Dale Earnhardt Jr. holds on to win Geico 500 at Talladega

11 Comments

Dale Earnhardt Jr. held off teammate Jimmie Johnson to win Sunday’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

“Wooh, celebrate,” Earnhardt said on his team radio after crossing the start/finish line.

Later, after performing a backward victory lap, Earnhardt was in tears in Victory Lane, talking about the emotion of the win.

It was Earnhardt’s first win at Talladega since 2004 and is his sixth overall at the 2.66-mile track, tying him with Jeff Gordon for most wins by an active driver there.

Earnhardt’s late father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Sr., is the all-time winner at Talladega with 10 victories there.

The younger Earnhardt becomes the eighth driver to win a race in 2015 and all but secures his position in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Johnson finished second, followed by Paul Menard, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr.

MORE: First ‘Big One’ of Sunday’s race at Talladega involves at least 15 cars

MORE: For second straight weekend, fire breaks out in an RCR pit during stop

MORE: Jeff Gordon leads Jimmie Johnson at halfway point of Geico 500 at Talladega

How Earnhardt Jr. won: After the final caution, Earnhardt took the lead on Lap 162 and held on for the remaining 27 laps. It was a big gamble for Earnhardt, whose water temperature was in red-line territory due to debris on the front grille. Crew chief Greg Ives told him to go for the win, and that’s exactly what Junior did, earning his first win of the season, as well as the first Sprint Cup victory for Ives.

Who else had a good day: Paul Menard had one of the fastest cars in the field and wound up third. … Arguably the biggest surprise was the fourth-place finish of Ryan Blaney. … Johnson, Martin Truex Jr. (5th) and Kevin Harvick (8th) continued their respective top 10 streaks, with each driver now having nine top-10 showings in the first 10 races of the season. … Having his best finish of the season was Sam Hornish Jr., who finished 6th.

Who had a bad day: Obviously, most of the drivers that were involved in the 15-car wreck on Lap 47, including Joey Logano (32nd), Kasey Kahne (34th), Greg Biffle (37th), David Ragan (38th) and Michael Waltrip (36th). … Carl Edwards was very strong in the race, but was involved in the last-lap wreck and finished a disappointing 32nd.

Notables: Jeff Gordon continued his rough luck in big races this season. For the third time, he was near the front of the race, only to be involved in a last-lap wreck. Gordon finished 31st. … Danica Patrick was involved in the 15-car wreck on Lap 47, but suffered minor damage. She worked her way back up as high as 6th, only to learn she had lost the fourth gear in her transmission. Patrick placed 21st. … Tony Stewart looked to be a potential winner, running as high as third in the closing laps, but fell back and finished 19th.

Quote of the day: “It’s just real emotional. I haven’t won here in a long time, it was my daddy’s birthday a couple days ago. Everything’s just so good for me right now, in my personal life, my racing, the team I’m with. I don’t know why, I don’t feel like I deserve it, but with so much emotion. … God has blessed me. I’m blessed, man. Everything’s going so great.” – Race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., who shed tears in Victory Lane.

What’s next: SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway, Saturday May 9, 7:30 pm ET.

Follow @JerryBonkowski