Dale Earnhardt Jr. virtually locked himself into NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Chase with a victory Sunday in the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Earnhardt led 67 laps, winning for the first time this season for a sixth time at Talladega. With winning being the chief requirement for qualifying for the 16-driver Chase, Earnhardt’s chances are solid at making the postseason.
Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson finished second, with Paul Menard third and rookie Ryan Blaney fourth.
Pole-winner Jeff Gordon led for 47 laps, but finished 31st after he was caught speeding entering pit road on Lap 156. Kevin Harvick finished eighth and continues to lead the Cup standings by 40 points over Martin Truex Jr., who was fifth.
Earnhardt took the lead from Cole Whitt right after a restart on Lap 162 and never trailed from there. The caution was caused by Austin Dillon, whose Chevy caught fire after his engine blew.
Three who mattered
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: First victory of the season takes pressure of winning off Earnhardt for remainder of regular season.
Ryan Blaney: Fourth-place finish by rookie Blaney came in just his sixth career start. Hung tough at the end when Denny Hamlin tried to pass him on Lap 187.
Kurt Busch: He didn’t hit Trevor Bayne on Lap 47, but Busch got close enough to take the air away from Bayne and cause a 14-car pileup on the back stretch. The wreck knocked Bayne out of the race; Busch finished 12th.
▪ Greg Ives, Earnhardt’s first-year crew chief, almost didn’t make the race after his eight-year old daughter Payton broke her arm Saturday. Ives said Payton insisted he stay in Talladega for the race, rather than return home to help take care of her. “She was tough enough not to want her daddy,” said Ives. “That’s pretty cool.”
▪ Gordon had as good a shot at winning as anybody until his speeding penalty on pit road. It was his second consecutive disappointment after winning the pole at a superspeedway. He started first at the Daytona 500, but finished 33rd.
▪ Joe Gibbs Racing president J.D. Gibbs was at the race, his first public appearance since the team announced in March that he had begun treatment for symptoms impacting brain functions.
They said it
“I’ve made so many good moves and so many bad moves (at Talladega). (Sunday) I didn’t make too many bad ones.” – Earnhardt.
Spongebob Squarepants 400
Where: Kansas Speedway, Kansas City, Kan.
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports 1.
Radio: Motor Racing Network.