Earnhardt Jr. holds off Johnson at Talladega

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. races to victory against Jimmie Johnson and Paul Menard
Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. raced to his first Talladega victory since 2004 and punched his ticket into the field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup in a commanding performance in Sunday’s Geico 500.

Earnhardt, Jr. led the final 27 laps and held off his teammate Jimmie Johnson for his first win of the season and 24th of his career.

Paul Menard was third, followed by rookie Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex, Jr.

Earnhardt’s victory was his sixth-career victory at Talladega, just four shy of his father, the late seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, Sr., who owns 10 victories at the 2.666-mile facility, including his last victory in 2000.

Last Wednesday would have been Earnhardt, Sr.’s 64th birthday.

“Just real emotional, man," said Earnhardt, Jr. in victory lane. “It has been a long time since I won here. I've run so good here, and not to win here in so many races has bothered me.

“It was my daddy's birthday a couple of days ago. It made me think about his birthday, how much I miss him, how much he meant to me and so many more people. I love when we go to victory lane here because I feel like I add to his legacy. All I ever want to do is make him proud. I feel like when we win at those tracks where he was successful, that's exactly what we're doing."

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Earnhardt, Jr.’s victory bumped him up three spots up to fifth in the points standings and locks him into the Chase field.

“It was bugging me that we weren't winning races," said Earnhardt, Jr. “Now we are locked in that Chase, we can call these races so different now so maybe there will be more wins."

“Everything is just so good for me now. My personal life. My racing. The team I am with. I don't know why. I don't feel like I deserve it. I just feel overcome with a lot of emotion."

Hendrick Motorsports horsepower ruled the day as the Hendrick quartet of Earnhardt, Jr., Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne combined to lead 167 of the 188 lap distance.

Gordon led from the pole in his second-to-last scheduled Talladega start and led the opening three laps before Kahne took over the top spot. It was just another five laps before Earnhardt, Jr. was out in front and then back to Gordon. All told, Gordon, Earnhardt, Jr. Kahne and Johnson would lead 42 of the opening 48 laps.

Kahne’s bid for his first career Talladega victory ended when the first multi-car crash of the day broke out on lap 48 when Trevor Bayne broke loose coming out of turn two, touching off a 14-car pileup that collected Kahne, points leader Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and David Ragan, among others.

Back under green, the battle up front continued with Earnhardt, Jr., Johnson and Gordon trading the lead, with Denny Hamlin throwing himself into the mix as well.

With 33 laps to go, Earnhardt, Jr. brought the leaders to pit road for their final pit stops of the day and won the race off pit road just moments before Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet went up in flames to bring out the sixth and final caution of the day.

On the restart, Earnhardt, Jr. was back out front trailed by Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Blaney.

The two teammates would race nose to tail over the final 27 laps in a single-file pack with Johnson looking for an opening. As they came around the backstretch on the white flag lap, Carl Edwards got turned off the bumper off Casey Mears, triggering another wreck that collected Mears, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Gordon.

With the wreck behind well behind the leaders, NASCAR held the caution flag and Earnhardt, Jr. led Johnson back around into turn three, where Johnson looked inside as Earnhardt, Jr. drifted high. Earnhardt, Jr. quickly came back down to block and stayed ahead of Johnson to beat his teammate to the line by two car lengths.

Johnson, who hasn’t won at Talladega since 2011, collected his fourth straight top-five finish and managed to move up a spot in the points standings.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]“I was definitely going to try taking the white (flag)," said Johnson. “My plan was into turn 3 to back up and try to get a run onto the front stretch. We just had such a small group there was very little energy to create a run and to try to get the No. 88 (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) and he had a really fast car. I wasn’t going to be able to go up there and just take it away from him."

Truex, Jr.’s fifth-place finish marked his first top-five finish in his last four races, helping him slide up to second in the points standings, 40 points back of Harvick.

