By AMANDA VINCENT
Dale Earnhardt Jr. claimed his sixth-career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway but his first in 10 years on Sunday when he took the checkered flag in the Geico 500 after leading a race-high 67 laps. With the victory, Earnhardt became the eighth different winner, so far, this season.
“Just real emotional, man,” Earnhardt said in victory lane. “Everything is just so good for me now — my personal life, my racing, the team I am with. I don’t know why. I don’t feel like I deserve it. I just feel overcome with a lot of emotion. It has been a long time since I won here. I’ve run so good here, and not to win here in so many races has bothered me.”
Jimmie Johnson finished second to give Hendrick Motorsports a one-two finish. Johnson was also second in the laps-led category, leading 50 laps.
“I tried (to get by Earnhardt for the win),” Johnson said. “I was waiting for guys to really spread out with maybe three to go, but it didn’t happen.”
Hendrick Motorsports drivers combined to lead 167 laps of the 188-lap race.
Earnhardt and Johnson’s HMS teammates, though — Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne — were both caught up in wrecks. Kahne was among the 14 drivers caught up in a wreck on lap 47. Gordon was among drivers who wrecked on the final lap.
Gordon was a front-runner throughout the race, leading a total of 47 laps, most of those coming before the 14-car wreck that took Kahne out of contention. Gordon then to the back of the top-10 but returned to the front near the halfway point of the race. He faded again, this time outside the top-20 and was among drivers who wrecked on the last lap.
Other drivers caught up in the last-lap wreck included Carl Edwards, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Casey Mears.
Aside from Kahne, Trevory Bayne, Joey Logano, David Ragan, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Arick Almirola, and all three Roush Fenway Racing drivers — Stenhouse, Greg Biffle and Trevor Bayne — were involved in the “big one” on lap 47. The wreck was a chain-reaction incident when Bayne’s No. 6 appeared to break loose and spin.
“It felt like the 27 (Paul Menard) was really tight on our door and sucked us around,” Bayne said. “Our car was loose, but we had a fast race car today. I hate that a lot of cars got torn up, but especially our AdvoCare Ford.”
Meanwhile, Earnhardt and Johnson ran at our near the front throughout the race.
“I didn’t know what he had up his sleeve,” Earnhardt said of his teammate. “Maybe they got busy behind him, and he couldn’t form a charge (in the closing laps). We had a real strong car. I didn’t know if the engine was going to last.”
With two laps remaining, Ryan Blaney ran third but lost the spot when Denny Hamlin pulled out of line in an attempt to make a run toward the lead and win. Blaney dropped back to fourth and held the spot until the end. Hamlin made his way up to third but then lost that spot to Paul Menard by the checkered flag. Hamlin dropped to the back to the top-10 to finish ninth.
Martin Truex Jr. finished fifth. Ryan Newman and Sam Hornish Jr. were sixth and seventh. Harvick drove his damaged race car to an eighth-place finish. Josh Wise rounded out the top-10.