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NASCAR At Talladega Update: Regan Smith, Bill Elliott Fall Out Early As Tony Stewart Leads

Only seventeen laps are down in Talladega, but the Aaron's 499 has already seen one catastrophic engine failure. Regan Smith's No. 78 Chevrolet erupted in a plume of smoke as he raced down the backstretch, drawing the opening caution flag of the 188-lap affair.

Tony Stewart led the opening 17 laps after starting from the eighth position, ahead of Matt Kenseth and Marcos Ambrose while the rest of the field jostled in two and three-wide formation. Polesitter Jeff Gordon was among the drivers who had dropped to the rear of the field, both to avoid the pack and the potential major accident that lurks at every second and to also keep their engines cooled.

Without a sponsor, Bill Elliott wasn't scheduled to run the full distance in today's Aaron's 499 anyway, but the Toyota engine in his NEMCO Motorsports Toyota popped after he had run only nine laps. The NASCAR legend, a native of course of Dawsonville, joined team owner Joe Nemechek and the other Start and Park drivers in the garage before the caution flag flew for Smith's engine failure.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.