While severe weather made NASCAR call off all track activities on Saturday, it was a different story on Sunday. The action heated up under clear skies for the running of the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. The Roush Fenway Racing drivers knew avoiding the “Big One” would be a key factor in getting a good finish for the race. The Roush drivers all had strong performances in Sunday’s race, but two of them ended up with finishes that did not reflect how good they had been throughout the race.
Since qualifying was cancelled on Saturday, Matt Kenseth started 2nd in the No. 17 Valvoline Ford. Kenseth took the lead on lap 4, but in true Talladega-style racing, whoever was leading, normally didn’t stay up front for too long as positions shuffled due to drivers finding different draft partners. A competition caution came out on lap 20 so teams could check for tire wear since the cars hadn’t been on the track since Friday’s practice sessions. Under that caution, Kenseth told crew chief Todd Parrott that the No. 17 Ford was tight and that it might not have the speed needed for him to push any drafting partners he would hook up with. Kenseth pitted for four tires, fuel, and a wedge adjustment in what should have been a routine stop for Kenseth’s crew, but it was discovered that the vent tube would need repairs. Kenseth had to pit again, resulting in him restarting 43rd. The No. 17 Ford was still tight through the following green flag run. Kenseth pitted on lap 66 for two tires and fuel. The caution came out again on lap 77, and Kenseth and his crew opted to stay out. Kenseth had battled his way back to 25th by lap 81, only to be caught up in a multi-car incident two laps later in the tri-oval. Kenseth’s racecar took quite a beating and sustained heavy damage to the nose and right side. He drove the battered car to pit road so his crew could survey the damage and begin repairs. After the crew repaired the damage to the nose of the car as well as the toe settings, Kenseth headed back out onto the track. Kenseth went four laps down, and despite two more cautions late in the race for multi-car crashes, Kenseth ended up finishing 28th. The finish caused Kenseth to drop from 2nd to 4th in the standings.
Greg Biffle started 3rd on Sunday in the No. 16 811/3M Ford. At the drop of the green flag, Biffle began to drift back and by lap 4, he was 29th. He was running 20th when the competition caution came out. Biffle pitted one lap after pit road was open in an attempt to avoid congestion, but due to complications getting the right front tire off, he would restart 37th. Biffle remained toward the back of the field throughout the following green flag run. He was 31st when he made a green-flag stop on lap 65 for tires and fuel, but once again, the right front tire caused problems for Biffle’s crew. He returned to the track in 32nd place, but had lost the draft. The caution came out about 10 laps later, which was fortunate for Biffle who had been in danger of going a lap down. Biffle pitted for fuel only under the caution and restarted 19th. Lap 83 found Biffle back inside the top-five when the caution came out again. Crew Chief Greg Erwin opted for a four-tire stop since they would pit under the caution. On the restart, Biffle was 14th, but quickly made his way up to 4th. When the caution came out again around lap 100 for the engine blowing on Regan Smith’s car, Biffle pitted for fuel only again and restarted in the lead. The next green flag run found Biffle running solidly inside the top-ten. Biffle came down pit road on lap 146 for what the team thought would be their final stop of the race for right-side tires and fuel. Biffle was 3rd when the caution came out again, with only a handful of laps remaining. Erwin ordered Biffle to save as much fuel as possible for the green-white-checkered attempt. The green flag waved on lap 188, but the caution came out again for a multi-car crash before the leader took the white flag. A second attempt at the green-white-checkered finish was made and Biffle restarted 2nd behind Jamie McMurray, but lost the draft and quickly fell back. Jimmie Johnson tried to pass Biffle, but cut across the nose of Biffle’s car, resulting in both drivers spinning toward the inside wall. Johnson’s car sustained significant damage, while Biffle drove his car to pit road for repairs. He was 23rd for the third attempted green-white-checkered finish, and was able to pick up 6 positions to finish 17th. Biffle remains 3rd in the standings.
Carl Edwards started 15th in the No. 99 Aflac Ford. The green flag waved, and Edwards decided to “play it safe” by dropping back through the field. For much of the race, Edwards was content with riding it out in the back of the field. There weren’t many cautions for the first part of the race, but Edwards knew there would be a “Big One”, and he felt running toward the back of the field would help him avoid it. Edwards’s crew had great pit stops and was able to help Edwards gain positions almost every stop. By the halfway point, Edwards had moved up to 15th, but by lap 120, he was once again toward the back of the field, running 30th. Edwards made his final pit stop under green on lap 146. It was a two-tire stop for Edwards, and crew chief Bob Osborne knew they would need to get all the fuel they could into the No. 99 Ford, so he told Edwards to go on his command and not when the jack dropped. Had they not taken the extra time for fuel, the outcome of the race could have been very different. Edwards opted to stay out and gain track position under the caution that came out on lap 177. With 9 laps to go, Edwards restarted 7th, but fell to 13th. The caution came out again on with a few laps remaining, setting the field up for the first of the green-white-checkered attempts. When the caution came out again, Osborne reminded Edwards to conserve all the fuel he could. Edwards restarted 9th for the second attempted green-white-checkered finish, and when the caution came out again, fuel mileage became an even bigger concern. Edwards was 8th when the green flag waved for the last time, but was 11th when the checkered flag waved. The finish allowed Edwards to move up two spots in the points to 13th.
David Ragan began the race in the 26th position, but when the green flag waved, it became apparent his car was one fast machine. Ragan made his way inside the top-five during the first few laps, but had fallen to 16th when the competition caution came out. The car’s handling was nearly perfect so Ragan pitted for right-side tires and fuel. He restarted 9th, but was shuffled back to 24th soon afterward. However, it didn’t take long for Ragan to rebound and take the lead on lap 35. He lead one lap then fell back, but remained inside the top-five. Lap 50 found Ragan once again in the lead. Ragan pitted under green for tires and fuel when needed. On lap 143, Ragan took the lead and broke a NASCAR record. Until Sunday, the most ever lead changes during a race was 75, but Ragan taking the lead was the 76th lead change of the race. Ragan made a green-flag stop shortly afterward for two tires and fuel. Green flag stops cycled through, and Ragan was once again the leader. When the caution came out around lap 183 for the multi-car incident in the tri-oval, crew chief Donnie Wingo instructed Ragan to save fuel. The field then geared up for what some knew would be one wild finish. The second green-white-checkered attempt found Ragan sitting in 11th, wondering if there was enough fuel in the No. 6 to finish. He remained 11th when teammate Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson got together. On the last restart of the race, Ragan hooked up with Mark Martin and was 6th to take the checkered flag. It was Ragan’s best finish of the season, and he gained 4 positions in the standings to jump from 26th to 22nd.
Last time out at Talladega, it was former Roush Fenway Racing driver Jamie McMurray who brought home the win. On Sunday, McMurray proved that, even if he is now with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, he is still a great restrictor plate racer. McMurray looked like he would win the Aaron’s 499, but a last second pass saw Kevin Harvick edging out McMurray by .011 of a second. Congratulations to Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 crew on winning one of the best Talladega races in a long time!
Next up: Crown Royal presents the Heath Calhoun 400 at Richmond International Raceway