Talladega Superspeedway has always been “Earnhardt Country”. Whether it was the Intimidator winning ten races there, or Junebug winning five, if your last name is Earnhardt, you had a knack for racing at Talladega. Earnhardt Jr. hadn’t won at ‘Dega for the past ten or so years, but that changed on Sunday, as he led 67 laps en route to his first win of the season.
There was a lot of drama and emotion that came along with this win in particular, though. His father, Dale Earnhardt’s, birthday was this past weekend. As he pulled into victory lane, Junebug was overcome with emotion.
“It’s just real emotional,” Earnhardt said in his post-race interview. “I haven’t won here in a long time. It was my daddy’s birthday a couple of days ago, and I’m just real emotional man,” as he choked back tears. “I think about all the races he won here and at Daytona, I love when we go to Victory Lane because I feel like I add to his legacy there. All I ever want to do is make him proud. I feel like when we win at those tracks where he was successful, that’s exactly what we’re doing. I don’t really get to think about him that much. His birthday came and went. Today, it made me think about his birthday, how much I miss him, how much he meant to me and so many more people.”
Coming from someone who is the sport’s most popular driver and who is the face of the sport, I think this kind of emotion is not only good for NASCAR, but it’s good for the person, Earnhardt Jr., himself. He is not known as a real emotional guy, and whenever his father is brought up, he doesn’t really show too much emotion. But the fact that a guy who has been through so much in his career, professionally and personally, to show the emotion that he did in victory circle at a place that, like he said, means so much to his family, means a lot to him, obviously, and the sport as a whole.
As for the race itself, it was just like any other Talladega race. There were big crashes, pack racing, single file racing, strategy, green flag pit stops, drama and everything in between.
But when the checkered flag flew, Hendrick Motorsports’ engines showed their dominance, as Earnhardt Jr.’s teammate, Jimmie Johnson, finished second. But some people criticized Johnson, saying that he didn’t try to pass his teammate (since Johnson is already in the Chase and Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t before the checkered flag flew), but Johnson dismissed that claim as the “most ridiculous thing [he’s] ever heard.”
Paul Menard, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Sam Hornish Jr., Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Josh Wise rounded out the top ten. Talladega produces unlikely names in good finishing positions, such as Hornish and Wise. Blaney, running a limited schedule for the Wood Brothers in the No. 21 car, started third and finished in the top five. But what surprised many was that almost nobody decided to make a move to pass Earnhardt Jr. toward the end of the race.
Everybody ended up being single file for the last 15 of 20 laps, and it wasn’t until the final lap when some drivers in the top ten decided to try and make a move to the bottom. But nevertheless, nobody really went anywhere and the finish was somewhat lackluster for a good overall race around the 2.66 mile tri-oval in Alabama.
As for some other notable drivers who were involved in accidents and “The Big One”, Brian Scott, Kyle Larson, Trevor Bayne, Joey Logano, Michael Waltrip, David Ragan (last race in the No. 18), Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Austin Dillon, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski and Danica Patrick all finished outside the top 20. Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray all finished in the teens, as some, most notably Stewart, tried to make a move to get further toward the front, but couldn’t get anybody else to go with him and finished 19th.
For all those aforementioned drivers, the show must go on, and it will this weekend in the heart of our nation in Kansas at the Kansas Speedway. The Camping World Truck Series and Sprint Cup Series head to America’s Heartland for the next weekend of racing action. Many of the Cup cars will have special paint schemes with SpongeBob SquarePants characters on the cars. Why, you ask? Because the race is called the SpongeBob SquarePants 400. Seriously. Probably the greatest thing to ever happen to NASCAR, if you ask me. You can catch the race on Saturday evening.