The championship contenders said Talladega (Ala.) 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, 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 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 at the 2.66-mile circuit. 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, 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 sent Stewart 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. I was trying to win the race. ... Just a mistake on my part but cost a lot of people a bad day."
Five-time Talladega winner Earnhardt said enough is enough with the carnage. He was credited with a 20th-place finish that dropped him four spots in the standings to 11th.
"If this was what we did every week, I wouldn't be doing it," he said. "If this was how we raced every week, I'd find another job. It's really not racing."
Of the 12 Chase drivers, only 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.
But there was little change beyond that as everyone else ended up with a sub-par finish.
"That was the craziest, craziest finish I've ever experienced at Talladega," Gordon said. "It was just insane. That was bumper cars at 200 mph."
It took NASCAR more than an hour to sort the final finishing order. When the results were finally posted, Kyle Busch was third, followed by David Ragan and Regan Smith. Chase driver Greg Biffle was sixth, followed by points leader Brad Keselowski.
Formula One: Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel won the Japanese Grand Prix from the pole to close within four points of championship leader Fernando Alonso, who crashed out at the first turn in Suzuka.
Alonso's Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa was second, 20.6 seconds behind Vettel. Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi delighted the home fans by taking third.
Alonso made contact with the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen and appeared to sustain a punctured tire, fishtailing off the track and the car stalled, leaving Alonso to trudge back to the pits.
NHRA: Persistent rain forced postponement of the completion of eliminations in the Auto-Plus Nationals until Monday in Mohnton, Pa.
CHASE FOR THE CUP
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase for the Cup standings with six races remaining.
1. Brad Keselowski 2,179
2. Jimmie Johnson 2,165
3. Denny Hamlin 2,156
4. Kasey Kahne 2,143
5. Clint Bowyer 2,139
6. Jeff Gordon 2,137
7. Tony Stewart 2,133
8. Martin Truex Jr. 2,131
9. Greg Biffle 2,130
10. Kevin Harvick 2,130
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2,128
12. Matt Kenseth 2,117