Talladega Superspeedway, Talladega, AL — June 21, 2020
Today, 5,000 fans will attend the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. With a spectator capacity of 175,000, social distancing will not be a problem. Another step in NASCAR’s slow progression back to normal.
Two race teams, Stewart-Haas Racing(2) and Team Penske(1) each announced they had employees at their race shops test positive for the COVID-19 virus. The three individuals were immediately quarantined per guidelines. NASCAR continues at-track testing for everyone entering event facilities.
Today’s race is 188 laps around the 2.66-mile superspeedway. Stages are set for 60/60/68 laps. The defending champion is Chase Elliott, he starts 11th today. Martin Truex Jr. sits on the pole, with his teammate Denny Hamlin joining him on the front row.
How the Field is Set Without Qualifying
NASCAR conducts a blind draw each week based on team owner points. This sets up additional competition during the race as teams must be aware of where they stand in relation to the seeding tiers. Dropping out of the top 12 could be a difference of 24 starting positions.
- Positions 1-12 determined by a random draw from charter teams in those positions in team owner points
- Positions 13-24: Random draw among charter teams in those positions in owner points
- Positions 25-36: Random draw among charter teams in those positions in owner points
- Positions 37-40: will be filled out by open, non-chartered teams in order of owner points
Starting positions at Talladega is not as critical as a short track. A few drivers may opt to fall to the rear of the field and just ride, in hopes of avoiding “the big one.” Racing during the final Stage is when things really get heated up.
For the second week in a row, Mother Nature interfered with the start of the race. A passing thunderstorm dotted the area with lightning strikes and torrential rains. Instead of diminishing, the storms built and washed away the race causing a postponement to Monday Afternoon, June 22.
When the green flag finally waved, Truex dropped down in front of his teammate Denny Hamlin who pushed him around the first lap as drivers went three-wide battling for positions.
As drivers changed positions, Hamlin led for a while, then Logano went to the front. The duo traded the lead several times until the competition caution, scheduled by NASCAR, came out after 25 laps.
On the restart, Team Penske led the pack with Logano out front, followed by Ryan Blaney, and Brad Keselowski. Lead changes, position swaps, and bold moves as drivers seem to move from the front to rear and back to the front. All it takes is for a few cars to line up and get a big run to move forward. Three-wide racing is now the norm.
It will take 94 laps completed to make the GIECO 500 official. Rain is approaching the speedway as the laps wind down in Stage 1. Early leader Denny Hamlin had a tire go down on the right front with 6 laps to go in the Stage and had to pit. The rain started a lap later, bringing out the caution and helping Hamlin avoid losing a 2nd lap on pit road. The red flag was displayed with 3 laps to go in Stage 1.
After almost an hour-long red flag stoppage, cars were back on the track finishing out the Stage under yellow. Rookie Tyler Reddick earned his first stage win in the Cup Series.
Stage 1 Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Hamlin was the lucky dog and returned to the lead lap during the caution period.
Back to green in Stage 2 and the jockeying for positions continues. It was Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson on the front row, followed by the Ford Mustangs of Logano, Blaney, and Keselowski. Reddick sat in 8th place on the restart.
Three-wide racing commenced before the completion of one green flag lap. It did not take long for the Team Penske cars to find each other’s bumper and drive to the front. Blaney, Logano, and Keselowski got an extra push the Wood’s Brothers Matt DiBenedetto who has a technical alliance with Penske.
At the halfway point John Hunter Nemechek spun on the tri-oval bringing out the caution. All the leaders took the opportunity to pit for fuel and tires. Showers dotted north Alabama but they were avoiding the track. It appeared the race could run to its conclusion barring a pop-up shower making an appearance.
The race restarted with 21 laps to go in Stage 2 and the Penske cars out front again. Kyle Busch has hung around the front of the pack all-day, his car pushes well and he has worked to break up the Ford dominance with anyone getting a run. Ryan Blaney was almost sideways as Keselowski bump drafted him trying to get around a Ricky Stenhouse Jr. / Kyle Busch draft to the front.
