It was certainly the weekend for favorites.
Floyd Mayweather won the latest fight of the century. American Pharaoh won the Kentucky Derby. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Geico 500. Even though an emotional Earnhardt Jr was thrilled to be back in Victory Lane at Talladega for the first time in a decade, he wasn’t the only winner. Here’s a breakdown from a typical Talladega weekend.
Win: Greg Ives
Being the crew chief of NASCAR’s most popular driver isn’t easy. There is always a transition; Steve Letarte was well like. Plus, Ives almost missed the race to be with his daughter, who broke her arm over the weekend.
Now that the win is out of the way, the No. 88 team has its Chase spot and the flexibility to go through growing pains as a team without too much glare. Plus there may not be a more rabid connection between fan and driver than Talladega and Earnhardt Jr. This is the NASCAR equivalent of impressing the in-laws.
Lose: Tony Stewart
Stewart led six laps and was a factor at the end when he tried to make a move on Earnhardt Jr. for the win. This is what NASCAR want drivers to do. Nobody helped Stewart with the move (this happens), the draft blasted past him, and Stewart ended up with a 19th place finish.
In a sport where drivers are supposed to race for wins, Stewart needed the points. Stewart now finds himself nearly 80 points out of the final Chase spot. There are 16 races left before the Chase begins. Stewart most likely has to win in order to make the Chase. I suspect that will happen, but having a desperate driver with Stewart’s mentality for the next four months should be interesting to observe.
Draw: The Wood Brothers
The good news is Ryan Blaney ran extremely well and ended up fourth. It was the team’s best finish since Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 and showed this team can still be a factor at restrictor plate races.
The bad news is everyone noticed was a great prospect Blaney is. Just 21, Blaney doesn’t have the direct connection Bayne did with Roush Fenway Racing. Blaney doesn’t even have a full ride for the XFINITY year. What Blaney will have is his name integrated into silly season talk until a long term plan develops. Hopefully the Wood Brothers can get the most out of Blaney’s skills while they have him.
NASCAR heads to Kansas for a Saturday night race. Perhaps Earnhardt Jr. and his fans will have gone to bed by then.
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