NASCAR Sprint Cup 2015 recap: Six Takeaways from Talladega

Dale Earnhardt Jr. already has one win at Talladega this season. Image courtesy of @ESPN.

It took over a decade, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally recaptured his swagger at Talladega with a sixth win. The House that Dale Earnhardt built was finally Junior’s playground again as he won just day’s after what would have been his father’s 64th birthday.

Overcome with emotion in Victory Lane, fans could see just how important the win was for Junior. The win not only gives Junior his first of the season, but also clinches a Chase berth and moves him into fourth on the Chase Grid.

GIECO 500 Top 20 Results

  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  2. Jimmie Johnson
  3. Paul Menard
  4. Ryan Blaney
  5. Martin Truex Jr.
  6. Sam Hornish Jr.
  7. Ryan Newman
  8. Kevin Harvick
  9. Denny Hamlin
  10. Josh Wise
  11. Jamie McMurray
  12. Kurt Busch
  13. Cole Whitt
  14. J.J. Yeley
  15. Aric Almirola
  16. Alex Bowman
  17. A.J. Allmendinger
  18. Matt DiBenedetto
  19. Tony Stewart
  20. David Gilliland

1. Earnhardt Finally Comfortable

Let’s be honest, everyone would love to be in Junior’s position. He’s with a great crew, has great equipment and owns a great team at the Xfinity level. But without a championship and several down years before last season, Junior was living in the shadow of his father.

Now, after smothering the field at restrictor plate tracks for two years, Earnhardt is finally in a great place. Following the race, Earnhardt simply told Jamie Little of Fox Sports, “I’m blessed, man, I’m just blessed. Everything’s going so great.”

Junior was scary good last year and won four races—just as many as he’d won in the previous nine seasons. With the No. 88 machine finally rolling again, the Hendrick driver looks like a title contender. After all, the next time NASCAR heads to Talladega will be just before the Eliminator Round. That’s a good omen for Junior.

2. Hendrick Humming

Speaking of speed for Hendrick, that was once again evident all weekend in Alabama. Jeff Gordon took the pole and all four Hendrick machines started in the top five. The team also had drivers running 1-2 nearly all afternoon with 167 of 188 laps led by Earnhardt (67), Johnson (50), Gordon (47) or Kahne (3).

Had it not been for a penalty late in the race for Gordon or Kahne being involved in the Big One, all four likely would have been in the top 10. After losing out on a title last year, Hendrick is hungry again. Two drivers are already clinched for the Chase, with two more coming.

3. Big One Blowout

Reasons why every NASCAR fan loves Talladega: High speeds, three-wide racing and massive wrecks. Fans in attendance got all of that on Sunday, with the Big One occurring early in the race and collecting several huge names.

Trevor Bayne spun out, triggering an accident that involved Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick and Kahne among others. It’s not always the most pleasant sight for owners, crew chiefs or drivers, but the Big One is always a huge thrill for fans. Which is exactly what NASCAR wants.

4. Three up

Paul Menard – Just a few weeks ago, everyone was saying, “Oh, here we go again.” Paul Menard had gotten off to another strong start before seemingly falling off the pace at Martinsville and Texas. He’s clearly not sticking to the script again this year, and his third-place finish at Talladega proved that.

Sam Hornish Jr. – Last year, Aric Almirola pulled off a shocking win in a rain-shortened Daytona race to seal a spot in the Chase. Fellow Richard Petty Motorsports driver Sam Hornish Jr. was not able to replicate that success at Talladega, but helped his chances at the Chase. Hornish took his first top-10 finish, but will need much more to continue his climb.

Ryan Blaney – He’s not a full-time driver or a championship contender, but Ryan Blaney showed he can contend with the big boys on Sunday. Starting third in the race, Blaney put pressure on the top drivers all afternoon and thrived on restarts. The Wood Brothers can’t field a car for a full season, but Blaney will soon be one of the best young faces in the sport.

5. Three Down

Greg Biffle – Another week, another disappointing performance for Roush Fenway Racing. Greg Biffle was caught up in the Big One, so it’s not all his fault, but continues to get lapped by the field in the standings.

Austin Dillon – Just days after his 25th birthday, Austin Dillon’s hopes at a Talladega win went up in flames—literally. Meanwhile, Menard and Ryan Newman are on the Chase Grid for Richard Childress Racing after solid results. Dillon still only has one top-10 finish during his second full-time season and continues to fall off the pace.

Joey Logano – This isn’t entirely Logano’s fault, but it’s not positive for later this season. Logano fell behind early and was caught up in the Big One, finishing outside of the top 30 for the second time in three races. Still third on the Chase Grid, he can’t falter at Talladega in the fall if he wants to win a title.

6. Three Tweets

 

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