TALLADEGA, Ala – The uncertainty loomed for Sunday’s GEICO 500. Would we see a different kind of pack race that we’re grown accustomed to seeing? Would we see a return to tandem racing? How dangerous would the closing rate be?
Well, after 188 Laps of racing at the Talladega Superspeedway, we received all those answers.
The racing itself was one of the best we’ve ever seen on the 2.66-mile Alabama race track. In the end, Chase Elliott held off his teammate Alex Bowman as a wild crash ensued behind them on the backstretch capping a thrilling day in Central Alabama.
It was Elliott’s first win in 13 races as he gave Chevrolet their first victory since his trip to victory lane at Kansas last October. Elliott, led a race high 44 of the 188 Lap en route to his fourth career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win.
The Talladega crowd was on their feet cheering as Earnhardt Country may have just became Elliott Country.
It was much needed for him too as it was just Elliott’s second top five of the season and only his third overall top 10 as well.
His teammate in Bowman finished runner-up in his No. 88 Chevrolet. The last time a Chevy car won at Talladega was in fact the same car Bowman drives when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Spring race in 2015. Elliott also ended Ford’s seven race win streak at Talladega on Sunday too.
The second place run was Bowman’s first top 10 result of the year. He came home eighth in the Spring race last year.
Ryan Preece backed up his eighth place finish at Daytona in February with a third place run in his No. 47 Chevrolet on Sunday. Fellow rookie Daniel Hemric brought his No. 8 Chevrolet home fifth for a 1-2-3-5 finish for the bowties.
Chevy also finished 1-2-3-4 in the first stage and 1-2-3 in the second one.
Joey Logano rounded out the top five in his No. 22 Ford for his fourth consecutive top five finish at Talladega and third straight top five on the season as well.
The race ended before they crossed the finish line due to a massive crash on the back stretch which saw Kyle Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet get airborne before he made contact with in the inside SAFER barrier which sent him end over end flipping through the air before coming to rest. Luckily, he was able to walk away from the frightening accident.
I’m not real sure that wreck should have ever happened though. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. crashed at the start finish line coming to the white flag and was badly damaged. To me, the caution should have flown and ended the race then.
That wasn’t the lone crash of the day. We also saw an incident on Lap 181 when Chris Buescher crashed hard on the back stretch and was hit by Matt DiBenedetto. Then, DiBenedetto, slid down the superstretch and into Martin Truex Jr. After their contact, Justin Haley got into DiBenedetto whom both had no where to go.
Prior to that, we only saw one other crash which occurred on Lap 10 when Darrell Wallace Jr. got too good of a run on his good friend Ryan Blaney and had to maneuver to not run into the back of Blaney’s No. 12 Ford. Unfortunately, he crashed himself as a result and made contact with Denny Hamlin. Both Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick would crash behind, so would a Michael McDowell.
Here are my main takeaways.
Chevrolet’s Team Work Pays Off
Prior to the race, Chevy sat everyone down and wanted to execute a plan for all of their drivers to work together. See, it’s been 14 long races since Chevy last won a race. With how bad this season has started for them, they knew Talladega was a place they could make up some ground. So, they laid out the framework for this plan to excel.
The Chevy drivers worked together all day and it paid off with dominating in all stages. Even in the end when they could work by themselves and all man for himself try to win, they worked together and it worked in a 1-2-3-4 result.
Elliott Is Dominant In Talladega Spring Race, Can Talladega Be Momentum Changing Race
If Elliott can put together two strong races a year at Talladega, he’d get into the Earnhardt, Keselowski and Logano category as top drivers there. Sunday’s win was his fourth top five finish in five tries in the spring race. The only reason it’s not 5-for-5 is because he ended up on his hood in a 30th place finish two years ago.
His fall finishes are 12th, 36th and 31st respectively over the last three years.
Now, Elliott heads to a track where he also won last Fall at in Dover. Is this the momentum he needs.
JGR/Penske’s Streak Comes To An End
Talladega was the place where it wouldn’t have shocked me to see JGR and Penske continue their recent dominance. They’ve won the first nine races of the year and 11 straight if you go back to last year. Plus, Penske entered as the favorites to win Sunday’s race while JGR went 1-2-3 on the last superspeedway race at Daytona.
Instead, Chevrolet and HMS stole the show with JGR and Penske only getting one car each to finish in the top 10.
JGR only led 19 laps on Sunday.
Struggling Day For Toyota
I thought for sure on Saturday that the only reason the Toyota’s qualified so poorly was because they went for race speed than qualifying trim. Well, they struggled in the race.
Denny Hamlin earned his worst finish of the season in 36th after being collected in that Lap 10 crash. Martin Truex Jr. was caught in that Lap 181 wreck and despite leading 11 laps, he finished 20th.
Erik Jones spun by himself in the in final laps and finished 19th.
Kyle Busch was in the hunt all day but just didn’t have any drafting help in the end. Following the red flag on Lap 182, Busch was the only Toyota in the top 20. With manufacturers putting such an emphasis on working together, Busch was hung out to dry. To still come away with a top 10 is impressive.
Toyota went 1-2-3 in the Daytona 500 but looked off this weekend.
Kurt Busch’s Time Is Coming
It’s a matter on when, not if, Kurt Busch reaches victory lane. He’s 0-for-37 at Talladega but he’s been close. Sunday’s sixth place finish was his seventh top 10 in his last 10 Talladega tries and also his 10th straight top 12 finish on the season.
GEICO 500 Results
47 Preece R
8 Hemric R
19 Truex Jr.
81 Earnhardt OUT
38 Ragan OUT
42 Larson OUT
17 Stenhouse Jr. OUT
15 Chastain -1
96 Kligerman -2
51 Ware -4
14 Bowyer -6
37 Buescher OUT
95 DiBenedetto OUT
77 Haley OUT
48 Johnson -10
00 Cassill OUT
52 Barrett OUT
11 Hamlin OUT
36 Tifft R OUT
4 Harvick OUT
43 Wallace Jr. OUT
34 McDowell OUT