The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series weekend at Talladega started off with a bang. Friday’s 2nd practice session was interrupted early as Jamie McMurray(1) blew a rear tire going down the backstretch, turned sideways, and got airborne. Just as the car lifted off the pavement, Ryan Newman(31) tapped McMurray in the side. The contact sent the number 1 car barrel-rolling side-over-side close to the inside retaining wall.
Fortunately, McMurray walked away from the wreck without injury.
NASCAR, after reviewing the incident, took immediate steps to reduce speeds with a rule change. The restrictor plate (used at Talladega & Daytona) was shaved 1/64th of an inch. Lowering it from 7/8 of an inch to 55/64th of an inch. Which NASCAR believes will lower the speeds from the 200+ range posted in practice sessions for Sunday’s GEICO 500.
The change did produce slower single-car speeds during qualifying. Kevin Harvick(4) won the pole with a speed of 194.448 mph. His teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, Kurt Busch(41), will start on the front row beside Harvick. Busch’s speed, 194.082mh. How the cars run in the draft remains to be seen.
On a beautiful Alabama Sunday afternoon, Harvick took the lead at the drop of the green flag. Kurt Busch and defending series champion Martin Truex Jr.(78) followed into turn one. Speeds in the draft returned to the 200-202 mph range.
In an interesting pit strategy, most of the leaders pitted on lap 13 for gas. Stages 1 & 2 at Talladega are 55 laps requiring a pitstop at some point during the stage. If the race stays green thru the stage the strategy works as those who pitted will return to the front as stops cycle through. If a caution comes out, it could end up costing the drivers pitting early valuable track position.
No cautions in Stage 1, so pit stops cycled completely through the field. At the green and white checkered flag, Brad Keselowski(2) took the Stage win for Ford and Team Penske. His teammate Joey Logano(22) finished on his rear bumper in second. Fusions took six of the 10 Stage points positions.
Stage 1 Results
* Ford Fusion Drivers
During stage ending pit stops two top contenders had trouble in the pits. Truex, for the second week in a row, had a problem with the jack. the car was high enough to remove the right rear tire but had to be raised another few inches to get the new tire on. Truex dropped from third to 20th coming out of the pits.
Harvick’s team made a huge rear suspension adjustment. Six turns on the left rear and three turns on the right rear of the car. The extra time turning the jack screws in the rear sent Harvick to midpack as well.
On the restart, Keselowski and Logano returned to the front. Kyle Busch(18), seeking his fourth win in a row, moved up to third. Again on lap 12 and 13 most of the field pitted for fuel. Keselowski was penalized for too fast entering pit road and was forced to perform a drive-through of pit road on the next circuit of the speedway. He returned to the track one lap down in 29th position.
On lap 71 the first accident of the day occurred. Erik Jones got sideways down the backstretch and wrecked with Trevor Bayne(6) and Jamie McMurray. The second car McMurray wrecked over the weekend he started in a backup car after his crash in Friday’s practice session. Truex, Kyle Larson(24), also received damage.
For Bayne, the bad news just keeps piling on. It was announced Wednesday that Matt Kenseth would be returning to the circuit. Splitting time with Bayne in the number 6 car for Roush Fenway Racing. Kenseth will reunite with Jack Roush, his car owner when Kenseth won his Cup Series Championship in 2003.
Racing for the Stage Win
Back to green flag racing, Logano led Paul Menard(21), with Kurt Busch working his way back up to the front in third. As laps wound down in Stage 2 Denny Hamlin(11) made a move to the front and Menard dropped in behind to push him to the lead. Menard also made a bid for the top spot with Logano on his tail. As the field began to pass lapped traffic, Menard took the lead. He held on for the Stage Win, the first of Menard’s career.
Stage 2 Results
* Ford Fusion Drivers
Five Fords followed the Wood’s Brother’s Fusion under the green and white checkered flag. As the Blue Oval drivers continued their early race dominance. Kyle Busch was too fast entering pit road during the stage ending pit stops. Busch’s drive-through penalty resulting in his starting the final 78 lap stage in 23rd of the 26 cars on the lead lap.
The Final Stage
William Byron(24), Ryan Blaney(12), Menard, and Harvick led the field to the green on the restart. Several drivers swapped the lead until another caution flag flew on lap 128 for debris on the front tri-oval. While some drivers choose to pit during the caution, with 58 laps to go another stop for fuel will be required.
On the restart, last years winner, Rickey Stenhouse Jr.(17) took the lead. He held the top spot only briefly as racing three wide Hamlin drove back to the front. Stenhouse dropped to eighth. As the leaders continued to shuffle the front of the pack, Keselowski pushed Logano to the top spot for another turn at the lead for the 22 car.
Three Wide Racing
As the battle at the front settled down, the rest of the pack lined up three wide with each line of cars looking for the fastest way around the track. Then with 43 to go most of the field pitted under green to top off their fuel tanks. Able to make it safely to the end the group returned to the track.
Hamlin and Stenhouse were too fast entering pit road and had to make the drive-through. Unbelievably Hamlin was too fast entering the pits for his penalty and was forced to take a second drive-through penalty. Luckily Hamlin lost only 1 lap in the process of serving his penalties.
Fords at the Front
After everyone pitted, Logano and Keselowski returned to the front. Followed by the Fords of Aric Almirola(10), Harvick, Menard, and Blaney. Six Fords at the front of the pack.
With 23 laps to go the “Big One” occurred. Jimmie Johnson(48) spun between turns 3 and 4. A host of contenders got caught in the melee that ensued. Front runners receiving damage in the crash were A.J. Allmendinger(47), Blaney, Byron, Kyle Busch, Menard, Clint Bowyer(14), Keselowski, Kasey Kahne(95), Austin Dillon(3), and Darrell Wallace Jr.(43).
Wallace, Dillon, Blaney, and Kyle Busch were able to continue with minor damage. The race restarted with 17 laps to go and Logano still in the lead. Cars soon lined up nose-to-tail for the final sprint to the checkered flag.
With horsepower virtually equal few moves were made over the final laps. Logano held on for the victory with Kurt Busch finishing second. Chase Elliott(9) took third, Harvick fourth, and Stenhouse fifth. No four-peat for Kyle Busch, he finished 13th. Logano is the third Ford driver to lock in a spot in the 2018 playoffs with a win this season.
Fords finished 1-2 and 4th through 7th.
Results of the GEICO 500 at Talladega Speedway
|5||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||0.318||188|
|16||43||Darrell Wallace Jr.||10.273||188|
|26||78||Martin Truex Jr.||-4||184|
|5||Martin Truex Jr.||295||1|
|16||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.*||217||0|
|Playoff Cut Line|
* Ford Fusion Drivers