“We took a shot there on the last lap and had a great run going. I felt like we had a shot at it there," said Truex, Jr. “The No. 88 (Earnhardt, Jr.) and No. 48 (Johnson) were super strong all day long. That was no surprise that they were up there. Nobody could really pass them, but everybody at Talladega is happy, so it’s all good. All-in-all we had a good day."

Joey Logano limped home 33rd after getting caught up in “The Big One" on lap 48 and slipped two positions in the points standing to fourth behind Johnson.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS – RACE WINNER

"Just real emotional man. Everything is just so good for me now. My personal life. My racing. The team I am with. I don't know why. I don't feel like I deserve it. I just feel overcome with a lot of emotion. It has been a long time since I won here. I've run so good here, and not to win here in so many races has bothered me. I want to thank Nationwide and my team, my guys. Greg (Ives, crew chief) Kevin ?? All the guys from last year, Steve Letarte, I'm sure they are happy. All those guys that have moved on. It is a great day for a lot of people that have been a part of this and helped us get here. We just have a really good group of guys. I'm, blessed man. I'm blessed. We just have a really good group of guys."

WITH JIMMIE (JOHNSON) BEHIND YOU, WHAT DID YOU THINK?
"I didn't know what he had up his sleeve. Maybe they got busy behind him and he couldn't form a charge. We had a real strong car. I didn't know if the engine was going to last. I had faith in it that it would because we build fast cars and they are tough. All those guys in the motor shop and the body shop, they earn their money today. Another thing too, it was bugging me that we weren't winning races. Now we are locked in that Chase, we can call these races so different now so maybe there will be more wins.

KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 FARMERS INSURANCE CHEVROLET SS – Involved in a multi-car accident on lap 46

WHAT HAPPENED?

"I don't really know I was on the outside so I couldn't really see what was going on. I saw him try to really ditch the No. 6 for a while inside, middle, wherever he was at I saw him trying to ditch him. Then I saw him wreck in front of me. I don't know what happened there if someone hit him, or he spun. I felt like our Farmers Insurance Chevy was pretty fast. All the Hendrick cars are. It is discouraging but we will get it fixed and try to pass the guys that wrecked."

WHAT DID YOU SEE FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE?

"They started wrecking in front of me off the corner there and kind of slip up. The No. 6 probably got clipped. It seemed like everybody was trying to ditch him for a while the finally someone clipped him and spun him or something. I don't know. I haven't seen a replay"

KYLE LARSON, NO. 42 TARGET CHEVROLET SS – Involved in a multi-car accident on lap 46

WHAT HAPPENED?
“I think I saw the No. 6 (Trevor Bayne) get loose up ahead, which is kind of been normal the last couple of years it seems like on superspeedways. So, yeah, just got caught up I thought I was going to miss it there and then the No. 40 (Landon Cassill ) slid across the track. I tried turning back down the race track to avoid him and just got into him and started spinning and hitting the wall and stuff. It sucks because we haven’t really had very many good finishes this year and we have already had a couple of DNF’s (did not finish). We have some work to do to get back up in the points and hopefully make the Chase later this year."

ON WHAT HAPPENED:
"I didn't see a whole lot. I saw the No. 6 (Trevor Bayne) get sideways in front of me. I don't know if somebody got in to him or not, or if he just got the air taken off of him. From there just trying to miss the wrecks and I thought I was going to clear it all then the No. 40 started coming back up the track and I clipped him. It's tough. We haven't had many very good runs this year and then I missed that race in Martinsville, so these bad finishes aren't really helping us out for points. We are going to hopefully start to get some luck here. All the luck we had last year, we haven't had much of this year. But we will work hard though."

HOW FRUSTRATING THAT IT IS THIS EARLY?
“If you are going to wreck I would rather get it over with early in the race rather than run a bunch of miles and then get into something. At least the day is over early. I’m sure we will probably try hard to get back out there and salvage some points. I know there will be some more wrecks and stuff. Got to do some work to gain some points for later this year."

