The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers put on one helluva show for a packed grandstand and infield at this year’s Geico 500 race at Talladega Superspeedway. Every car on the track was displaying what can only be described as excellence with clean, hard racing, and little error…at least for the first two stages.
Surprisingly, 169 laps of the 191 lap race were without major incident, which is extremely out of character for restrictor plate racing and even more out of character for ‘Dega. During the 55 laps of Stage 1, pole-sitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. traded places numerous times with various front runners including but not limited to Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and teammate Brad Keselowski. Points leader Kyle Larson had a quick brush with the wall which brought out the caution flag on Lap 17. And before long it was the end of the segment and Brad Keselowski was collecting stage points for the second time so far this season.
The 55 laps in Segment 2 were filled with close calls and nail-biting moments as 40 cars whipped around the track in excess of 190 mph, the draft keeping most of them within arms reach of each other. Given the tight and often 3-wide format with precision maneuvers as drivers strived for better position, it looked like synchronized mayhem. After a caution on Lap 82 when Reed Sorenson blew a tire and hit the wall, Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin earned his first stage win of the year.
By Stage 3, comments were piling up on various social media outlets, indicating that fans were growing disenchanted with the picture perfect race. For example, some Instagram comments included: When is the big one coming? This is the most boring ‘dega ever! This is too tame for Talladega.
As it turned out, all that was needed was a little patience. The infamous superspeedway ‘big one’ that normally collects half the field finally reared it’s ugly head in the latter portion of Stage 3 and turned the lineup into a demolition derby.
After Ryan Blaney hit the wall and the field came under caution, the restart saw Kyle Busch leading the field with only 21 laps remaining. Chase Elliott in the #24 Hooters car was running second, with AJ Allmendinger directly behind in P3. With Kevin Harvick closing in, Allmendinger aggressively began to push Elliott, causing the #24 to get loose on the turn. When exiting the corner, Allmendinger came at Elliott yet again with another overzealous bump, only this time it was offside and it spun Elliott up the track sideways. Joey Logano, who was in the middle lane, plowed into Elliott and flipped him on his side just as Allmendinger also spun up the track and got under Elliott. The #24 got air and flipped on top of Logano, halfways riding the SAFER barrier as well as the hood of Logano’s #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford. The domino effect then began with cars colliding literally on all sides, whereupon Allmendinger slid down the backstretch on the driver’s side of his car until finally landing on the hood. The wreck collected Brad Keselowski, Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick, Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr, and others. Video of this 18-car pile-up can be found at the bottom of this article.
Underdog Ricky Stenhouse Jr, who has shown a lot of speed early this year, got the pole award on Saturday afternoon which allowed him to start on the front row. While he only led for 14 laps all day, he was able to navigate his No 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford to the front when it really mattered…the last lap. With the help of Jimmie Johnson, Stenhouse was able to forge past Kyle Busch to capture his first win of his career at one of the most difficult tracks on the NASCAR circuit.
Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is at Kansas Speedway for the Go Bowling 400. To purchase tickets, click HERE.
The series will be back at Daytona International Speedway for another superspeedway race on July 1st. For tickets, click HERE