1. Ryan Blaney (30 points): Blaney is no longer the winless outsider at Team Penske this year. He edged Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for the victory and his seventh top-five finish in the last eight races. Last week: Tied for first
2). Denny Hamlin (27 points): Hamlin followed up his Miami win with a fourth-place finish after he had to rebound from going a lap down early due to a cut tire. Has three top fives in the last four races. Last week: Fourth
3. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (14 points): Earned a stage win and scored his third top-five finish of the season. He already has three times as many top-five finishes this season as he did last year. Last week: Unranked
(tie) 4. Alex Bowman (12 points): Finished second in Stage 1, led 12 laps and placed seventh for his second top 10 in three races. Last week: Unranked
(tie) 4. Aric Almirola: (12 points): His rear bumper crossed the finish line first, but that didn’t keep him from finishing third for his second consecutive top five. He is also tied with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the most consecutive top 10s at Talladega with eight. Last week: Unranked
6. Kurt Busch (10 points): Wasn’t a frontrunner Monday, but the Chip Ganassi Racing driver finished ninth for his ninth top-10 finish in the last 11 races. Last week: Unranked
7. Chase Elliott (8 points): A poor finish on a superspeedway can’t take away that he’s had five top 10s, including a win, in the last seven races. Last week: Tied for first
(tie) 8. Joey Logano (7 points): Led 33 laps as part of the Team Penske convoy Monday and finished in the top 10 in the opening two stages. Has led 393 laps over the last nine races, but he has only four top 10s in that time. Last week: Unranked
(tie) 8. Brad Keselowski (7 points): Placed in the top 10 in the first two stages before finishing 19th, which snapped a top-10 streak of seven races. Last week: Third
(tie) 10. AJ Allmendinger (6 points): He finished seventh Saturday in the Xfinity race after being part of the Kaulig Racing effort on the last lap that pushed Justin Haley to his first series win. Over his last three races he’s started in the rear each time and won at Atlanta, finished fourth at Miami to claim the Dash 4 Cash bonus and earned a top 10 at Talladega. Last week: Unranked
(tie) 10. Chris Buescher (6 points): Placed sixth for his third top-10 finish of the season. Last week: Unranked
(tie) 10. Erik Jones (6 points): Earned his third top-five finish of the year, all of which have come since NASCAR’s return on May 17. Last week: Unranked
Bubba Wallace spent time talking with NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Tuesday discussing some of the events of the last few days at Talladega Superspeedway.
Wallace reveals his emotions before the race, the quip Richard Petty told him to help settle his emotions before climbing into the car and celebrating with fans at their first race after the event.
Here is part of the conversation Wallace and Earnhardt had for NASCAR America at Home:
Dale Jr.: What were you thinking as drivers pushed you down pit road before the race?
Bubba Wallace: I had walked out with headphones on just to kind of block out the noise and just kind of escape. Music is my escape, Dale. I forgot who came and tapped me, maybe it was (Corey) LaJoie or someone told me, ‘You ready to roll?’ I think that was when kind of the emotion came through … (That morning) I woke up and jumped on (the driver group chat) and Jimmie Johnson said ‘I’ll be standing next to Bubba during the anthem today’ and I lost it, I lost it right there. It’s not the hate that breaks me, it’s the support, knowing that people out there support me, makes you feel good, it pulls on your heartstrings for sure.
So I think that’s kind the emotion I was running through that whole time. So getting out of the car, I had a lot of emotion there, just going through everything. It sucks to be kind of carrying all of that weight but it’s part of the journey. Being able to turn around and see all the drivers standing there was really cool. I don’t know what made me look and see if the whole garage was there. Jimmie had talked to me about it. He had called me a couple of hours before the race and said that people reached out and wanted to be a part of that. So I stood up on the door and I looked and saw basically the entire garage and I lost it. I stood up and almost collapsed. It looked like Atlanta all over again (laughs).
