Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief Adam Stevens expected typical Talladega Superspeedway carnage late last Sunday afternoon. Red flag worthy, he told his driver Kyle Busch.
Busch’s counterargument over the team’s radio will tell the tale of the Oct. 14, 2018, Talladega race: he’d never seen that style of racing before.
The 1000Bulbs.com 500 was indeed a different race. Not in a great way, and not in a bad way. Talladega was just different to what it usually known for because Stewart-Haas Racing and its four cars stole the show in what can only be described as a behind the woodshed-type whooping.
Not since the days of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip making the restrictor-plate tracks of Dayton and Talladega their personal playground had anyone seen that level of domination. From qualifying first through fourth, to finishing both stages the same way, through the 155 of 193 laps led, and ultimately finishing with one of its cars in victory lane, SHR never let the field out of the starting gate.
The most optimistic of viewers would have a hard time arguing it was even close.
Martin Truex Jr. said it wasn’t a race. Brad Keselowski marveled at their engineering. Denny Hamlin admired their speed, and tried to take solace in almost being best in class.
Stewart-Haas wasn’t just faster, though. The group also outsmarted the other 36 teams repeatedly. Restart after restart Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, and Aric Almirola fell perfectly into line. The display of unselfishness and commitment to teamwork might have been unprecedented. It will undoubtedly go down as historic.
Last Sunday marked the second-fewest lead changes at Talladega ever: 15. Thirteen lead changes in the spring of 1973 still stands as the lowest. Furthermore, Sunday was the first time since 1998 that the lead changed less than 20 times.
Regardless of how the race is dissected, the simple analysis is that no driver in the field seemed to have the ability or speed to put up much of a fight, or stop SHR from working together.
Kyle Busch was right. Talladega was different. It didn’t have constant two and three-wide action. But it did deliver the intrigue of seeing whether Stewart-Haas could make its plan work until the very end, or who would come out on top if the four drivers did get to settle it amongst themselves, and even the suspense – hope, for some – surrounding whether the field would eventually figure something out.
During one caution period, chuckles broke out from some in the media center as the track video feed showed a poll from Motor Racing Network (MRN) radio broadcast: Who will win? SHR or the field.
The 1000Bulbs.com 500. The second race in the Round of 12 for the NASCAR Playoffs. The Stewart-Haas Racing Invitational. However last Sunday afternoon is referenced from here on out, hopefully, it’ll be laced with respect.