The unpredictability of restrictor plate racing that excites fans and keeps drivers on edge throughout the event produced one of the wildest races in recent years at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday.
Through the “big one” that collected 16 cars, an Overtime finish, and a first-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner, the 2.66-mile oval showcased all that it’s known for in the GEICO 500.
For the First Time
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. entered Talladega following the best start to a season in his career, finishing in the top-10 four times through the first nine races. He continued to demonstrate his car’s speed and strength throughout the weekend by winning the pole and capturing his first career victory.
Through 157 starts, the 29-year-old’s best result of second came twice at Bristol in 2014 and 2016. He has performed well at Talladega before, scoring his first career top-five at the track in October 2013.
The improved performance out of Roush-Fenway Racing this season allowed the No. 17 Ford to remain up front throughout the race. Stenhouse Jr. then made the right move on the last lap to pass Kyle Busch and celebrate in Victory Lane.
The ‘Big One’ Strikes
The GEICO 500 was relatively clean for much of the afternoon before trouble struck with 20 laps to go. While running second, Chase Elliott received a bump from behind by AJ Allmendinger, and it sent Elliott spinning into the oncoming pack.
Both Elliott’s and Allmendinger’s cars were lifted off the ground, with Elliott’s landing on all four-wheels and Allmendinger’s resting on its lid.
Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, and Brad Keselowski had three of the strongest cars in the field and were also among the drivers collected. Keselowski and Harvick made repairs and continued, but last October’s Talladega winner Logano went to the garage.
All competitors involved walked away safely.
Making the Right Call
Green flag pit stops are challenging at restrictor plate tracks as teams must communicate with other crews to ensure multiple cars pit at the same time to allow for drafting help off of pit road.
Kyle Busch worked this strategy to perfection during his final stop of the day as he went from running outside the top-10 to leading once all cars cycled through.
Busch maintained the top spot until the final lap when Stenhouse Jr. passed by, and he was unable to challenge for the lead again, ultimately placing third.
Not His Day
After narrowly avoiding the 16-car crash on Lap 169, Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked to be in a position to contend for the victory in the closing laps.
However, once the race resumed, he reported a loose wheel and made an unscheduled pit stop that put him a lap down. When the second to last caution came out with 10 laps to go, he earned the free pass and a chance to mount a final charge to the front.
With the field running three and four-wide ahead of him, he was unable to make up much ground and finished 22nd.
He will now have one final opportunity to capture a seventh victory at his best track on the schedule when the series returns to Talladega in October.
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