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Ecstatic Earnhardt Jr. Recaptures Talladega Magic with GEICO 500 Win

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


Race Result

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


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