LANDON CASSILL, NO. 40 CHEVROLET SS – Involved in a multi-car accident on lap 46

WHAT HAPPENED?
"It just got a little disorganized and unpredictable for a few laps. So when they are switching from two lanes to three; from inside to outside, it is hard to tell which guys are going to go where. It is unfortunate. I want to win this race so bad. It was going really well. We started 30th so I knew that I needed to either hang out in the back or get myself to the front. It just seemed like lap by lap I could pick my way up through there until we were in the top-10 and had myself in a pretty good line. I actually had just made a move to put the No. 4 car behind me. He gave me a really good push. I felt like in the next lap or two I could be in the top five even have a shot at the lead. It is really unfortunate but when it starts to get unorganized like that, it is hard to tell where some of those guys are going to go."

BRIAN SCOTT, NO. 33 SHORE LODGE CHEVROLET SS – Experienced an engine issue on lap 18

WHAT HAPPENED?
“Unfortunately blew an engine, no warning. The temperatures were fine. I blew it going into Turn 1. I have to apologize to the other teams that we took out. Of course the bad thing about Talladega is when something happens other cars are all around you, unfortunate short end to our day. ECR engines and RCR everybody at the shop does a great job. I’m sure they will bring it back and they will diagnosis it and they will fix the problem whatever it was. But their horsepower, our engines everything has been great. On the XFINITY side they ran flawlessly. I hate it for our partners Shore Lodge, Whitetail, Albertsons, everybody to have a day ruined like that."

Results

Pos Driver Behind Gap Laps Led
1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Leader Leader 188 67
2 Jimmie Johnson 0.159 0.159 188 50
3 Paul Menard 0.292 0.133 188 0
4 Ryan Blaney(i) 0.434 0.142 188 0
5 Martin Truex Jr. 0.444 0.010 188 0
6 Sam Hornish Jr. 0.680 0.236 188 0
7 Ryan Newman 0.698 0.018 188 0
8 Kevin Harvick 0.805 0.107 188 1
9 Denny Hamlin 0.949 0.144 188 5
10 Josh Wise 0.984 0.035 188 1
11 Jamie McMurray 1.234 0.250 188 0
12 Kurt Busch 1.770 0.536 188 1
13 Cole Whitt 3.109 1.339 188 2
14 JJ Yeley(i) 3.365 0.256 188 0
15 Aric Almirola 3.904 0.539 188 0
16 Alex Bowman 4.508 0.604 188 0
17 AJ Allmendinger 4.675 0.167 188 0
18 Matt DiBenedetto # 5.652 0.977 188 0
19 Tony Stewart 6.052 0.400 188 6
20 David Gilliland 7.706 1.654 188 1
21 Danica Patrick 8.624 0.918 188 0
22 Brad Keselowski 8.620 -0.004 188 0
23 Justin Allgaier 8.623 0.003 188 1
24 Chris Buescher(i) 8.726 0.103 188 0
25 Matt Kenseth 9.248 0.522 188 0
26 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 10.086 0.838 188 1
27 Bobby Labonte 10.707 0.621 188 1
28 Casey Mears 14.756 4.049 188 1
29 Michael Annett 17.203 2.447 188 0
30 Clint Bowyer 17.207 0.004 188 0
31 Jeff Gordon 1:2.938 45.731 188 47
32 Carl Edwards 1:48.295 45.357 188 0
33 Joey Logano 2 Laps 186 0
34 Kasey Kahne 30 Laps 158 3
35 Austin Dillon 31 Laps 157 0
36 Michael Waltrip 37 Laps 151 0
37 Greg Biffle 41 Laps 147 0
38 David Ragan 65 Laps 123 0
39 Landon Cassill(i) 97 Laps 91 0
40 Brendan Gaughan(i) 98 Laps 90 0
41 Trevor Bayne 142 Laps 46 0
42 Kyle Larson 142 Laps 46 0
43 Brian Scott(i) 170 Laps 18 0

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