By the time I got home on Sunday, there were only three laps left in the NASCAR come out of caution for a green-white-checkered finish. I asked my husband if they'd had "the big one" yet. He said, "no," so I settled in for what promised to be a thrilling finish. I was not disappointed.
Anyone who follows NASCAR knows that when it comes to superspeedways like Talladega and Daytona, you can almost put money on one big crash that will make the difference between winning and losing the race. In the case of Sunday's multi-car melee, it may have also more clearly shaped the Champion Chase.
With the crazy-fast speed, drafting conditions and sheer importance of every point in the Chase, the field came around turn three of the final lap, and something had to give. Turns out, it was Tony Stewart who tried to block a pass and instead ended up with his car on its side, riding the hood of Kasey Kahne and others as more than two dozen cars (half of the field and ten Chase teams) got caught up in the chaos.
After the hair-raising ride, Stewart was quick to take responsibility for the wreck, though most drivers would agree any one of them could have been in the position to start the chain-reaction pile-up.
The in-car-cam replays provided the best feel for what drivers experienced. At first, you can see cars spinning, flipping, crashing, but then the windshields goes dark with smoke and debris, and all the drivers can do is listen to their spotters, keep moving and hope for the best.
It took some time for NASCAR officials to determine the final race results, though the top three were evident: Matt Kenseth cleared the bedlam, followed by Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch.
As the point standings shook out, the crash didn't help the hopes of many in the Chase, though the top three remained in-tact, with Brad Keselowski still leading Jimmy Johnson, and Denny Hamlin within 23 points of the top. But after that, the road to the championship becomes more and more unlikely for the remaining competitors.
Luckily, no one was seriously hurt in the "big one," but the question arises after the fact: should Talladega, with its tendencies toward these multi-car mishaps be one of the Championship Chase races? While the top-placing drivers are among the sport's most talented, even they would agree they were "Lucky Dogs", not necessarily great drivers to finish that race in one piece. So should such an important Chase race come down to a twist of fortune?
You betcha! Luck is a dynamic in racing week in and week out, and "the big one" is nothing new to longest, fastest track on the schedule; it's just one of the reasons fans love to watch Talladega events, and a fitting factor in any NASCAR championship.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.