While Ryan Blaney celebrated his first triumph of this year’s NASCAR Cup Series season at Talladega Superspeedway, there were a number of competitors who left one of the world’s fastest superspeedway venues with strong results within the top 10.
The first was Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Starting 20th, Stenhouse was competitive at the drop of the green flag as he carved his way towards the front. After finishing in 12th the first stage, Stenhouse started to flex his muscles as he and teammate Ryan Preece battled inside the top 10 throughout the second stage. On Lap 106, Stenhouse led his first lap of the day and led again six laps later. In a two-lap dash to the conclusion of the second stage, he returned to the lead and a lap later, he received a draft from Kyle Busch on the frontstretch to edge Ryan Blaney and win the stage, thus earning valuable stage points in his quest to make this year’s postseason. For the final stage, Stenhouse restarted 24th, but he made his way towards the front in the closing laps. Following a late caution and an overtime restart, Stenhouse was behind Blaney for the win entering the frontstretch. He made contact with Aric Almirola and battled dead even at the finish line with Blaney. When the dust settled, Stenhouse fell short of the win by 0.007 seconds and at a track where he scored his first Cup win in 2017. Nonetheless, the runner-up result was Stenhouse’s best in his first 13 races with JTG-Daugherty Racing and his third top-five result of the 2020 season. The result moved Stenhouse from 21st to 20th in the regular-season series standings, where he trails points leader Kevin Harvick by 227 points.
“Yeah, I felt like I was a sitting duck there by myself,” Stenhouse said on MRN Radio. “Just trying to pick up different people to draft with all day. The Fords really stuck together, [Kyle Busch] and I pushed really good [at] each other and then, I don’t know what issue he had. So, I lost that guy, which I worked well with all day. All in all, our NOS Energy Drink car was really fast. Glad that a few fans got to stay here and watch a great race. I felt like we battled hard all day and put on a great show. It was fun.”
Sliding across the finish line in third was Aric Almirola. A week after notching his first top-five result of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Almirola started 15th and settled at the rear of the field in the early laps of the race. Throughout the first stage, Almirola slowly moved his way towards the front, but settled in 20th following the first stage. Following the second stage, Almirola was in 25th. Prior to the overtime restart, Almirola was in seventh and a lap later, he was in eighth. Entering the frontstretch, he gained a huge run and had appeared to establish a race-winning move beneath Blaney before he made contact with Stenhouse inches from the finish line. Sliding backwards across the line, he was able to finish third and keep his car intact. With his second consecutive top-five result of the season, his best result in 13 Cup races this season and his sixth consecutive top-10 result at Talladega, Almirola moved from 13th to 12th in the standings, where he trails teammate Harvick by 153 points.
“I thought we had a shot to get our Smithfield Ford Mustang in Victory Lane,” Almirola said on MRN. “We had a really good car and our strategy was to stay out of trouble all day and be there at the end. We were there at the end, it was close. We just couldn’t get it done. Proud of all of my guys on this team. We had a great week last week at Miami with a top five, and leave here at Talladega with another top five. So, we’ll keep building on that and looks like the ball’s going in the right direction for us.”
Next was Erik Jones, who was inches from establishing a race-winning move on Blaney before he settled for a top-five finish. Starting 18th, Jones spent the majority of the race running at the back of the pack along with teammate Martin Truex Jr. while his other teammates, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, battled at the front. Following the first stage’s completion under caution, Jones was in 23rd and was also the second-highest Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with Truex behind him and Hamlin scored a lap down. Jones continued running towards the rear of the field throughout the second stage, where he finished 29th. With 42 laps remaining, Jones restarted second, but was forced off the track and below the double yellow lines (out of bounds) by Christopher Bell, which resulted in a penalty for Bell. He was running within the top 20 in the closing laps, but following a late caution and prior to an overtime restart, Jones moved up to 13th. On the final lap, he drafted Stenhouse towards the front and on the frontstretch, he was behind Blaney and was prepared to mount a last-lap pass for the win. After feigning a move on the outside, he moved to the inside, but was blocked by Blaney. He moved up the outside lane again with rookie John Hunter Nemechek behind him. Blaney moved up the track and made contact with Jones, which sent Jones into the wall. Despite sustaining significant damage to the front of his No. 20 Toyota Camry, Jones limped across the line in fifth following a three-race slump, where he finished no higher than 20th. With his third top-five result of the season and first at Talladega, Jones moved from 18th to 17th in the standings, where he trails Harvick by 185 points.
