What happened this weekend when the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series traveled to the largest track on the circuit for the GEICO 500?
The short answer is that Joey Logano won at Talladega Superspeedway for the third time in his career. It was the first 2018 victory for Team Penske, and Logano became the sixth winner through ten races, snapping a 36-race winless streak.
Kurt Busch was second for Stewart-Haas Racing, with Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott finishing third as the top-ranked Chevrolet. Rounding out the top five were Kevin Harvick and Roush Fenway Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Following a huge wreck in practice, drivers were skittish and wary of their vehicles’ handling, which resulted in a fairly uneventful race by some fans’ standards, with cautions few and far between. The ending was tame, as the lead pack was content to stay in a parade rather than risk losing a decent points day in a desperate bid for glory. The speed might have been 200 mph, but the race’s tempo matched the Eric Church song about memories at the track.
For only the second time this season, there was a full field, as 40 cars rolled off the starting grid.
Rounding out the top ten were a sixth-place run for David Ragan in the Front Row Motorsports No. 38 and a seventh for Aric Almirola. Alex Bowman took eighth, Richard Childress Racing’s Ryan Newman was ninth and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Daniel Suarez was the top-running Toyota in tenth.
It was a good day for Fords. Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Harvick and Busch swept the front row in qualifying on Saturday, and once the race started, Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski won the first stage. Paul Menard won the second stage in the Wood Brothers No. 21 – the first stage win of his career. Logano led the most laps – 70 – and six of the top seven cars were Fusions. No doubt that number would have been higher if it weren’t for the Big One on lap 166, which took out Keselowski, Menard and SHR’s Clint Bowyer, and disrupted Ryan Blaney‘s day.
This wasn’t Trevor Bayne‘s week. After being demoted to part-time status beginning at Kansas with Matt Kenseth‘s return to Roush Fenway Racing and the Cup Series, Bayne got collected in the lap 72 wreck at Dega and finished 38th – his fourth finish of 33rd or worse in ten races. He now sits 30th in the standings with 127 points – out of drivers who have started every race, that’s ahead of only Front Row’s Michael McDowell and BK Racing’s Gray Gaulding.
David Ragan‘s sixth-place run was his tenth top-10 at Talladega and his 15th career top-10 at restrictor-plate tracks, where both of his MENCS wins have occurred, for Roush Fenway in 2011 at Daytona and Front Row at Talladega in 2013. Ragan’s FRM teammate McDowell finished ninth in the Daytona 500 in February.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Jamie McMurray had a rough weekend, barrel-rolling his No. 1 Chevy during practice, and then getting involved in the lap 72 wreck. He was scored by NASCAR as the final car with a “running” status, 16 laps down in 28th. It was his fourth sub-top-25 result of the season, and he’s 23rd in the standings with 167 points (for reference, leader Kyle Busch has 447, and the current playoffs cutoff is Stenhouse’s 217).
Ryan Newman‘s ninth-place run continued his strong record at restrictor-plate tracks (he was eighth in this year’s Daytona 500). It was the 13th career top-10 run for the Rocket Man at Talladega, and his 22nd top-10 at a plate track. He currently sits three points off the playoff bubble with 214 points in 17th.
Hendrick Motorspots continued a dubious tradition, as for the fourth straight 2018 plate race, at least one of their cars was shredded by the checkered flag. (Elliott and Jimmie Johnson crashed in the Clash, Johnson and William Byron in the Duels, and all four cars in the Daytona 500.) On Sunday Byron was caught up in the Big One on lap 166, finishing in 29th, but he did lead 14 laps, behind only Bowman in Chevy laps led.
Paint Scheme of the Week
Ricky Benton Racing made its second MENCS start, and their No. 92 Advance Auto Parts Ford wins best paint scheme of the race. It’s simple, clean and is recognizable, unlike the several white/blue cars this week. Timothy Peters kept it in one piece and finished 23rd, a respectable showing for the Truck Series veteran in his series debut.
Also of note: this was the third different color combination for Ryan Blaney’s No. 12 Menards Ford this season, as both the number and the lettering on the quarter panel were white. At Daytona the number was red, lettering white, several other races this season the number and lettering have both been red. I think the red number/white lettering is easiest to read, but it’s hard to miss a car in highlighter yellow.
Also, Darrell Wallace Jr‘s No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevy was self-sponsored this week, which is unfortunately not that much of interest anymore, but it is this week because both owners were sponsoring, as Petty’s Garage and Medallion Bank were on the Camaro ZL1, in a throwback look to one of Richard Petty’s early-1980s cars.
All three national series make the trek up to Delaware this weekend, destination the high-banked concrete of Dover International Speedway. Could Jimmie Johnson be the next driver to snap his winless streak? He won the spring race here last year, and Kyle Busch took the fall race. Other current racers with a win at the Monster Mile include Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr.
An SHR driver will battle a Gibbs racer for the win, and Newman could maybe surprise some people. The track ripping a hole in someone’s front bumper is highly unlikely, though not unprecedented.
The MENCS AAA 400 Drive for Autism will go green about 2 p.m. ET with television coverage on FS1.
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