From the Trussville Tribune staff reports
TALLADEGA — Shortly after taking the checkered flag Sunday in the 49th GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Joey Logano’s communications with his team said it all.
“We’re baaack, we’re baaack,” Logano screamed into the radio.
Starting … with a return to Gatorade Victory Lane for the first time since April 2017 at Richmond – and a return to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, the 10-race stretch that wraps up the season and determines the series champion.
And continuing … with a recent stretch of Talladega excellence. Flying in the face of the year-long drought is this superspeedway factoid: Logano has won three of the last six races at the 2.66-mile high-banked tri-oval.
“Man, it feels so good,” said Logano, driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil/Autotrader Ford for Team Penske. “Quite the weekend and a long time coming. We’d been consistent, scoring points, but we knew the win was right around the corner.
“And we don’t have to worry about the whole playoffs thing anymore – we’re in.”
Logano held off runner-up Kurt Busch (No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford) by 0.127 seconds at the checkered flag. Chase Elliott (No. 9 Chevrolet), still in search of his first Monster Energy Series victory, finished third.
Not surprisingly, the race got “racier” toward the end and Talladega’s always-looming unpredictability came into play in the form of a 14-car incident between Turns 3-4 on Lap 165. Seven-time Monster Energy Series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet) started it all while running in the top 10, spinning out untouched in front of most of the field.
A variety of contenders were involved, their chances of winning ruined.
The race was restarted with 17 (of 188) laps remaining and Logano at the front. By no means, however, did his victory seem assured.
One of this season’s hottest drivers, polesitter Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Busch Beer Flannel Ford), was second on the restart. Busch, Elliott and defending race champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford) were all looming, as well.
But stay at the front Logano did.
As things wound down, Busch appeared to be the most likely to challenge Logano. But the aerodynamic “push” he needed from behind never panned out, which kept him from making a run at the leader.
“Man, it’s just so close,” said Busch, the 2004 Monster Energy Series champion. “You wish you could go over and do it again. I feel like I left that one out on the table. “
The GEICO 500 played out on a sun-splashed, star-studded afternoon at the famed tri-oval, with WBC World Heavyweight Champion and Tuscaloosa native Deontay Wilder serving as Honorary Pace Car Driver and Auburn University head football coach Gus Malzahn giving the “start your engines” command as Grand Marshal. Malzahn prefaced the command by shouting “War Eagle.”
Once the 188-mile race was underway on the 2.66-mile tri-oval, Alex Bowman – driving the No. 88 Chevrolet in his first year of replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. – emerged as the first strong front-runner, leading 26 laps of the 55 laps making up Stage 1. Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Snap On Ford) was the stage winner, though, leading the last 12 laps.
The first incident of the day occurred on Lap 72 of Stage 2, a multi-car melee in the backstretch initiated by the No. 20 XYO Network Toyota of Erik Jones. That knocked Jones’ car out of the race along with those of Trevor Bayne (No. 6 AdvoCare Ford) and Kyle Larson (No. 42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet).
Stage 2, also 55 laps, was won by Paul Menard (No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford). Menard is in his first season with the famed Wood Brothers Racing organization.
The final stage covered the balance of the race distance, 78 laps. Logano led the last 42 of those.
“It was just a perfect day,” said the winning team owner, legendary Roger Penske, “and one we needed.”
NASCAR returns to Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 12-14 with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ Talladega 250 (Oct. 13) and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ 1000Bulbs.com 500 (Oct. 14) – both part of the NASCAR Playoffs for those respective series. Ticket information for those races and all Talladega Superspeeedway events is available on-line at www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or by calling (855) 518-RACE (7223).