Rain, not wrecks, mars Talladega race


TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) – This time, the mess at Talladega Superspeedway couldn’t be pinned on the scary crashes typical of restrictor-plate racing.

Blame it on the rain. The Aaron’s 499 was postponed until Monday after a 1-hour, 40-minute rain delay Sunday, leaving pole sitter Elliott Sadler and Co. to sit idle for much of the day – only to end up having to return and try again.

It’s the first time since the spring of 1997 that a race had to be postponed at Talladega’s tri-oval. NASCAR officials and Mark Martin both will hope for a repeat of that Winston Select 500.

Martin won a pristine race that didn’t have any caution flags – imagine that – on a track known as much for crashes as for scintillating finishes. Held three weeks after the scheduled date, the 97 race still stands as the track’s fastest with an average speed of 188.354 mph.

It was over in a hasty 2 hours, 39 minutes, 18 seconds.

Martin’s not in bad position for a repeat, qualifying sixth for the Aaron’s 499 on Saturday.

Sadler won the pole in qualifying, followed by Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Dale Jarrett, who won at Talladega last October.

Another driver who likely wouldn’t mind a calm race is Jimmie Johnson, lambasted by competitors who blamed him for wrecking 39 cars at two Talladega races last season.

Johnson, who will start 16th, won the season-opening Daytona 500.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., a five-time Talladega winner, will drive a car painted like the famed black Chevrolet his late father piloted. He will start 27th.

Sadler is hoping to finish better this time. He also started first at the October race, but lasted just 20 laps before Johnson ran into the back of his car and started an eight-car accident.

Unable to separate with the horsepower-sapping restrictor plates, cars often race in one large pack.

With the rain delay, testing at Lowe’s Motorspeedway will be held Tuesday and Wednesday and last two days instead of three.

AP-ES-04-30-06 1635EDT