But man, it was something truly incredible to witness and to be a part of.It makes me proud to have a voice in NASCAR and also be a driver and be a part of this sport, a family sport and we all know it’s family. As much as we give each other crap on the racetrack, I will say for a fact, word for word, I got out of the car and I said I don’t like half you guys but I do appreciate all of this (laughs). It was a true testament of how big a family sport this is.”
Dale Jr.: Tell me a little bit about NASCAR President Steve Phelps. Who is he to you?
Bubba Wallace: He’s becoming a bigger and bigger friend than he is … the president of the sanctioning body. I fired off a text message to him a couple of weeks ago. One of the first things I said, ‘Hey, I look at you as a friend, so if I say anything that offends you, we’re friends.’ … I told him we need to take a big stand. We needed to take a big stand and stand up for what’s right. He quickly called me right after that and we had a really good conversation of where he stood and where he wants the sport to go and where he wants us all to go as a whole. That was pretty powerful there.
“He’s been very transparent with me. … The conversation that I had about what went down Sunday was, one, scared the hell out of me because he called me and it was one of those like you just did something wrong, like, my mind was racing, what interview did I do did I say the wrong thing … he was like we needed to talk in person. He comes over to the bus and he walks in and he’s kind of got of that really quiet mellow voice. I said, ‘Hey Steve, how is it going?’ (He said) ‘not good.’ …
“When he finally looked up at me, he had tears in his eyes. I don’t know what’s going on, what he’s about to say, what I’m getting at is showing how much Sunday meant to him and offended him and hurt him, showed the character that he is and the passion that he has behind the sport but also his drivers and his friends. That he was disrespected, he was hurt, he felt threatened. He was not going to let this get away and blow under the rug. He was going to do everything in his power to find justice for this and to this day he is still carrying that and even beyond.”
Dale Jr.: What is your personal support system like? Who is helping you through this?
Bubba Wallace: One, Amanda, my girlfriend. She has been super supportive. … She knew how much pressure and how much I was going through from Sunday throughout the race, everything that went on the whole pre-race, just the whole couple of days and couple of weeks I’ve been going through. … She has been a huge support so I love her for that. My mom, my sister and my dad. They’ve been all been there. …
“Talked to (Ryan) Blaney a lot. He was over here last week and we had a good conversation, talking about everything that is going on in the sport and the world, how crazy it is and what we could do to be better. I think that small little support group there on top of everybody reaching out, including yourself. … It’s cool to see that support.”
Dale Jr.: What has it been like to see new fans come to the sport?
Bubba Wallace: Man, that has been really cool. I think that was a powerful moment even after the race. I was pumped for Blaney. I was contemplating walking out to the finish line and I was like that’s a long walk. I’ll wait until he drives by. I heard the Bubba chants and I looked over and I see a decent amount of African Americans sitting in the stands. I was like, dude, that’s badass, that’s awesome. I guarantee you that was their first race. I felt obligated to walk over there, I wanted to walk over there. I wanted to kind of share that moment with them.
“They were like, ‘We’re all the way from Atlanta, we drove over here to check out our first NASCAR race,’ and they were all so proud of me and proud to be there and happy to be there and it was super cool to witness and be able to do the interview with them in the background screaming and hollering in support was super cool.
“I’ve been saying it for the last couple of weeks and I’ve always stood by this, I want everybody to feel welcome. When I go to a sporting event, when I go to a (Charlotte) Hornets game or a (Carolina) Panthers game, I don’t feel like I’m unwelcome because of who I look like. I want that same feeling for anybody that comes to a NASCAR event, that comes to a race and … the Confederate flag was a thing that kind of held people back and maybe the actions of some fans toward other people held people back. I’m trying to change that narrative and show, hey, come on out. You don’t have to cheer on me. You can cheer on Ryan Blaney, whatever. … Learn about the sport. Learn about the strategy. Know that we’re just not driving in circles because we’re driving on ovals. We go straight a little bit. Learn the pit stops, what it takes, the choreography of that. Learns the ins and outs of the sport. That’s where you get hooked.”
Dale Jr.: Is racing a necessary outlet for you at these times?
