TALLADEGA, Ala. — Tony Stewart tried to block his way to victory at Talladega Superspeedway.
It backfired, badly.
The “big one” came on the last lap Sunday, when Stewart’s attempt to hold on for the win instead sent his car sailing through the field and triggered a 25-car accident. Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth won under caution, and everyone else was left wondering what happened to cause so much carnage.
“It’s not safe. It’s not. It’s bloodthirsty,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “If that’s what people want, that’s ridiculous.”
Stewart took full responsibility for causing the accident. 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.
“I was trying to win the race and I was trying to stay ahead of Matt there and Michael got a great run on the bottom and had a big head of steam, and when I turned down, I turned across the front of his car. Just a mistake on my part but cost a lot of people a bad day.”
Stewart gamely waved to the crowd as he climbed from his battered car, while Jimmie Johnson sat on the ledge of Earnhardt’s window for a lift back to the garage. Everywhere they looked, they saw crumpled cars.
Five-time Talladega winner Earnhardt said enough is enough with the carnage.
“If this was what we did every week, I wouldn’t be doing it,” he said. “I’ll just put it to you that way. If this was how we raced every week, I’d find another job. That’s what the package is doing. It’s really not racing. It’s a little disappointing. It cost a lot of money right there.
“If this is how we’re going to continue to race and nothing is going to change, how about NASCAR build the cars? It’ll save us a lot of money.”
Jeff Gordon was scored in second-place and Kyle Busch in third, but NASCAR was sorting the final order almost an hour after the finish.
“That was the craziest, craziest finish I’ve ever experienced at Talladega,” Gordon said. “It was just insane. I remember when coming to Talladega was fun, and I haven’t experienced that in a long time. That was bumper-cars at 200 mph. I don’t know anybody who likes that.”