TALLADEGA, Ala. — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has won an overtime finish at Talladega in the Geico 500, marking his first victory in the Cup series. Stenhouse had the strongest car all afternoon, and in overtime, he proved it, outrunning Kyle Busch and holding off a fast-charging Jamie McMurray to take the victory. Stenhouse’s victory was his first in 158 Cup-level starts, and the first in 101 races for team owner Jack Roush.
Sunday had marked an uncharacteristically calm afternoon for Talladega; the first caution-causing accident, an incident involving Ryan Blaney and the wall, didn’t even come until there were fewer than 30 laps remaining in the race. Shortly afterward, a wreck begun when AJ Allmendinger ran into Chase Elliott consumed 16 cars and red-flagged the race for 27 minutes.
This marked the first Talladega race run under NASCAR’s new stage format, and the result was a race that didn’t allow for much lagging back. The two stage finishes at laps 55 and 110 were competitive, if not necessarily tense; Brad Keselowski won the first stage, while Denny Hamlin picked up the second.
The earliest laps of the race featured plenty of strong racing, and also plenty of flying debris that altered race strategy. “Good that we got a lot of people here,” pole sitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said after Stage 1, “but man, the trash we’ve got flying around out here is crazy.”
This marked the penultimate Talladega race for Dale Earnhardt Jr., the lord and master of this part of the world. Earnhardt drew thunderous cheers every time he showed his face, from driver introductions to the times he flirted with the lead. But Earnhardt could never sustain a strong run. Even though he eluded the Allmendinger/Elliott-started Big One, he suffered a loose left rear wheel with 13 laps remaining and had to pit, killing his victory chances.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.