Bubba Wallace: Absolutely. I told Jimmie (Johnson) after the race, we were walking back to our buses, I told him, man, I wish that race didn’t end, it was a lot of fun. Now the work starts. Racing is not work and you know that.
“(Richard Petty) The King, right before I climbed in, he said, ‘Well, this is your chance to flip off that switch on the back of your head where we shut our brains off and go out.’ He said here’s that little switch you can pull off. We had talked about it when he got there to the track a couple of hours before with him, myself and Brian Moffitt (CEO of Richard Petty Motorsports) were sitting there and talking. Drivers have that switch. Once you put that helmet on it, it hits that switch down and you turn it off. He said, now you get to turn off that switch, so go have fun.”
Ryan Blaney scores dramatic win at Talladega in overtime
After standing together behind Bubba Wallace as a sign of unity during emotional pre-race ceremonies, drivers scrambled on the final lap, as Ryan Blaney nipped Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for the win and Aric Almirola came across the finish line backward in third in a thrilling overtime finish Monday at Talladega Superspeedway.
Blaney, who won at Talladega last fall, and Erik Jones made contact coming to the finish line as they battled for the win. The contact put Jones up into John Hunter Nemechek‘s car and into the wall. Jones was credited with fifth place, a spot behind Denny Hamlin.
“(Blaney) kind of came up on us there,” Jones said. “He moved us up the track, which in turn, kind of got us turned into the fence. It’s superspeedway racing. He’s doing what he has to win; I’m doing what I have to win, and it didn’t play out in our favor, so at least we were there and had a shot to win one of these things. They aren’t easy to win by any means, so it was nice to be up there.”
After the race, Bubba Wallace, who finished 14th, walked to fans in the stands. Up to 5,000 fans were allowed for this event. Wallace slapped hands with fans through the catchfence.
“This is probably the most badass moment right here,” he told Fox, looking at fans, which included some wearing Black Lives Matter shirts. “It’s been tough. It’s been hectic. Look, first (time) fans right here from Atlanta. That is so cool. This sport is changing. The deal that happened yesterday, sorry I’m not wearing my mask, but I wanted to show whoever it was you’re not going to take my smile and I’m going to keep on going.”
Wallace got emotional when he talked about the pre-race activities with drivers pushing his car to the front of the grid and standing with him for the invocation and national anthem.
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Runner-up Ricky Stenhouse Jr. scored his third top-five finish of the season. He had one top-five result last season. … Chris Buescher placed sixth for his best Talladega finish. … John Hunter Nemechek finished eighth for his best career finish.
It might be difficult to reflect with everything else happening in NASCAR and the world, though.
“I think everybody is just so head down just trying to get through everything that’s been thrown at us every day and every week,” Brad Keselowski, who won at Chicagoland in 2012 and ‘14, said this week. “It’s so hard to have any perspective right now. I think that whether it’s virus or protests and that’s happening globally, then we have our own little focus world of at the racetrack and trying to win and trying to overcome no practice.
“I’ve got to do a health screening every other day. I don’t know where I’m supposed to be, I don’t have any help at the racetrack. It’s a complete mess and we’re all just trying to kind of live through the days. I think somebody brought up on Twitter about not going to Sonoma. That hadn’t even crossed my mind, not even in the faintest. People ask me what day it is, and I have no idea what day it is.
“So it’s really hard to have any context to a lot of what’s going on. I’m trying, we’re all trying, but when it comes to things like trying to put missing Chicago in perspective it’s like, ‘I’m just trying to make it to Talladega.’ ”
While Keselowski and others are hoping the 2021 schedule will include a stop in The Windy City, NASCAR already has announced one new track (Nashville Superspeedway) and seems to be considering other fresh markets and venues, too, as it explores midweek races, streamlined schedules and other efficiencies discovered since the schedule was restarted May 17.
“Whether it’s different tracks, different venues, different schedules, setups, rosters, I’m all ears,” Keselowski said. “I just want what’s best for this sport and without being able to see all the data to speak to 100 percent knowledge base, I would say that the knowledge base that I do have there are a lot of things I like and one of them is Chicago.”
2. Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne square off: A mentor-pupil relationship was tested when Tony Stewart wrecked Cup rookie Kasey Kahne out of the lead. Tommy Baldwin, Kahne’s crew chief, led his team to Stewart’s pit and a scuffle briefly ensued after which Ray Evernham vowed to “have 10 minutes alone with Tony Stewart and I’ll handle this by myself.” Oh by the way, Stewart won the July 11, 2004 race, his first victory of the season.
3. Jeff Gordon vs. Matt Kenseth: In a feud that had started four months earlier with a bump and a shove at Bristol Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon spun Matt Kenseth out of the lead and led the final seven laps of a July 9, 2006 victory. “He should have expected some action,” Gordon said. “Because of what happened in Bristol, you better believe I was going to make his life difficult.” Said Kenseth: “That wasn’t an accident,” said Kenseth, a Cambridge, Wis., native racing at the track closest to his hometown. “He just ran over me.”
4. Runaway orange on the frontstretch: Tropicana sponsored the first four Cup races at Chicagoland Speedway but was most well-known for an Xfinity qualifying highlight on July 9, 2004. As driver Todd Szegedy began his lap, he nearly ran into a 20-foot-high inflatable orange with a red and white straw that broke loose from its moorings and caught a breeze on the frontstretch. “I used to like orange juice, now it almost killed me,” Szegedy said. “It would have been neat if it would have hooked onto my car.”
5. IndyCar by a nose: In the closest finish in the history of the NTT IndyCar Series, Sam Hornish Jr. nipped Al Unser Jr. by 0.0024 seconds Sept. 8, 2002 at Chicagoland Speedway. Tight finishes in Joliet, Illinois, were a hallmark for IndyCar, which raced there from 2001-10 and also recorded its second-closest finish (Helio Castroneves by 0.0033 over Scott Dixon on Sept. 7, 2008) and fourth-closest finish (Ryan Briscoe by 0.0077 over Dixon on Aug. 29, 2009) at the 1.5-mile oval.
6. A historic baker’s dozen: Chicago is known for a checkered history of political controversies and scandals, so it was only fitting that one of NASCAR’s worst happened here. NASCAR chairman Brian France announced the Sept. 13, 2013 addition of Jeff Gordon as a 13th driver to the playoff field after a review of the race manipulation in the regular-season finale at Richmond Raceway. The following day, France gathered crew chiefs, drivers and car owners to read them the riot act about future race tampering.
7. International appeal: The buzz began as soon as the Chicagoland garage opened Sunday morning, July 9, 2006. A Formula One winner was coming directly to NASCAR? And not the IndyCar Series where he’d made his fame? A few hours later, Juan Pablo Montoya officially was announced as Chip Ganassi Racing’s new driver for 2007. “It’s a historic announcement to have someone of his international success and caliber,” NASCAR president Mike Helton said. “It simply transcends every effort NASCAR has been involved in for 58 years to make it desirable, diverse and international. Anybody who follows motor sports naturally would know his name.” Montoya called it “my toughest challenge ever,” and he was right. Though the Colombian won twice, he never consistently contended over seven Cup seasons.
8. No puppet show allowed: In one of the more amusing chapters in Chicagoland history, several Cup teams were banned from having Muppets characters in their pits in a paint scheme sponsorship tied to the 25th anniversary of “The Muppet Show.” Track officials said it was because Chicagoland wasn’t part of the promotion. “Anybody want to let the Muppets out of jail?” Bill Elliott asked after qualifying third with a No. 9 Dodge that had the Swedish Chef on its hood.
9. Justin Labonte’s miracle Xfinity victory: In perhaps the biggest upset in track history, Justin Labonte started 34th, fell a lap down and won on a fuel mileage gambit when Mike Wallace ran out of gas on the last lap. Labonte, who hadn’t led a lap or finished in the top 10 of 30 previous Xfinity starts, celebrated in a low-key manner after the July 10, 2004 race. He held the checkered flag out his window on a victory lap saluting his part-time team, which had eight employees and was owned by his two-time Cup champion father. “This is bigger than any win I’ve ever had,” Terry Labonte said.
