Another exciting weekend at Talladega Superspeedway was capped with a race that saw a record number of leaders and a two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion finally winning for the first time at the track.
Three days of racing ended on Sunday with a victory in the AMP Energy 500 by Tony Stewart, who had finished in second place six times in 19 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Talladega Superspeedway without a victory. Talladega had been one of only four tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit where Stewart did not have a win.
“People don’t understand what it means to win here,” Stewart said. “Winning the Nationwide race here this year (for his first Talladega victory in any series) was huge to me. And now to win the Cup race, man, it’s just an awesome feeling. We finally got ourselves in Victory Lane here.”
Stewart’s longtime crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, also was excited about seeing the No. 20 car finally take the checkered flag at Talladega Superspeedway.
“We’ve had a lot of good cars here in the past, and hadn’t been able to get that victory,” Zipadelli said. “This is one of those places where, if you were going to pick five or six race tracks to win at in your career, this is one of them.
The lead in Sunday’s race was passed around 64 times among 28 drivers. The 28 different leaders set a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series record, breaking the old mark of 26 that was set at Talladega Superspeedway in July 1986 and equaled in April 2001.
The tone was set early in the race, as the lead traded hands 30 times in less than 50 laps, from lap 35 to 83. During that span, no driver led for more than five consecutive laps. Throughout the entire race, no driver led for more than 20 consecutive laps, and only three drivers managed to hold onto first place for as long as 10 laps.
The first eight laps were led by Travis Kvapil, who had captured the pole position on Saturday driving the No. 28 Yates Racing Ford originally made famous by the late Davey Allison, an Alabama native who was a local fan favorite in the 1980s and early ‘90s.
Kvapil’s qualifying speed of 187.364 mph placed the No. 28 car on the pole for a race at Talladega Superspeedway for the first time since Ernie Irvan put it there in 1997. It also was the first NASCAR Sprint Cup pole of Kvapil’s career.
“I remember watching the 28 with Davey running up front and leading laps,” Kvapil said. “This is a place that’s really special to the Yates family. My crew chief, Todd Parrott, loves coming here.
“Having the 28 with the Alabama Gang and that whole notoriety that comes with the 28, it’s awful special. There are a lot of 28 fans in the Talladega area, so it’s pretty cool that we can come here and get my first pole and give those 28 fans something to cheer about.”
A familiar car capturing the pole in Food Land/Food Giant qualifying was followed late Saturday afternoon by a familiar face making it to Victory Lane in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race. Todd Bodine won for the second consecutive year at Talladega Superspeedway by passing Kyle Busch on the final turn to win the Mountain Dew 250 Fueled by Winn-Dixie.
As a pack of 15 trucks roared into Turn 4 and headed toward the checkered flag, Bodine admitted that he did not think he was going to win. Not with Busch in front of him on the bottom of the track and several trucks clogging his path on the high side.
“At that point, I conceded the win,” Bodine said. “I figured, ‘OK, I’m just going to push Kyle to the win and finish second and get a Toyota to Victory Lane.’”
Instead, Bodine made contact with Busch’s truck and, as the entire pack bobbled and weaved, Bodine suddenly had a clear path to the lead. He took it, and pulled Ron Hornaday Jr. along with him to a second-place finish, with Busch finishing third.
“Todd got straightened up and got in front of me somehow,” Hornaday said. “I don’t know how he did it.”
The final 15 to 20 laps produced some of the most exciting racing ever seen at Talladega Superspeedway. At one point, there were eight rows of trucks running three-wide, and a few of the rows briefly went four-wide.
“Anybody had a shot at that point,” Bodine said. “When we were four-wide, there were about 16 of us that had a shot at it.”
Yet despite the close-quarter racing, the pack managed to remain under control until the end. When the trucks crossed the finish line, the top 15 were separated by less than a half-second.
“My hat’s off to everybody in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Everybody drove heads up,” Hornaday said. “It was a good show.”
The ARCA RE/MAX 250 produced a good show of its own Friday, with Justin Allgaier making a final-lap pass of Joey Logano for the victory.
More than a dozen cars jockeyed wildly for position over the final five laps, with Allgaier finally grabbing the lead for good by zipping past Logano on the high side as the pack roared into turn one.
It was the second consecutive ARCA victory for Allgaier and his fifth of the season. But he admitted that this one was special.
“To come out of here with a victory means so much to all of us,” Allgaier said.
Especially in a race that was up for grabs entering the final lap.
“There was a lot going on,” third-place finisher Bobby Gerhart said. “I don’t remember much except for the last corner. Instinct kind of takes over for all of us at that point. It was a mad scramble, and things got exciting. It was certainly one whale of a race, there’s no doubt about that.”
And one whale of a weekend for fans at Talladega Superspeedway