TALLADEGA, Ala.– While Tony Stewart was the driver of record for starting the race, relief driver Ty Dillon drove the car to a top-10 finish at Talladega.
After switching out with Stewart under the first caution of the race, the relief driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing survived carnage to finish sixth in the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. It gave Stewart his first top-10 since the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway in October of 2014.
In what was unofficially his first Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega, Dillon described it as “just wild and crazy.”
“We had a really strong car,” Dillon said. “Fighting from behind, it’s hard to get it up front. I felt like if we could lead a pack at any point, we would have put ourselves up front. Early one, once I first got in the car, we drove right up to into the Top 10 really quick and we had some air on the nose and was able to go. The team built an awesome race car. I just kind of got mired back. I made some mistakes being my first time here racing. But we were able to dodge crashes and survive here, which is the big thing. We made some good moves at the end to get us into to the top six or seven.”
The decision for Stewart to get out of his car after starting the race at Talladega was done at the request of his doctors. Even still, the ever competitive “Smoke” wasn’t too thrilled with the prospect.
“It sucks, to be honest,” Stewart said. “I know why we got to do it, but it sucks. It still sucks that you have to do it but if I hadn’t broke my back at the end of January, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”
Stewart suffered a burst fracture of his L1 vertebrae in a dune buggy crash in the desert on January 31. The injury forced him to miss the first eight races of his retirement season. He returned last week to an 18th-place finish at Richmond International Raceway.
He added that this would be the “last time we have to do it and I am back in next week.”
Stewart leaves Talladega 38th in points 71 back of current 30th-place driver Matt DiBenedetto.