Rookie of the Year Contenders Shine in GEICO 500

Talladega Superspeedway has always had a reputation for being a total crapshoot. But with that said, it’s still been a venue reputed for giving drivers career runs and in some cases, giving them first wins as well.

Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric were just short of becoming the first rookies to win since Joey Logano in 2009, but with Preece’s third-place finish and Hemric’s fifth-place finish, they did take advantage of Talladega’s unpredictable nature. Both rookies ran a conservative race and stayed out of trouble and in the draft, and in the end, they kept their cars in one piece.

Preece’s third-place run seems to be more than just luck; the 28-year-old was also a contender in the Daytona 500 this year before getting shuffled back to finish eighth in the final running order. His top-five solidified the fact that he’s an exceptional restrictor-plate racer.

“It was awesome,” said Preece. “I was only here one other time (2016 Xfinity Series) and I was running third with three to go and went for the hole and got flushed. So I wasn’t going to do that today.”

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Something else helping Preece on the superspeedways is his own JTG-Daugherty Racing equipment. Preece’s predecessor A.J. Allmendinger managed to score several strong runs at Daytona and Talladega in the No. 47, finishing in the top-five at both speedways on multiple occasions.

Hemric was also quietly consistent at Talladega, his fifth-place run being a career-best so far in his rookie season.

“That was a day the No. 8 needed,” said Hemric. “First off, it’s great to see Chevrolet and all their drivers and teams put in the effort to communicate in the last few weeks to stay dedicated to each other. We’ve never had such unity on the track like we did today. That’s what led us to ultimately have our best finish as a group.”

A large factor for both rookies was the ability to pass with the new aero package. Instead of the freight-train finishes we’ve seen at Daytona and Talladega in recent years, there was plenty of passing and on-track action, with the product receiving positive reviews following the race.

Both Preece and Hemric have managed to keep low profiles this year, and although JTG-Daugherty hasn’t been an A-List team in 2019 they have kept Preece in a position where he can keep his car in one piece and at the same time keep it as a consistent finisher. With the exception of two crashes at Atlanta and Phoenix, he’s been a steady top-25 finisher in 2019.

Hemric hasn’t been as fortunate, with only three top-20 finishes preceding his Talladega finish. But if there’s any justice in the world he can use this run to build momentum as the season progresses. At the moment it looks like Preece is ahead in the rookie race, so Hemric could use any momentum he can get to catch up with the No. 47 crew.

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