TALLADEGA, Ala. – The racing didn’t disappoint but it did surprise – there was no four-wide land rush from the lead pack as the cars shot out of the fourth turn on the final lap of the GEICO 500 Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.
Joey Logano, flying the Shell colors on his No. 22 Ford for team owner Roger Penske, held off fellow Ford driver Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing) for his 19th career win. Chase Elliott (No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports) was third, the lone Chevrolet interloper in a top five that also included Kevin Harvick (SHR) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing Ford).
There were numerous mentions of how difficult the cars were to drive as NASCAR brought its’ Monster Energy Cup Series to its longest track for the first of two times this year.
We’ve heard drivers say the cars NEED to be hard to drive so often in recent years that it was surprising to hear it turned the other way.
“I think the cars are a handful to drive and I think that is why we have seen a lot of single file racing just because everybody’s confidence in their cars isn’t as high as it has been in the past,” Kyle Larson, involved in a lap-72 incident, said. “Less big moves …”
Erik Jones, also involved in the opening accident, described driving the cars here as “really challenging” and said “I think that’s why you’re not seeing a ton of racing early on.”
There were enough saves and close calls and unfortunately too-close calls that resulted in pileups of six and 14 cars to satisfy those who come to Talladega each year in search of such things. It was more than typical in that regard.
But the final five laps saw only minimal movement from those up front, whether because of the difficulty of the driving the cars or the uncertainty of what they might do. Logano, a winner for the first time since Richmond’s spring race of ’17, led the final 42 laps.
Elliott noted that the Ford brethren “were being awfully patient with one another” in the waning laps.
“I was very surprised,” the youngster said. “I mean, it was more than obvious that they were not going to help me move forward.”
The degree of difficulty behind the wheel, he said, “scared some people off from running three-wide and four-wide. That was interesting.”
Busch, the runner-up, said he believes wider spoilers, those that extended “out to the edge of the fender,” would help stabilize the cars and help with side drafting.”
Changes in the ride height rule package “totally changed speedway racing for us,” Todd Gordon, Logano’s crew chief, said.
Now, it’s a matter of being able to balance “speed and handling.”
How fast do you want to go and how comfortable do you want to be when going that fast?
“With this new package,” Gordon noted, “you could get yourself where you couldn’t handle.”
Seems that wasn’t a problem for his driver, though.
“The moves you make can’t be as aggressive,” Logano admitted, “but it’s the same for the guy behind you, right?”