10. A memorable restart: The odds seemed stacked against Kyle Busch on a two-lap shootout that ended the first Cup night race at Chicagoland. Busch was running second to Jimmie Johnson, two championships into his run of five consecutive. But at the final green flag on July 12, 2008, Busch swung his No. 18 to the outside of Johnson’s No. 48 and made it stick for the seventh of a series-high eight victories in 2008. Busch who radioed his team in resignation while chasing Johnson earlier, told his crew, “I appreciate you guys sticking with me. I know I’m a pain in the ass sometimes, but you’ll have that in a punk.”
11. The pass of the season: With extraordinary finesse, Brad Keselowski split the middle between the top two cars of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson and led the final 17 laps to win the Sept. 14, 2014 playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway. “I just saw a hole and I went for it,” the Team Penske driver said. “(Harvick) and (Larson) were racing really hard. It just opened a hole. I didn’t know if my car would stick, but I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t try it.”
12. Smoke rises: Four days after proclaiming he wasn’t a contender for the championship, Tony Stewart won Sept. 19, 2011 (held on a Monday afternoon) as Chicagoland opened the Cup playoffs for the first time. It was the first victory of the year for Stewart, who won five of the final 10 races for his third championship.
13. First-time winner: For the second consecutive year, Larson came up on the short end of a memorable outcome as Alex Bowman finally fulfilled the promise of being hired by Hendrick Motorsports. After losing the lead to Larson for two laps, Bowman regained it with five laps remaining in the June 30, 2019 race.
14. A fiery wreck: In the track’s scariest crash, Ryan Briscoe briefly went airborne and landed on the backstretch SAFER barrier in a fireball that split his car in half. Briscoe thankfully survived but broke his shoulders in the Sept. 11, 2005 wreck and spent a week in the hospital recovering. He returned to win at the track four years later.
15. Best in class: Though the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 in 2009 was his first victory, the July 10, 2010 triumph at Chicagoland Speedway will be remembered as David Reutimann’s greatest victory. The Michael Waltrip Racing driver and crew chief Rodney Childers had the best car start to finish, beating Jeff Gordon straight up. “I felt like there was a dark cloud hanging over our head with that win at the 600,” Reutimann said. “Everybody just says, ‘Yeah, you guys won, but .. ‘Now I’m just like, ‘OK, here you go, just leave me alone. We won the race.”
16. Junior’s achievement: After the first half of a season that wrecked his confidence, Dale Earnhardt Jr. scored an out-of-the-blue victory July 10, 2005 with Steve Hmiel, his third crew chief in six months. It would be Earnhardt’s lone Cup triumph that season. “It’s a long time coming,” he said. “It’s real emotional . . . more than I can handle right now. With all the darts thrown at these guys this year. It’s just awesome.”
17. Quiet breakthrough: The first Xfinity race at Chicagoland Speedway was also the first NASCAR victory for a legend. Jimmie Johnson was an unheralded driver for Herzog Motorsports when he led the final 43 laps to win July 14, 2001. Within three months, he was hired to drive the No. 48 for Hendrick Motorsports, and the rest is history.
18. Another first-timer: Casey Mears already had been a Cup driver for four seasons when he scored his only career Xfinity victory in a fuel-mileage play to lead the final 47 laps July 8, 2006 at Chicagoland Speedway. It came a month after Mears had been hired by Hendrick for the 2007 season, in which he’d get his final victory (the Coca-Cola 600).
19. Lights, camera, action: Chicagoland’s proximity to the country’s third-largest media market often has meant drawing a larger share of Hollywood stars plugging their work. During the July 2006 weekend, it was Will Ferrell and the cast of “Talladega Nights” promoting the NASCAR-themed movie released that summer. Ferrell got a prerace ride in a stock car driven by Wally Dallenbach Jr. “I almost threw up doing the donuts,” Ferrell said. “A mixture of G forces and burning rubber after eating eggs is not the best.”
