Under the guise of unusually good weather, as well as a new qualifying format, here is what was surprising and not surprising in the 46th annual Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Surprising: Talladega was surprisingly all about legacy for Dale Earnhardt Jr., from adding to his father’s rich legacy at Talladega with his own trip to Victory Lane to tying teammate Jeff Gordon for the most wins at Talladega among active drivers, with six wins apiece.
“I feel like we have a lot of supporters here because of dad’s success,” Junior said in an emotional Victory Lane. “He won so many races here. And I love when we go to Victory Lane here because I just feel like I add to his legacy.
“All I ever wanted to do was make him proud, and I feel like when we win at those tracks where he was successful like Talladega, then that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
The win was Junior’s first of the 2015 season and with the victory, he earned his berth in the Chase for the 2015 championship.
Not Surprising: Jeff Gordon demonstrated his continued good aim, unfortunately shooting himself in the foot again with a pit road speeding penalty. The pole sitter for the race finished a disappointing 31st in his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet.
“I was up in the booth yesterday talking about this – man you have to get to pit road without locking up the tires and not speeding,” Gordon said. “I thought I was plenty conservative there but the tires were worn out and I just carried too much speed to pit road and kind of locked the tires up; I was just speeding.
“I couldn’t get the car slowed down.”
Surprising: Young Ryan Blaney pulled a double, being both surprisingly lucky and good. The driver of the famed Wood Brother’s No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford took the checkered flag in the fourth position.
“We had a good car all day,” Blaney said. “We really were just kind of were lucky to be in that position towards the end of the race. I think we made a couple good moves about three-quarters of the way through.
“Guys started to go with us a little bit more. Luckily the moves we were making worked out to where guys trust you a little bit more. That helped us get in the right spot for the end of the race.”
Not Surprising: In classic Jersey style, Martin Truex Jr. said ‘fuggedaboutit’ to his string of top-10 finishes, scoring an even better top-five finish instead. And with that fifth place finish, the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row/Visser Protection Chevrolet also took over the second spot in the point standings.
“We always say when we come to Talladega you need to be patient, stay out of trouble and be there at the end — and that’s exactly what we did today,” Truex said. “I am enjoying this season after last year and can’t say enough about the guys at the track and all the guys back at the Denver shop for their hard work and talent.
“Talladega is a wild card, and any time you can come out of here with a fifth place finish that’s a good day.”
Surprising: It seemed that all was just plain backwards at ‘Dega, with the ‘big one’ happening early in the race and the single file racing occurred surprisingly late in the race, without that exciting door to door finish.
The big one happened very early, in fact on Lap 46, and was truly a big one with a 15 car pileup that resulted in many good cars either being taken out of the race or limping through the remainder of the race many laps down.
“I hate that a lot of cars got torn up, but especially our AdvoCare Ford,” Trevor Bayne said after his adventure in the big crash. “I did think it was a little early to have Talladega crashes already. I thought we were all fine to ride around the top and then the bottom lane came and you’ve got to get in where you fit in and try to make moves when everybody else is, but we were minding our own business there and I hate that we got torn up.”
As surprising as the early big one was, it was also surprising that the race’s waning laps were basically single file.
“I was waiting for guys to spread out with maybe three to go, and that didn’t happen,” Jimmie Johnson said after finishing runner-up. “There really wasn’t much energy in our single car draft. I was trying to back up to the guy behind me, but all it would do is open up the gap between me and the No. 88 and I could never really close it.
“Then, we just all kind of raced back to the finish.”
“Everybody was just waiting for somebody to make a move,” Paul Menard, driver of the No. 27 Quaker State/Menards Chevrolet, said after finishing third. “I didn’t want to be the first guy.”
Not Surprising: Underdogs are here to stay, especially at Talladega and Cole Whitt, who finished 13th, for one was on board with that, as was another Ford finisher Josh Wise, scoring an unusual top-10.
“My car ran against the wall really well,” Whitt, driver of the No. 35 Speed Stick Ford, said. “It didn’t really run the bottom or the middle very good, so my plan was I know that’s where I needed to be and it all worked out.
“I’m glad Josh (Wise) had a good run, a couple of underdog Fords get up there and get some good finishes. That’s what Talladega is for, so I’m just happy we could get a good run and hopefully we can get some momentum built for the year because I think we can get back on those top 25s.”
Surprising: After an admittedly rough start to the season, Sam Hornish Jr. finally achieved a higher finish than his teammate Aric Almirola, a sixth place run to Almirola’s 15th place finish.
“It was a really good day,” the driver of the No. 9 Medallion Bank Ford Fusion said. “I felt like we were gonna have more of an opportunity to try to at least get a top five out of it or maybe to win, but some of the other guys made their move a little bit quicker than what I thought that they were going to and that really kind of stuck us on the outside.
“This is only my second restrictor plate race back in the Cup Series in almost five years, so I feel like it was a good thing for us to try to be smart and follow people a little bit more than trying to be the leader.”
The finish for Hornish is his best with RPM so far and also earned him three positions in points.
Not Surprising: Danica Patrick was doing some serious damage control, from the announcement this week of losing her sponsor next year to her 21st place finish after having damage from an early race accident and battling a broken shifter linkage.
“Well, we survived today despite all the issues we faced, and sometimes that’s all you can ask for,” Patrick said. “The GoDaddy team did a great job getting the car fixed after the wreck, and the car ran really well.
“I was really worried we were going to have to make a green-flag stop at the end after we had shifter issues, but thankfully the cautions worked out and we didn’t. We had really hoped to come out of Talladega with a better finish, but at least we didn’t end up 40th.”
Surprising: David Ragan had a surprisingly difficult end to his run with Joe Gibbs Racing as the replacement driver for Kyle Busch. Ragan, who finished 38th after being involved in the big crash of the race, will head next race to the Michael Waltrip No. 55 team at Kansas.
“Just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but had a good run with the 18 guys. Have to thank everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing for the opportunity and wish it would have worked out a little bit better.”
“I wish Kansas was in about an hour,” Ragan said. “Certainly, this is not a good race to go out on. I was hoping we could get a good finish and contend for a win here today, but just wasn’t meant to be.”
Not Surprising: In addition to Trevor Bayne’s woes, the remaining drivers in the Roush Fenway lineup struggled as well, with Greg Biffle involved in the early ‘big one’ and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. getting wrecked in the last lap of the race.
“I really thought we were going to get a decent finish after all we had been through,” Stenhouse said. “May 3rd is ‘Fifth Third Day’ and I was really hoping we could have gotten a strong finish for them.
“But that’s superspeedway racing.”
All of the drivers will put the highs and lows of superspeedway racing behind them and turn their attention to the SpongeBob SquarePants 400, the next race on the schedule at Kansas Speedway on Saturday under the lights.