By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The ultimate equalizer known as Talladega Superspeedway proved to be an ultimate breakthrough result for two of this year’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders Daniel Hemric and Ryan Preece.
Both drivers have shown flashes of brilliance in the first nine races, but luck has hampered their results. Sunday’s GEICO 500 changed all of that as both rookies scored their maiden top-fives in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series after surviving the intense competition and violent crashes.
After having a heroic Daytona 500 that can be best described as something out of the climax from “Days of Thunder,” Preece came to Talladega for a nice turnaround after having modest results since February.
His No. 47 Kroger Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 showed up late in the dance, but it was the most important one as he charged his way towards the top-five spot and settled with a third-place result, round out the 1-2-3 Bowtie Brigade sweep.
Preece stated that getting a third-place result at a track he only raced once in the Xfinity Series for JD Motorsports in 2016, simply came down to putting himself in the right spot where he won’t lose track position in the final laps.
“It was awesome. I was only here one other time and that was in an Xfinity car in 2016 and I was running third with three to go and went for the hole and got flushed. So, I wasn’t going to do that today,” said Preece. “Ultimately, it was a perfect situation for Chevy there on that restart, being able to line up and push each other and really not give the other manufacturers an opportunity to get by us. So, a great day for Kroger and for JTG and hopefully we can use this momentum moving forward.”
Preece moved up one spot in the championship standings, now sitting 24th in points and continues to lead the Rookie of the Year battle.
As for Hemric, his season has been a case of frustrations, and entered Sunday’s race just hanging on to a top-30 points spot in 28th.
Fortunately, his luck changed and like Preece, saw the opportunity of making a late-race run towards a strong finish, and by aligning himself with fellow Chevrolet competitors, he was able to get his best Cup Series result to date with a fifth, eclipsing his season-best 18th at Phoenix in March.
The Kannapolis native gained two spots in the standings, now trailing Preece by 28 points after 10 races, and felt that he was able to finish fifth as a result of strong communications with his fellow Bowtie drivers.
“Chevrolet and all the drivers and teams put in the effort to communicate here in the last few weeks to try and stay dedicated and committed to each other,” Hemric explained. “We’ve talked about it in the past, but we’ve never had such unity on the racetrack like we had today. That’s what led to us ultimately having our best finish as a group.
“I’m proud of that and of all the Chevrolet drivers sticking together. The first objective was to make sure a Bowtie ended up in Victory Lane today, and that’s what happened today. I’m proud of all these guys.”
Both competitors will hit “The Monster Mile” for the first time in their Cup careers May 5 for the running of the Gander RV 400 at Dover International Speedway in Delaware.