|Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images|
After two rain-plagued weekends on the short tracks of Bristol and Richmond, the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series convened on a sunny, Sunday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway. A 2.66-mile tri-oval conducive for speeds of 200 miles per hour and higher, its was not going to be a calm Sunday drive for the 43 drivers and teams committed to running 188 laps for the GEICO 500.
The second restrictor plate race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Saturday's time trials was performed under a revised format that avoided the messy result of this year's Daytona 500 group qualifying. Despite a different format, Jeff Gordon again prevailed with the pole in his Hendrick Motorsports by an astonishing 0.281 seconds over his teammate Kasey Kahne. When the GEICO 500 started on Sunday, Gordon enjoyed his qualifying advantage for a mere three laps before the #5 car of Kahne took a brief lead. Such as the case of a typical NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega, battles for the lead was fluidic. In the first 100 laps of the race, the lead changed hands 14 times.
For any event held on the Talladega Superspeedway, there is an anticipation that a multiple car wreck will occur. For the 2015 GEICO 500, lap 47 delivered what many expected. Started when the lead pack-running #6 Ford of Trevor Bayne slid loose out of turn 2 by aerodynamic disruptions and possible contact from Kurt Busch's #41 car. Within seconds, multiple drivers were swept-up in the big wreck. This year's Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson and Greg Biffle were among 14 cars listed as being part of the melee. Such a severe crash scene, NASCAR called a more than 11-minute red flag to clean up the debris. When the yellow flag replaced the red, crews of vehicles involved in the lap 47 crash were permitted to begin repairs. The teams unaffected by the major crash entered pit lane for regular service. Jimmie Johnson and his #48 Lowes Chevrolet exited the pits first by taking two tires. The Penske Racing team for Logano's #22 Ford fought to stay in contention for the race while fixing significant damage. While Logano would remain running, he would not be a contender for the race's win.
In the midst of a pit cycle with 31 laps to go, the #3 Chevrolet driven by Austin Dillon bellowed flames causing a yellow flag to come out. Having pitted just seconds prior to Dillon's issue, Jeff Gordon's crucial late race stop was marred by speeding. Unfortunately for the Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet driven by the four-time Cup champion, he was not able to compete for the victory on Sunday. Involvement in a last-lap crash relegated Gordon to a 31st place finish.
|Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images|
Leading through the late stages, a large piece of soft debris landed on the grille of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet. With water temperature gauges climbing on the #88 car of Earnhardt Jr., last lap battles resulting behind the leader saw Carl Edwards' #19 spun out by Casey Mears. The sliding Toyota ultimately led to a final wreck that included the before-mentioned #24 car. With the green flag remaining on the field and fending-off a challenge from competitors including teammate Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the final 27 laps to win the GEICO 500. Leading a total of 67 laps on the day, Earnhardt Jr.'s 24th career NASCAR Sprint Cup victory is his 6th at Talladega. While Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s ability on restrictor plate tracks has been unquestionable, his effectiveness at Talladega Superspeedway since the 2006 repaving was weakened. Prior to the 2015 GEICO 500, his last win was in 2004.
With this past Wednesday being the birthday of his late father (NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt), Dale Earnhardt Jr. has had an emotional last week. When asked in a post-race press conference what the win meant to him, the driver of the #88 Nationwide car responded, "I think about all the races he won here and at Daytona. I love when we go to Victory Lane because I feel like I add to his legacy there. All I ever want to do is make him proud. I feel like when we win at those tracks where he was successful, that's exactly what we're doing." The press conference followed a touching victory lane celebration.
Crossing the line in second-place, Jimmie Johnson and the #48 Lowes Chevrolet SS appeared to have driven for in the defense of Earnhardt Jr. than competing against his teammate. While only two of the Hendrick Motorsports cars finished in the top-30, it was still an outstanding show of dominance shown by the team as a whole. Collectively, the Hendrick Motorsports four-car squad led 167 of the race's 188 laps.
