Sometimes a race will surprise me, and then other times a race will surprise me beyond belief. Every year when NASCAR comes to Talladega for the fall race, I know things can and will get interesting. Considering how this track provided crazy moments in years past, including ones earlier this year run in near darkness, I planned to just hold my breath for 500 miles and hope for the best.
This time, though, I was surprised at how it ended, and how the race went overall.
Sure there were times at the beginning where it was simply maintain position and run hard, but save equipment. That’s normally how it works. Everyone simply saves their equipment for the late charge to the checkered flag, which is when chaos normally ensues. The first race with the Generation-5 car, then called the “Car of Tomorrow” at Talladega saw guys simply play “follow the leader” for about 180 laps and then make moves late.
That race, the winner only led one lap, as in the one that counted.
That’s how Talladega is…ride, ride, and ride some more until the moment to simply make the move and hope for the best. That was how this year’s race was shaping up. Jamie McMurray in the lead, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in his rear-view mirror. McMurray already knew there was a setup going to happen, and that Earnhardt Jr. was the best driver to figure out what to do at these restrictor plate tracks to get positions. After all, he learned from the master, his dad, “The Intimidator.”
It was clear that the field was waiting for the final lap to do their move, maybe to ensure no Green-White-Checkered attempts would happen.
The No. 88 and his pushing car were ready to make their move, but suddenly the best plans went out the window. His pusher, Austin Dillon who was in Tony Stewart’s No. 14, got turned sideways off the second turn, and suddenly got airborne, collecting Casey Mears in the process.
The caution waved, ending the run to the checkered flag, and handing the win to McMurray.
Sunday’s race only had three cautions, which for restrictor plate racing is rather low, and normally a bulk of them happen within the last 50 laps or so. Overall, the restrictor plate races this year have been rather tame, possibly due to the rules package and the new car. Then again, I’ve seen wreck fests at this track, as well as caution-free races. Yes, you read right. Talladega in it’s rich history has held three caution-free races, 1997 won by Mark Martin (the fastest 500-mile race ever ran), 2001 won by Bobby Hamilton, and 2002 won by Earnhardt Jr.
Wouldn’t surprise me if another one happens in a few years, but that’s a far-fetched idea.
At least everyone for the most part escaped Talladega this year, and now I don’t have to worry about it for another seven months.
RESULTS: 1-McMurray 2-Earnhardt Jr. 3-Stenhouse Jr. 4-Menard 5-Kyle Busch 6-Ragan 7-Gilliland 8-Truex Jr. 9-Newman 10-Bowyer
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Biffle 12-Harvick 13-Johnson 14-Gordon 16-Logano 17-Edwards 18-Kurt Busch 20-Kenseth 29-Keselowski 33-Patrick 36-Kahne
CAUTIONS: 3 for 10 laps. Lap 4-7 (Fluid on track), 80-84 (#9, 42 accident-FS), 188-188 (#14, 13 accident-BS).
LEAD CHANGES: 52 among 20 drivers. Almirola 1, Burton 2, Almirola 3-7, Burton 8-10, Kenseth 11-14, Biffle 15-18, Logano 19-24, Biffle 25, Kenseth 26-41, Logano 42, B. Labonte 43-44, Gordon 45, T. Labonte 46, Kahne 47, Earnhardt Jr. 48-49, Johnson 50-54, Earnhardt Jr. 55-57, Kenseth 58-68, Johnson 69-77, Earnhardt Jr. 78-80, Kurt Busch 81-82, Johnson 83-84, Kenseth 85, Johnson 86-93, Bowyer 94, Johnson 95-97, Bowyer 98, Johnson 99-101, Earnhardt Jr. 102-103, Johnson 104, Earnhardt Jr. 105, Johnson 106-110, Stenhouse Jr. 111-113, Johnson 114-120, Stenhouse Jr. 121, McMurray 122, Mears 123, Gordon 124-125, Almirola 126-127, Earnhardt Jr. 128-131, Johnson 132-135, Earnhardt Jr. 136-146, Kyle Busch 147, Stenhouse Jr. 148, Earnhardt Jr. 149-160, Stenhouse Jr. 161, Kurt Busch 162, Ragan 163, Blaney 164, Kyle Busch 165-170, Edwards 171, Kyle Bush 172-173, McMurray 174-188.
TIME OF RACE: 2 Hrs, 47 Mins, 49 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 178.795 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: Under Caution
CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP: 1. Johnson, 2254 points; 2. Kenseth, -4; 3. Kyle Busch, -26; 4. Harvick, -26; 5. Gordon, -34; 6. Gordon, -52; 7. Biffle, -53; 8. Bowyer, -57; 9. Kurt Busch, -61; 10. Edwards, -68; 11. Newman, -72; 12. Logano, -75; 13. Kahne, -101