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 in Talladega, Ala., 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 just screwed up. I turned down and cut across Michael and crashed the whole field,” Stewart said. “It was my fault, blocking and trying to stay where I was at.”
Of the 12 Chase drivers, only race winner Kenseth and second-place finisher Jeff Gordon avoided the final wreck and it pushed Gordon up four spots in the standings to sixth with six races remaining.
Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel won the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, Japan, from pole to close within four points of the Formula One championship lead as series leader Fernando Alonso crashed out of the race at the first turn.
Vettel, who also won the previous race in Singapore, is within sight of a third straight title, with five races to go.
Alonso’s Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa was second, 20.6 seconds behind Vettel for his first podium finish since Korea in 2010.
Persistent rain forced NHRA officials to postpone the completion of eliminations in the Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals in Mohnton, Pa., until today.