Sunday’s race at Talladega for much of the afternoon followed the usual script anytime the series rolls into the restrictor plate track. There was plenty of three- andfour wide racing, two-tire pit stops but not the usual finish that always features a couple of lines of cars trying to get into position to make that final pass for the win.
Talladega is known for its whiteknuckle last couple of laps, but on Sunday the last 20 or so laps were run in a single-file line. It looked as if there was going to be a 10 car breakaway near the end with Dale Earnhardt Jr. pulling the pack, but by the end of the race there were 20 cars in the single-file parade of cars that seemed content to run nose to tail across the finish line.
When Dale Jr. led the string of cars across the finish line, he told his crew over the radio to “Celebrate!” The win was the sixth win for Dale Jr. at Talladega and as it turned out when he crawled out of his Chevrolet in victory lane he had a hard time keeping his emotions in check.
He explained during his victory lane interview that he was at such a great place in his life that he was having a hard time figuring out why he deserved everything to be so good. He said, “I’m just blessed, everything is going so great.” His win also comes just a few days after his daddy’s birthday.
Dale Jr.’s team almost didn’t get the order to celebrate the win as in the closing laps of the race the grill of his car collected enough trash to cause the water temperature’s gauge to bury itself in the red. It made for some very anxious last couple of laps for his crew chief Greg Ives, who is in his first year of calling the shots for Jr.’s team.
It was Ives’ first win as a Sprint Cup crew chief after moving up from the Xfinity Series where he won the series title with driver Chase Elliott. Ives came close to missing the win as his daughter broke her arm on Saturday and had to have surgery to insert three pins. Dale Jr. offered to fly Ives home to be with his daughter on Saturday, but it was his daughter that told him to stay for the race.
Besides being the first win for the duo of Earnhardt Jr. and Ives, it also secures their spot in the Chase Round that gives them the opportunity to run for the title. Maybe just as important as getting in the Chase, the win also takes the pressure off the team that allows it to run for more wins without having to protect its spot in the points.
Jr. led a race high 67 laps on his way to becoming the eighth driver to punch his ticket to the Chase with the win.
There is no way to estimate how many drivers will earn a spot in the Chase field with a win, so at this time of the season there is still a lot of attention being given to the point standings. Seven of the eight winners this season are inside the top-10 with only Kurt Busch in 15th failing to crack the elite list of drivers.
Kevin Harvick with two wins sits on top of the points with 394 points, but following him in second by 40 points is Martin Truex Jr. who has yet to win a race. The only other driver without a win in the top 10 is Jamie McMurray in seventh and he trails Harvick by 90 points.
PIT NOTES: Kansas Speedway will begin a three-race stretch of races that will see all three wave the checkered flag after the sun has gone down. Two consecutive weekends of night racing will follow at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Kansas has one of the toughest dates on the entire schedule as it has to compete with Mother’s Day weekend. The sanctioning body for years did not schedule a race on Mother’s Day Sunday as it was a tough ticket to sell, especially in the South where Mother’s Day is held in high reverence. Darlington had the date for several years before it was moved to Kansas, but officials at that track have done a great job of marketing the event with very few empty seats.
Race Preview Event: SpongeBob SquarePants 400 Track: Kansas Speedway (1.5-mile quad-oval, 17-20o of variable banking in the turns) Date: May 9, 7:30 p.m. TV: FOX Radio: MRN Defending Champion: Jeff Gordon