Making his way to a sixth-place result was Chris Buescher. Starting 21st, Buescher finished 15th in the first stage and ninth in the second stage while spending the majority of the race inside the top 10 with a strong racecar. Following a series of late cautions and an overtime restart, Buescher was in third as he drafted Harvick to the front. He moved into second on the final lap, but did not receive any drafting help on the frontstretch as a handful of competitors overtook him for position. When the checkered flag waved, Buescher crossed the line in sixth for his third top-10 result of the season, his first at Talladega and his best result since finishing third in the Daytona 500 in February. With his result, Buescher, who also led four laps, remained in 19th in the standings and is 224 points behind Harvick.
“Not a bad run for our Fastenal Ford Mustang and our team,” Buescher said in a post-race interview on social media. “Lots of excitement throughout the race at different areas and I obviously wanted to replay the end to do a little bit better. At the end of the day, it was a good run for us. We’ll go on to Pocono and go get a doubleheader.”
Next was Alex Bowman. Coming into the weekend, Bowman had recorded two top-10 results in the previous eight races, one in the last seven. Starting eighth, Bowman remained towards the front in the early stages of the race. He led his first lap of the day on Lap 46 and again on Lap 50. He concluded the first stage in second under caution and emerged with the lead to start the second stage. By then, Bowman led a total of five laps before he was overtaken for the lead. When the second stage concluded, Bowman had fallen back to 16th. With three laps remaining, Bowman was in sixth when he dodged a late spin involving his teammate, Jimmie Johnson. With the race set into overtime, Bowman restarted within the top 15 and was able to battle his way to a seventh-place finish in two laps. With his fourth top-10 result of the season and third at Talladega, Bowman is eighth in the standings, trailing Harvick by 71 points. He is, nonetheless, guaranteed a spot in the postseason after winning earlier this season at Auto Club Speedway.
Last but not least, John Hunter Nemechek rallied from an early incident to post a career-best run for him in the Cup Series and in his first tango at Talladega. Starting 22nd, Nemechek was inside the top 10 when the competition caution flew on Lap 25, but he settled in 16th following the first stage’s conclusion. While battling inside the top 10 at the race’s halfway point, Lap 94, Nemechek reported a possible cut tire to his No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford entering the frontstretch. He then got loose and spun near the pit road entrance, but he kept his car spinning in the tri-oval grass without damaging his car. Nemechek was able to rally from the spin to finish 14th in the second stage, two spots behind his teammate, Michael McDowell. Battling within the top 10 and 15 throughout the remainder of the race, Nemechek was in 13th when the caution flew with three laps remaining for a single-car incident and sent the race into overtime. Restarting 13th, Nemechek was just outside the top 10 to start the final lap. Then, with a multi-car wreck behind him, he made a charge into the top five in Turn 3. Entering the frontstretch, Nemechek tried to draft Jones to the win, but made contact with Jones and Jones slapped the wall but continued straight. At the finish line, Nemechek was able to cross the line in eighth for his second top-10 finish of his early Cup career and of the season, and to also emerge as the highest-running rookie of the race. With his best result in his 16th Cup Series start, Nemechek is 22nd in the standings, 252 points behind Harvick.
“We had a really great run in our No. 38 Death Wish Coffee Ford Mustang today,” Nemechek said. “I really thought we had a shot at it at the end there, but I’m still proud of our entire team’s efforts. When we fired off, we were kind of tight, and then we had that tire go down in the second stage, but we managed to come back from it and battled into the top 10 by the end. I wish we would have won that thing, but a P8 finish at Talladega is still good for us and I want to thank everyone on the team for their support. I’m looking forward to giving Death Wish Coffee another chance at the checkered flag at Pocono.”
The NASCAR Cup Series will return on June 27-28 for a special doubleheader weekend at Pocono Raceway. The first Pocono event will run on Saturday, June 27, at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX and the second Pocono event will run on Sunday, June 28, at 4 p.m. ET on FS1.