Talladega is loud, but it’s always louder when Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins a race there, claiming his first victory of the season at the Geico 500, his sixth overall at the track but his first in over a decade.
With the win, Earnhardt climbs to fourth in the Cup standings, pretty much guaranteeing himself a place in the season ending chase, which right now the cut off point being Danica Patrick at 16th. This was the first win for Earnhardt under Greg Ives, the new crew chief who stayed for the race at 8-year-old daughter Payton’s insistence after she broke her arm.
Jimmie Johnson missed out on his third win of the season which would have put him on top of the standings, coming in second, unable to pull out of the line that was trailing Earnhardt. Earnhardt kept checking his mirror to see if there was someone who was going to try and challenge him from that line of cars. Tony Stewart pulled out of the second line of cars to make a move, but didn’t get help from anyone, finishing 19th overall.
Sprint Cup standings leader Kevin Harvick finished eighth, his ninth top 10 finish of the season. Paul Menard was third and Ryan Blaney came in at a surprising fourth with a rare Ford in the top of the standings, as the rest was dominated by Hendricks Cheverlotes. Denny Hamlin finished ninth, the highest placing Toyota in the race.
Jeff Gordon had the pole position but only mustered a 31st-place finish, leaving him at 14th in the standings. He was penalized for speeding on pit road during the final pit stops, dropping him to 30th on the restart with 26 laps remaining. Earnhardt led a 10-car breakaway with the second line of traffic unable to keep up with the leading group.
Earnhardt did very well at Talladega during the earlier stage of his career, winning five times until 2004, but has struggled there over most of the past decade. In a track that his father won on 10 times during his career, it was special for Junior to pick up a win while driving very aggressively, something he vows to keep on doing, lamenting his approach in the race last year, costing him the win.