By David Morgan, NASCAR Writer
Talladega always is a mayhem filled race, with rookies and veterans alike not immune to the carnage that could await any of them at any point in the race. On Sunday afternoon in the GEICO 500, two of the four rookies entered in the race would come away with top-10 finishes, while the others wouldn’t be as fortunate.
Chase Elliott started on pole and showed that he would be a force to be reckoned with for much of the race, putting his No. 24 Chevrolet into the lead on three separate occasions for a total of 27 laps at the front of the field. Though he wasn’t able to pilot his way to the front at the end of the race to score his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, he still managed a fifth place finish on the day, his third such finish in the last four races.
“Just trying to finish. You can’t have a good day unless you finish. Just trying to focus in on that. Obviously it got a little wild. For us, we just tried to keep that in mind and make it to the end,” said Elliott.
Ryan Blaney had his work cut out for him for much of the day, starting 19th at the drop of the green flag, but the rookie was able to keep his nose clean for much of the race, even escaping the calamity of the lap 160 crash without major damage.
Though Blaney and his team got some damage from that crash, they were able to get it repaired in short order and got the lucky dog shortly thereafter, making his way to 15th for the final restart with four laps to go. Over those four laps, Blaney powered his way into the top-10 for a ninth place result and another top-10 finish at Talladega.
“It was a good day. We felt like earlier in the race I couldn’t pick a lane that was worth a dang. We kept going backwards. Hopefully this turns around for us. There was one run before we got in that wreck where we got up through there into the top-10. I think we got to fifth actually again and then lost spots on the last pit stop. We got in that wreck too. They did a good job fixing it. It ran fine after that. I didn’t want to see that last caution. I thought we were set up good to go to the end there and I wanted to keep digging. Everyone bailed to the top and I didn’t have a lot of help on the bottom. That was unfortunate but overall a decent day for us,” said Blaney.
“A lot of hard racing and people being aggressive. I don’t know what caused that. A little of it might have been the weather threat. I think early in the race for sure. With 40 or 50 to go they said there might be some more weather so that might have played a role in it.”
As far as the other rookies, Chris Buescher and Brian Scott, Buescher definitely got the worst that Talladega had to offer after a violent wreck near the halfway mark in the race.
On lap 97, when everyone thought rain was imminent and drivers were jockeying for position mid-pack, and the first “big one” of the day broke out. A total of seven cars were involved, but the car taking the wildest ride was that of rookie Buescher, who got spun while checking up for the other cars ahead, turning his No. 34 sideways and then up and over, barrel rolling several times before landing on his wheels. Buescher would be OK and was able to exit the car and walk to the ambulance on his own, but it was definitely the wildest ride of his career.
“I just saw the replay. It was so quick I never had any time to react. We got clipped in the right rear and as soon as it turned it went up on its lid. I thought we were clear of the wreck. I saw it happening in front of us and checked up and the next thing I knew I was upside down. I am pretty sick and tired of speedway racing at this point. It has been a rough year for that. We felt we were decent this race. We were holding our own and waiting but here we are. It is unfortunate. I really hate it for the guys,” said Buescher.
The fourth rookie in the race, Brian Scott, also suffered Talladega’s wrath, as his day ended early in the lap 160 “big one” and he would finish the day in 30th.
Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images