It has been a tumultuous, anger-filled, and emotional 28 hours for the NASCAR Cup Series. After Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was pushed to Monday by rain, a heinous act was discovered in Bubba Wallace‘s garage, sparking a movement of unity from the field. When it was all said and done, Ryan Blaney edged out Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in a chaotic overtime finish.
Joe Gibbs Racing team-mates Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin started on the front row. William Byron and Garrett Smithley failed inspection twice and started at the rear, while Brendan Gaughan, B.J. McLeod, and Daniel Suárez did so for unapproved adjustments. Joey Gase failed inspection thrice and also had to serve a pass-through penalty.
After the race was delayed to Monday, Wallace’s Richard Petty Motorsports team found a noose in the garage, an infamous death threat sign in the wake of racial tensions. In solidarity with the driver, the field helped push his #43 onto the grid.
Truex and Hamlin led early before Joey Logano pulled ahead. Logano, aided by his Team Penske allies Brad Keselowski and Blaney, received a strong push that elevated him to the front.
The three Penske drivers and fellow Ford racer Chris Buescher comprised the top four when the competition caution came out on lap 26. Logano was the first out of the pits to keep the lead for the lap 30 restart.
Pushing continued to be the name of the game as Stenhouse, a two-time restrictor plate race winner, found himself wrestling for the top spot with Logano, Hamlin, and William Byron. Alex Bowman would take the lead on lap 46, albeit for a brief moment until Logano and Tyler Reddick entered the picture.
As the stage laps reached the single digits, reports of rain began to surface. With five laps before the green-checkered flag, Hamlin hit the wall and cut his right-front tyre, forcing him to pit road. The rain eventually hit the track, resulting in a caution and red flag that lasted for nearly an hour.
Reddick was the leader at the time of the delay ahead of Bowman. A rookie who had finished fourth in last Sunday’s Homestead-Miami Speedway event, he would win his first Cup stage as the final laps ticked down under caution.
Bowman, Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Blaney, Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, and Byron also received stage points.
Hendrick Motorsports team-mates Bowman and Johnson held the front row as the second stage began.
The superspeedway package, which had been modified in the wake of Ryan Newman‘s Daytona 500 wreck in February, proved to produce plenty of lead changes as Blaney, Johnson, and Kyle Busch would spend time in front.
By lap 83, the Penske trio and Matt DiBenedetto occupied the top four, with Cole Custer making it a Ford top five. As the race crossed the halfway point on lap 94 to guarantee an official race, Wallace moved into sixth.
On lap 96, debris came off John Hunter Nemechek‘s car, cutting his left-rear tyre and sending him into a spin through the tri-oval grass for the first race-related yellow. Much of the field had two-tyre stops, including Blaney as he was the first out of the pits.
Blaney remained in the lead as the race resumed. With 15 laps remaining in the stage, he ran on the inside line with a push from his Ford compatriots, while Stenhouse and Kyle Busch were on the opposite.
The battle for positions reached its zenith as the final laps counted down, with Blaney and Stenhouse continuing their fight before joining the same lane. In a particularly dramatic moment, Blaney was clipped by Keselowski from behind, causing him to get loose in the tri-oval before he saved it and took the lead.
A caution for debris, which Ryan Preece hit, came out on lap 114. Blaney elected to stay out to retain first.
The stage ended with a two-lap sprint as the top four split into the Blaney/Keselowski and Stenhouse/Busch tandems. Byron entered the conversation on the outside as the leaders took the white flag, and aggressive blocking by Blaney backfired as Stenhouse edged him out for the stage win.
Busch, Keselowski, Christopher Bell, Logano, Wallace, Custer, Buescher, and Byron rounded out the top ten.
Buescher and Hamlin comprised the front row as the final stage commenced on lap 125. As Harvick pushed to the front, Buescher was swallowed up by rows of cars around him, sinking him out of the top ten after just one lap.
The Elliott/Preece train passed Harvick a lap later before Preece broke off into his own lane. Blaney later joined the battle with Keselowski in tow. Meanwhile, Matt Kenseth lost his brakes and fell off the pace.
On lap 133, Elliott was hooked by a bumping Keselowski on the backstretch and hit the outside wall. Austin Dillon was unable to avoid him and collided with his rear end, while Byron squeezed by.
The Penske gang held the top three for the restart with 50 laps to go. As the trio committed to the inside, Stenhouse reciprocated the drafting favour by pushing Busch to the front. Two laps after the green flag, Elliott went to the garage and retired.
Lap 140 saw another wreck when Brennan Poole got loose entering turn three and spun down the banking. Gase also suffered damage.
Bell and Erik Jones stayed out to lead at the restart on lap 146, onlu for things to go awry when Bell came down in front of Jones in an attempt to draft with his fellow Toyota driver, but the two instead went below the double-yellow line. The rookie Bell received a pass-through penalty for forcing Jones under the line.
Harvick and Hamlin would shoot by. The former hed a Stewart-Haas Racing contingent on the bottom, while Hamlin was joined by Logano on the top. Meanwhile, Busch reported to pit road for a flat right-rear tyre.
Byron took the lead on lap 157, but was shuffled to the middle lane as Wallace and Hamlin pulled ahead. Perhaps fittingly, Hamlin and sponsor FedEx chose sport a special livery supporting the National Civil Rights Museum for the race.
Logano eventually passed Wallace for the lead before being overwhelmed by a tide of Chevrolets that placed Bowman and Preece in front.
As the race entered its final laps, fuel strategy began playing a factor as teams urged their drivers to conserve their supply. With this in mind, Bowman dropped back to save, surrendering the lead to Reddick.
With seven laps left, Jones hit pit road for fuel. On track, the Preece-pushing Logano battled with the Hamlin-aided Reddick for the lead. Logano eventually fell off, leaving Reddick in front and Blaney leading the next line.
Blaney took the lead with four to go. Although Johnson shot up to the leader’s tail to place him on the verge of finally snapping his winless streak, the dry spell continued when he was turned by Harvick.
A strong restart by Harvick and Buescher propelled them ahead of Blaney.
On the final lap, two wrecks took place, though the race remained green. At the front, Blaney beat out Stenhouse by just .007 seconds for his fourth career win and second straight at Talladega. Aric Almirola spun across the finish line to score a third. 56 lead changes took place in the race, the most at Talladega since the final tandem drafting-era event in 2011.
Wallace ended his day in fourteenth, and eventually went to the catchfence to shout out the fans in attendance; 5,000 had been allowed for the race.
“This sport is changing,” Wallace said. “The deal that happened yesterday […] Sorry about not wearing my mask, I wanted to show whoever it was you’re not going to take away my smile.”