Chase Briscoe: Dale Jr. ‘changed my entire outlook’ of superspeedway races
Before a roughly 45-minute conversation with Dale Earnhardt Jr. last year, Xfinity Series driver Chase Briscoe “used to despise” competing on superspeedways like Talladega Superspeedway.
“I went there with the mentality I was just gonna ride around and hopefully the wreck would happen and I wouldn’t be in it and I’d maybe finish in the top 10 or whatever,” Briscoe said. “And not that I wasn’t going there to win, but I was just there making laps essentially.”
But early last year Briscoe had a lengthy phone call with Earnhardt, the winner of six Cup Series races and one Xfinity race at Talladega, that “changed my entire outlook on those races.”
The changed perspective in part resulted in Briscoe’s fourth-place finish at Talladega last year in his second Xfinity start at the track.
Before that he had a 16th-place finish in 2018 and he placed 22nd in his lone Truck Series start there in 2017.
“I’ve logged a lot of laps and been up front and in contention and just talking to (Earnhardt) and how he approaches those races and his mentality, just how you race them was the total 180 (degrees) opposite of how I was going to go in there,” Briscoe said. “And I felt like ever since I talked to Dale, it’s been a night and day difference, my outlook going to the races. But typically, whenever I get done, I’m like, ‘Man, that was a lot of fun. I’m ready to keep going,’ where the past I would have never said that.”
Added Briscoe: “A lot of people say for the most part that (doing well in) those races are luck, which there is a certain variable of that, but typically you see the same guys winning at the superspeedways, whether it’s Denny (Hamlin) or Joey (Logano) or Brad (Keselowski) or any of those guys and even Dale back when he was racing. So it’s not a coincidence that he got lucky necessarily that many times, there’s something to it. Talking to Dale I feel like really opened my eyes up a lot.”
What was the biggest piece of advice Earnhardt passed on to the 25-year-old driver?
“Just be the aggressor,” Briscoe said. “Now I go there with mentality, I’m going to try to lead every single lap. If I get hung out to dry or whatever, and I fall back to 30th, that’s fine. I’m going to try to drive right back to the lead anytime I get any kind of a run whatsoever. … I just feel like you almost approach it like you’re going go-kart racing. If you wreck, you wreck. But you’re going there to try to lead every single lap you can and it’s just a different style of racing. On the mile-and-half-stuff that’s the mentality I use, and there’s no reason why on superpeedways I wouldn’t use that same mentality of trying to lead every lap.”
That mentality has resulted in Briscoe earning a series-leading three wins so far this year, at Las Vegas, Darlington and last weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. That win qualified him to compete for the Dash 4 Cash bonus today at Talladega (5:30 p.m. ET on FS1). He will race against Brandon Jones, Ross Chastain and AJ Allmendinger for the $100,000 prize.
Boswell was replaced on the pit box on Sunday by Stewart-Haas Racing’s vice president of competition, Greg Zipadelli, who will also be in that position Saturday.
“Right now the point is to have him do it at Talladega,” Briscoe said. “I think that’s kind of all of our goal is to have Zippy do it for the following two races, but it’s just dependent on what is going on on the Cup side. That’s obviously priority No. 1 for him. … It was different in a sense of how Zippy communicates and just some of the lingo he uses and his demeanor compared to Boswell. … Obviously, Zippy, he’s won plenty races and championships in the past. So we know he’s more than capable of the job.
“At the same time, this is the perfect opportunity for an interim chief to step in just because of the situation, we’re not practicing or anything. So Boswell’s still setting the car up and everything at home. He’s just not allowed to go to the racetrack. So all that Zippy has to do is really call the race and get the car through tech. So it’s kind of a blessing in disguise for us if this was going to happen just because of the situation we’re in. The only place that it’ll even affect us is Indy (July 4), where we have practice. But we’re confident Zippy’s more than capable of doing the job. And that’s the great thing about Stewart-Haas, we have so much depth all across companies, if something happens. We always have a perfect backup plan.”