at superspeedways, anyway?

08 Oct

Sunday featured another Talladega Big One, and just like clockwork, another round of columns questioning this kind of racing, and following that, a round of emails questioning why NASCAR doesn't take the restrictor plates off its cars and let 'em run wild at Talladega and Daytona.

Simple answer is this:

That's Bobby Allison at Talladega in the 1987 Winston 500, and but for a few bolts in a catch fence, that could be a video you'd be watching about how that old-timey racing sport called NASCAR ended once and for all. Allison's car got airborne and very well could have leaped the fence and taken out an entire swath of fans. It was at that point that NASCAR decided that 200+ mph speeds were just too much for these speedways to handle, and so began installing restrictor plates in cars to slow them down.

For those not familiar: The restrictor plate is a metal plate with holes in it designed to slow the airflow into the engine thereby reducing horsepower and speed. Depending on track conditions, NASCAR can mandate larger or smaller holes, but unrestricted airflow into engines at these superspeedways hasn't happened in decades. Restrictor plates aren't necessary at NASCAR's other tracks; either the tracks are too small or the banking not as severe to allow drivers to get up to the phenomenal speeds they do at Daytona and Talladega. The concern is primarily for the crowd's safety; drivers are well-protected and have already survived wrecks that would have been unthinkably catastrophic even a few years ago. (Of course, too much power at a track unable to handle it was a contributor to the death of IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon last year, though safety and equipment issues are different matters there than in NASCAR.)

Of course, the very concept of a "restrictor plate" seems to run counter to the idea of racing itself: speed without restriction. And for that reason, many fans loathe the idea of the plate. Turn 'em loose, right?

Also of note: the perpetual law of unintended consequences that constantly bedevils NASCAR. Cutting the top speed of the fastest cars brings those cars back toward the mean, which leads to the gargantuan pack racing that so many fans love. (The superspeedways even used the "return" of pack racing in promotions recently.) The problem is, when you've got 35 cars all packed into one space, and one at the front goes wrong, well ... we saw Sunday what happens then.

Complicating the pro-plate stance was a race that happened three years ago at Talladega, when Brad Keselowski clipped Carl Edwards in juuuust the right way to send Edwards airborne:

Everybody walked (or staggered) away from that one OK, right? (Although seven fans did get injured.) You can't prove a negative; you can't say that restrictor plates have kept cars on the ground all this time, particularly when circumstances clearly still exist that allow the cars to launch into the air.

But bottom line: Cutting the power to engines is the best way to keep the cars' speed down, and keeping speed down is the best way to keep the cars on the track and not in the stands. For that reason, the restrictor plate is here to stay. NASCAR would rather have a lot of angry live fans than a few he-sure-did-love-'Dega late ones.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. gives Jimmie Johnson a lift back to the garage after Talladega crash

07 Oct

Yes, sometimes even NASCAR drivers need to bum a ride from their buddies too.

After they were both involved in Sunday's final-lap 25-car pileup at Talladega, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. limped their cars across the start-finish line, Johnson officially in 17th place and Junior in 20th.

Once he was across, Johnson got out of his mangled car and needed a lift back to the garage, so he walked over (without his thumb up, unfortunately) to his Hendrick teammate's battered car and asked for a ride. Junior obliged, but as you know, Sprint Cup Series cars don't have passenger seats. So, therefore, Johnson had to settle for a windowsill ride back down pit road similar to the one that he gave their team owner Rick Hendrick after winning the All-Star race, a week after Hendrick had scored his 200th career Sprint Cup Series victory.

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