Paul Menard slipped his way into the top-3 in the final lap of the GEICO 500. The second top-10 for Menard and the #27 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet SS, the driver stands in 11th place in the overall points after 10 races. With Chevrolet dominating the top-3 at the Talladega NASCAR Sprint Cup event, 6 of the top-10 wore the bowtie badge.
Driving on a limited basis for the historic Wood Brothers Racing team, Ryan Blaney scored a career-best Cup Series finish. In only his sixth start in the top stock car series, the 21-year-old Blaney was running third in the late stage of the GEICO 500 (his dad Dave Blaney's career-best finishing position at Talladega). Rounding out the top-five at Talladega Superspeedway was Martin Truex Jr. driving the #78 Furniture Row Chevrolet SS who charged from a 36th starting position. Truex Jr. currently sits eighth in the overall series points standing.
An honourable mention in the top-10 results of the 2015 GEICO 500 goes to Josh Wise driving a #98 Ford Fusion. Finishing 10th in after coming from a 34th place starting spot, the 22-year-old Wise obtained his first career top-10 in Sprint Cup.
2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup
|Finishing Position||Car #||Driver||Sponsor/Car Make||Laps|
|1||88||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Nationwide Chevrolet||188|
|2||48||Jimmie Johnson||Lowe's Chevrolet||188|
|3||27||Paul Menard||Quaker State/Menards Chevrolet||188|
|4||21||Ryan Blaney (i)||Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford||188|
|5||78||Martin Truex Jr.||Furniture Row/Visser Protection Chevrolet||188|
|6||9||Sam Hornish Jr.||Medallion Bank Ford||188|
|7||31||Ryan Newman||Caterpillar Chevrolet||188|
|8||4||Kevin Harvick||Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet||188|
|9||11||Denny Hamlin||FedEx Express Toyota||188|
|10||98||Josh Wise||Phoenix Construction Ford||188|
|11||1||Jamie McMurray||McDonald's Chevrolet||188|
|12||41||Kurt Busch||Haas Automation Chevrolet||188|
|13||35||Cole Whitt||Speed Stick Ford||188|
|14||23||JJ Yeley(i)||Dr Pepper Toyota||188|
|15||43||Aric Almirola||Fresh from Florida Ford||188|
|16||7||Alex Bowman||Golden Corral Chevrolet||188|
|17||47||AJ Allmendinger||Kroger/Hungry Jack Chevrolet||188|
|18||83||Matt DiBenedetto||Dustless Blasting Toyota||188|
|19||14||Tony Stewart||Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet||188|
|20||38||David Gilliland||Farm Rich Ford||188|
|21||10||Danica Patrick||GoDaddy Chevrolet||188|
|22||2||Brad Keselowski||Miller Lite Ford||188|
|23||51||Justin Allgaier||Brandt Chevrolet||188|
|24||34||Chris Buescher (i)||CSX/Play It Safe Ford||188|
|25||20||Matt Kenseth||Dollar General Toyota||188|
|26||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Fifth Third Bank Ford||188|
|27||32||Bobby Labonte||C&J Energy Services Ford||188|
|28||13||Casey Mears||GEICO Chevrolet||188|
|29||46||Michael Annett||Bene-fit Chevrolet||188|
|30||15||Clint Bowyer||PEAK Commercial & Industrial Toyota||188|
|31||24||Jeff Gordon||Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet||188|
|32||19||Carl Edwards||ARRIS Toyota||188|
|33||22||Joey Logano||Shell Pennzoil Ford||186|
|34||5||Kasey Kahne||Farmers Insurance Chevrolet||158|
|35||3||Austin Dillon||Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet||157|
|36||55||Michael Waltrip||Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota||151|
|37||16||Greg Biffle||Ortho Ford||147|
|38||18||David Ragan||Pedigree Toyota||123|
|39||40||Landon Cassill (i)||Chevrolet||91|
|40||62||Brendan Gaughan (i)||Dia Thrive Chevrolet||90|
|41||6||Trevor Bayne||AdvoCare Ford||46|
|42||42||Kyle Larson||Target Chevrolet||46|
|43||33||Brian Scott(i)||Shore Lodge Chevrolet||18|