With 6 laps to go in Stage 2, a piece of debris on the backstretch brought out the caution flag. The leaders opted to stay on the track and fight for stage points. The race restarted with 2 laps to go in the Stage, Blaney and Stenhouse shared the front row. They swapped the lead several times over the two laps, with the Stenhouse/Busch paring inching ahead of the Blaney/Keselowski duo under the green and white checkered flag.
Stage 2 Results
|1||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Drivers who pitted on the debris caution came to pit road at the end of the stage and took gas only. Changing the complexion of the front of the field. Chris Buescher, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Matt Kenseth will lead the field on the restart.
Kenseth developed a problem with his car and quickly pulled out of line on the backstretch to avoid starting a wreck. He came to the pits with a report of no brakes. Last year’s winner, Chase Elliott, led for the first time with a push to the front from Harvick. As the Penske guys found each other and began their march back to the top.
With 55 laps to go, Elliott was making a run and got a push from Keselowski. Logano, who had an incident with Elliott at Bristol that cost both of them a chance at a win, saw the run and pulled up to block. Logano had warned Elliott that he would race him hard every time they encountered each other on the track and made good on that promise last week at Homestead-Miami. The two cars made slight contact and Elliott got sideways. Austin Dillon clipped Elliott in the rear causing damage to both cars. Remarkably, everyone else avoided the incident and put “the big one” on hold for a few more laps. Both Dillon and Elliott were forced to retire from the event.
The race restarted with 50 laps to go and Team Penske out front again. Blaney, Logano, and Keselowski, with Kyle Busch and Stenhouse lurking.
Three laps later Brendan Poole and Joey Gase wrecked at the back of the pack bringing out the caution again. The leaders opted to pit as the race reached the point where a full tank of Sunoco Racing Fuel should carry them to the end of the 188 laps.
More new names at the front for this restart as Christopher Bell, Erik Jones, Stenhouse, Harvick, and Clint Bowyer were the top 5 coming to the green. Bell and Jones almost wrecked as the rookie forced the Michigan driver below the double yellow line. Bell earned a drive-thru penalty for the move and Jones dropped back into the pack.
Kyle Busch had a right rear tire go flat forcing him to pit and go a lap down to the field. Logano moved to the front, but he was unable to hold the lead as his teammates struggled to form up behind him. William Byron, who started at the rear due to pre-race inspection issues, led the freight train around the track.
As two lines began to form, Bubba Wallace drove to the lead for a lap. Logano moved around with a push from fellow Ford Mustang driver Kevin Harvick. Alex Bowman and Ryan Preece took turns at the front. Tyler Reddick rejoined the leaders as the battle for the top spot heated up.
With 8 laps to go, Blaney started his move forward and he drove to the lead with a push from Stenhouse. With 3 laps to go, Jimmie Johnson had a big run and drove up to 2nd place. A bump from Harvick sent the 7-time champion spinning, adding another race to the winless streak that will now stand at 108.
The caution gave drivers who feared they were short on fuel to pit and sent the event into overtime. Blaney, Harvick, Buescher, Stenhouse, and Keselowski were the top 5.
Harvick took the lead and looked like he might pull off the win as the white flag waved. Blaney got a run on the backstretch and moved out front. Cars began wrecking back in the pack as Blaney surged ahead.
Things got crazy as the leaders came through the tri-oval. Erik Jones got a nose in front, Blaney gave him a bump and drove back around, Stenhouse was closing fast and the pair crossed the line in a photo finish. Blaney ahead by inches as another wreck was developing right behind them. Aric Almirola came across the finish line backward taking third, with Hamlin 4th and Jones 5th.
The rest of Team Penske finished a disappointing 17th for Logano and 19th for Keselowski.
Next weekend it’s a Pocono doubleheader as the Cup cars race on Saturday and again on Sunday.
Results of the GIECO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
|2||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr||191|
|8||38||John Hunter Nemechek||191|
|24||19||Martin Truex Jr||191|