Amidst all the drama that unfolded at Talladega, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finally found his way to Victory Lane… as did Danica… sort of.
The Roush driver has been having one of his better years and started the race on the pole next to fan favorite, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The beginning of the race saw a lot of movement throughout the pack with Keselowski winning the first Stage. While there were no wrecks, the racing was tight and the drivers were racing well without getting crazy. Denny Hamlin dropped to the back of the pack and pitted early in a strategy move that set him up for being at the front of the pack on the restart and help enable him to win Stage 2 of the race.
While I personally am not a fan of the Stage racing, it certainly has teams thinking about getting as many of these points as possible. Martin Truex Jr. leads all drivers with 5 Stage wins but Keselowski leads with 12 playoff points in his two Stage wins. Kyle Larson continues to lead the point standings even though he has just a single win.
Stage 2 was also a pretty quiet section of the race but it was the final laps that offered up all the action. Ryan Blaney got spun in a single car wreck that sent him to the garage. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was moving from the front to the back of the pack often and it was apparent he was not happy with the handling of his car.
Usually the big wrecks happen further back in the pack where the racing is often 3 and 4 wide where there is a lot of air movement and cars get loose easily. But the really big wrecks occur when someone among the race leaders gets squirrely and wrecks the pack. That’s what happened this Sunday. Although it was not the biggest in Talladega history, it did collect 18 cars. This time it occurred when AJ Allmendinger got behind Chase Elliott and seemingly lost his mind or the handling on his car or both. Dinger claimed the 4 car (Harvick) had him boxed in behind Elliott and when he got to Elliot, his car got loose and he hit the 24 sending him across the track in front of the field. Of course this collected a lot of cars as the 22 got sideways, the 24 went airborne next to the fence and the 47 got tagged and flipped over in the middle of the track. The Big One was underway, taking out a lot of competitive cars. Granted, checking up can cost you. You can get run into and spun out and cause another wreck. Checking up can also send you back in the pack. Neither is a great choice when you are at the front of the pack. But on the flip side, you need to make smart choices about how and where you bump someone. And in the left rear is never a good spot at 200 mph.
After the red flag for track clean up, the final laps set up with some fast cars still left to go for the win. Unfortunately for Dale Earnhardt Jr., his wheel problem forced him out of contention. He had a loose rear wheel and Jr. claimed it as the condition he had been experiencing all race. The team was forced to use a spacer to get the lug nuts tight and he finished 22nd instead of vying for the win in a fast car. You can be sure that tire issue will be a huge talker in the shop meeting.
But at the end, Talladega never fails us with a GWC finish and Kyle Busch slicing and dicing with Stenhouse for the lead. Jamie McMurray is a good plate racer but doesn’t always have the best finish, granted it might often be his fault as he is pretty aggressive. But he made an eye of the needle pass to set himself up for 2nd place.
Other notable finishes were Aric Almirola in 4th (although he failed post inspection so he will lose many of the points he gained), Kasey Kahne in 5th, Keselowski in 7th after narrowly avoiding major damage in the Big One, Paul Menard in 9th and David Ragan in 10th. Ty Dillon, Chris Buescher, Cole Witt, Elliott Sadler, Matt Dibenedetto and Daniel Suarez all finished in the top 20 as well. Needless to say, the loss of some competitive cars aided those finishes, but you take what the racing gods give you on any given race day.
Kudos to Stenhouse and Jack Roush for getting back to Victory Lane and for Danica for making to the winners circle… kind of.