By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
It was a Talladega heartbreak for several drivers, notably the Earnhardt entity in the closing laps.
Coming to five laps remaining in Saturday’s MoneyLion 300 at Talladega Superspeedway, a tight battle for seventh turned disaster as the cruel nature of the 2.66-mile circuit reared its ugly head on both Jeremy Clements and Jeffrey Earnhardt.
At the exit of Turn 1, both were in a four-wide battle with Brett Moffitt and Brandon Brown until Earnhardt made slight contact with Clements, sending him loose and started an accordion effect that took out Justin Allgaier and Timmy Hill, bringing out the final caution of the afternoon.
Hill was collected in the melee after Clements turned down into his path, sending him back across the track until Allgaier slammed into the right door of Hill’s No. 66 VSI Racing/Overkill Motorsports Toyota Supra, causing a brief fire on Allgaier’s No. 7 Fight Hunger Spark Change/Hellman’s Chevrolet Camaro.
Also involved in the carnage was Alex Labbe, who was making a charge for a top-10 finish in his third race with the Mario Gosselin-owned No. 90 Alpha Prime Chevrolet Camaro. The pile-up damaged his left front fender, ending the Canadian’s aspirations and wound up two laps down in 25th, the last-finishing car.
Perhaps devastating about Earnhardt’s outcome was the fact it marked his first DNF and finish outside the top-10 since joining Joe Gibbs Racing, limping his No. 18 iK9 Toyota Supra back into the pits and was scored in 26th, three laps behind race winner Tyler Reddick.
Earnhardt, who’s next Xfinity Series race will be at Charlotte May 25, said he was dealing with a loose car and once Austin Cindric got on the side of him, it put in a bad spot with Clements, and there wasn’t much to do when dealing with a tight pack.
“The 22 got into the side of us and it went all to crap from there. Four-wide is doable here at Talladega, but it’s not ever any fun,” said Earnhardt. “We just got sucked around. We were a little loose all day long, which is good as long as it’s a manageable loose. Once you get four-wide and everyone is so tight on you, it’s hard to keep it under you. It’s unfortunate.”
The other drivers involved were John Hunter Nemechek and David Starr, who at one point stayed out to lead three laps before being kicked to the curb on the Lap 72 restart. Starr sustained minor front bumper damage but would end up 14th, the best finisher out of the six drivers involved.
Once the mayhem unfolded, NASCAR brought out the red flag with four laps to go, which lasted 14 minutes and 10 seconds. The stoppage marked the first time an Xfinity Series race has been halted in 2019.
Allgaier’s retirement from the race marked his third of the season after finishing 28th, and it’s also his third non-top-10 finish in the last four races. Also, his exit was among a series of unfortunate events the entire JR Motorsports team dealt with this weekend, notably Monday’s passing of JR Motorsports co-owners Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller’s mother, Brenda Jackson.
With Jackson weighing on everyone’s mind, it appeared to be a prosperous day for the four-car stable until the final stage when Allgaier was involved in his first accident on Lap 96 when a multi-car crash on the backstretch took out teammate and Daytona winner Michael Annett and championship contender Cole Custer as a result of drafting gone wrong after Annett was turned by eventual fifth-place finisher Cindric.
Allgaier’s JR Motorsports teammates didn’t fare better in the third stage either as Noah Gragson, who won Stage 2, finished 22nd after a single-car crash at the tri-oval took him out of contention, but bounced back to be highest-finishing driver in 11th.
Moffitt, Allgaier’s temporary teammate, didn’t have the best of days as well after woes on his fuel pressure forced the defending Gander Outdoors Truck Series champion to pull out of the racing groove and had to settle for 13th.
The Xfinity Series will go from one monstrous circuit to the next as they’ll hit the “Monster Mile” at Dover International Speedway in Delaware Saturday May 4 for the running of the Dover 200, a race Allgaier won last spring.