Hendrick Motorsports dominated qualifying for today’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. The question will be how long will those cars stay at the front of the pack. The time has arrived from one of the most exciting races of the year. The NASCAR Sprint Cup series makes its first of two visits to ‘Dega today for what will be a wild ride.
Two car packs will be the order of the day. Since drivers figured out that two cars pushing each other all the way around the track makes the cars much faster than driving in the giant pack, the tandem has become the norm at the restrictor plate tracks. If we take anything from the Nationwide Series race yesterday, you can have damage to your car and still make it to the finish line first.
I mentioned Hendrick and qualifying up above. All four Hendrick drivers will start at the front of the field as they captured the first four starting positions. Jeff Gordon secured the pole with Jimmie Johnson starting second. This is a huge advantage for the Hendrick team. They will be able to hook up into the two car draft right from the get go. No need to find a teammate and eventually get together.
Here is a quick fact from the pre race show from Darrell Waltrip today. DW failed to finish races 23 times at Talladega. That is most of any driver who has competed at the track.
The pace car is off and we are under way. Gordon is pushed into turn one by Mark Martin and captured the lead going down the backstretch. Johnson is being pushed on the high side by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Out of turn four it is a drag race back to the line with Gordon leading lap one. The field has formed up to two car drafts all the way to back of the pack.
Lap 6 and we get our first lead change with Clint Bowyer being pushed by Michael Waltrip. Back into turn one and Gordon and Martin go back to the top spots.
Lap 20 and Kasey Kahne has taken the lead. Gordon and Martin have dropped back in the 30th or so position. They lost a lot of time on the swap and getting the debris off Gordon’s grill. Gordon then had to swing to the side of Martin’s car to cool the engine. They are beginning to rally now and will probably eventually make it back to the front.
Lap 28 and we get the first caution of the day with Brian Vickers in the wall on the backstretch. Vickers was being pushed by his teammate Kahne, above them, Kurt Busch was pushing Landon Cassill. Cassill gets loose and hits Vickers who then tapped Matt Kenseth, who made a great save, and drove it into the wall. The wreck should have taken out about 10 to 15 cars, but some great saves made it only a one car incident. Lead lap cars are on pit road with Bowyer winning the race of pit road with Michael Waltrip being second.
Lap 32 and we go back to green with Bowyer leading the way. I am watching Jeff Gordon’s channel on DirecTV’s HotPass. Gordon is working with Martin and they have decided to stay in the back of the pack to avoid wrecks. This strategy worked out nicely on the first caution. On Twitter, theracinggeek.com is reporting that Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. will employ the same strategy.
Lap 50 and we have had 16 leaders for 27 lead changes. Competitive racing so far and we have seen what we expect at Talladega with cars coming and going.
Lap 56 and Earnhardt Jr. leads his 21st race out 23 starts at Talladega.
Lap 66 and we have a Trevor Bayne sighting in the lead. Good racing going on near the front. There are multiple two packs at the front that continue to swap the lead.
Lap 70 and the green flag pit stops begin. Carl Edwards and Marcose Ambrose are in. Lap 72 and Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. hit pit road. Lap 75 and the green flag stops are completed. Bayne had a slight problem on his pit stop with a right front tire being hung. The problem probably cost him roughly two or three seconds of time. Lap 78 and Johnson goes to the lead with Earnhardt Jr. pushing him along.
Lap 90 and we get the second caution of the day with a big wreck in turn 2. Cars involved include Kahne (on fire driving back to pit road), Bayne, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, David Ragan, and Marcos Ambrose. Cars will be on pit road for fuel and tires under this caution. Paul Menard leads the cars off of pit road.
Half Way Stats (Lap 94)
Leaders: 18 for 43 Lead Changes
Cautions: 2 for 7 Laps
Average Speed: 170.039 mph
Lead Lap Cars: 28
Lap 96 and we get the green flag and we are back under way. Paul Menard jumps to the front and leads the pack into turn one with Regan Smith pushing him.
Lap 111 and Kurt Busch has assumed the lead. Like we have seen all day, many groups are up front and lead changes happen roughly every other lap or so. It is anyone’s race to win at this point.
Lap 127 and the caution is out for debris on the track. Fox actually showed the debris in the middle of a turn when coming back from commercial. No phantom caution for debris on this yellow. All the teams will take the opportunity to stop on this yellow for maybe some tires and definitely some fuel. Menard wins the race off of pit road on this go around. There has been some interesting pit road strategy as well. Lead lap cars at the back of the field have been waiting until the second time by to pit. This has eliminated the chance that those cars could be involved in a pit road incident.
Lap 132 and we get back up to speed. Menard leads the charge into turn one and Regan Smith drops in front of him now. The field has formed itself back into groups of two probably about twenty to thirty more laps of running calm and then the storm will begin.
Lap 139 and we get a big wreck. Joey Logano was pushing Kyle Busch and Busch got spun back into traffic. Busch slid into Kenseth and some other, apparently non import cars because Fox has not identified them. Looked like approximately four to five cars were involved. Leaders stopped for fuel and tires again.
Lap 144 and we get down to business with Kevin Harvick leading the way now. Bowyer hooks up with Harvick and continues to push their two car pack to a ten car length lead coming out of four.
Lap 147 and Jeff Burton makes an incredible save near the start finish line. Burton shot onto the apron and looked like he was going to spin, but kept it going straight and got back in line.
Lap 153 and the time has arrived for Jeff Gordon and Martin to make their way to the front. Gordon and Martin have moved up to the 17th and 18th position after running between 25th and 30th for most of the day. They are going to have something for the field; they are making up ground and passing cars with ease.
Lap 163 and the caution is out for debris on the backstretch. Teams are debating whether they will stop or not on the caution. A lot of cars can make it to the end, but would not be able to go green white checker if it occurs. Roughly the top ten stay out and the rest of the lead lap cars pit.
Lap 167 and we are picking it up and putting it down again. Bowyer has the lead off into turn two.
Lap 171 and how the entire front of the field did not wreck in the middle of three and four is unbelievable. Ryan Newman gets turned heading to the low side and hits Juan Pablo Montoya and everyone ends up straight and rolling.
Lap 173 and we get a caution for Newman spinning off the backstretch. Newman keeps it off the inside wall in an amazing piece of driving.
It is time for no holds barred wide open racing, with 11 laps to go the green is flying with Dave Blaney leading the race. Ten to go and we have a mix of cars at the front. Harvick is in the lead being pushed by Bowyer. The Hendrick packs are chasing them now.
Six laps to go and one of any 24 cars in the lead pack could win it. Coming and going, and then coming to the front again. Five to go and you can throw a blanket over the lead pack.
Two to go and Edwards is leading with Biffle pushing. Bowyer to the lead into four. One to go and Jeff Gordon is leading the race. What a pack getting to the end of the race! Jimmie Johnson beats them all back to the start finish line as they come by three wide at the end of the race. What an exciting finish to the race. It was actually four wide at the finish. NASCAR.com is showing the margin of victory was 0.002 seconds. Here is the top 10 after the checkered flag: 48, 33, 24, 88, 29, 99, 16, 5, 34, 20.
Amazing how those drivers can run nose to tail all day long and then give us a finish like we saw today. Talladega gave us everything we hoped it would be today. Passes for the lead all day long, comers and goers, spectacular saves when cars should have been wrecked, some wrecked cars, and a pass for the win with just feet to spare before the line.
Here are the final race stats:
Leaders: 26 for 88 Lead Changes
Cautions: 6 for 24 Laps
Average Speed: 156.259 mph
Lead Lap Cars: 27
Today’s finishing margin of 0.002 seconds ties the record for the closest finish ever in the Sprint Cup Series.