Michael Waltrip survived a late-race red flag and a miscue on pit road to earn his second win of the season. It was a familiar scene as Waltrip and the No. 15 Chevy were pushed to the checkered flag by teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who survived ...
Michael Waltrip survived a late-race red flag and a miscue on pit road to earn his second win of the season. It was a familiar scene as Waltrip and the No. 15 Chevy were pushed to the checkered flag by teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who survived drama of his own to finish second.
"What a day, we battled hard all day," said Waltrip. "I was afraid about the restart, my car was geared a little higher than I wanted it to be and I was afraid they'd get a run on me. And that's what Jr. tried to do. I fought that one off and then I saw (Jeff) Gordon get beside Dale (Earnhardt) coming of four and I had to go for it."
Waltrip's problems first started early in the event on pit road, when confusion with the catch can caused a penalty by NASCAR, where Waltrip had to restart at the rear of the longest line of lead lap cars. Waltrip worked his way back to the front of the field and hung on to score his fourth career victory. All four have come on restrictor-plate racetracks (three at Daytona, and now one at Talladega).
"DEI dominance continues," said Waltrip. "It had a lot to do with a bunch of guys willing themselves to the top."
Waltrip took the lead on lap 178, when a few laps later at lap 182, during a battle for the lead; the No. 97 of Kurt Busch bumped pole sitter Elliott Sadler on lap 182 of 188 laps. Sadler flipped several times before coming to rest on the infield grass.
Sadler was airlifted to UAB Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama for further tests and observation. Sadler did exit the car under is own power, and was standing and speaking with safety workers after the accident.
Earnhardt, Jr. rebounded from early troubles that plagued the No. 8 DEI team to finish second. Earnhardt ran into Ricky Craven on pit road on lap 14, crushing his front grill. The No. 8 team worked feverishly to repair the damage, placing Earnhardt one-lap in the rears and as far back as 38th place.
Team DEI was able to get Earnhardt back on the leap lap with forty-four laps to go, with the new "lucky dog rule", where the first person a lap down automatically gets their lap back (since racing back to the caution is no longer allowed). That break was all Earnhardt needed to power his Chevy Monte Carlo to the lead within the races closing laps.
A late race yellow, however, once again shuffled the field, when seven cars elected not to pit under the events last caution. Earnhardt restarted on lap 175 in 10th position, but DEI horsepower helped him gain second place when the field restarted with four laps to go after Sadler's crash. From that spot, he pushed teammate Waltrip to the win, keeping the runner-up spot for himself.
"He's (Waltrip) one of my toughest competitors on a track like this," said Earnhardt. "He knows a lot about me and what all my tricks are. Its real hard to get by him, I can get along side him but its tough to get by. I didn't have anybody behind me, and drafting partners. Jeff Gordon and me we're buddies, but we are not drafting partners.
"It just didn't work out like we wanted it to. We're real happy to get second. We had trouble on pit road, and lost a lap there, ran most of the race a lap down. The rule worked out for me, I didn't earn my lap back, but the rule worked out for me. I got it back, man we were just running into everybody and everybody was running into us. Some people hung onto their cars and some people didn't.
Earnhardt failed in his bid to win his fifth straight Winston Cup race at Talladega. His second place spot, however, moves him up one spot into third in the standings; 384 points behind leader Matt Kenseth.
"Just a rough race," said Earnhardt. "It was fun. But I don't think everybody out there was too happy with what was going on out there. That's the wildest I've seen it in a long time."
Reigning Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart, who was unable to practice Saturday due to an excruciating migraine, managed to finish third.
"I had a migraine like I haven't had in about 15 years," said Stewart. "Couldn't even stand to see light, that's how bad it hurt. Slept all day yesterday, and all through the evening. I woke up today feeling a lot better, but I didn't know what to expect with the rule change and all of that.
"Just really happy."
Ryan Newman, who also gained a lap back due to the new "lucky dog rule", claimed fourth spot.
"It's really no fun out there," said Newman. "The beating and banging out there at 190 mph, we got cars that are tore up just like Bristol or Martinsville. It's not fun, and to me it's not racing."
Four-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon was fifth.
"I put myself in the perfect position," said Gordon. "I just went out there and drove my car the best that I possibly could."
Matt Kenseth encountered troubles late in the race, losing an engine on the No. 17 Ford with thirty laps left in the event. Kenseth finished 33rd, but retains the point lead. It is Kenseth's worst finish of the year, and first DNF of the season.
"Something broke in the engine," said Kenseth. "This restrictor plate stuff has always been our weakness. We just need to work on our program."
He now leads second-place Kevin Harvick by 354 markers. Jimmie Johnson drops a spot to fourth, as Earnhardt climbs up one rung. Ryan Newman rounds out the top five point leaders.
The biggest wreck of the day came at lap 10 in turn four. The left rear tire of Jeremy Mayfield's No. 19 Dodge went flat, hurling him into the No. 14 of Larry Foyt. Jimmy Spencer, Tony Raines, David Green, and Johnny Benson were also swept up in the melee. Foyt was transported to UAB Medical Center in Birmingham for medical testing. There was no update on his injuries at the time of this report.
The only other multi-car accident of the day came post race after the field had taken the checkered flag. Bobby Labonte was bumped post-race as the cars came around to take a cool down lap. The tap sent the No. 18 up the racetrack collecting the cars of Mark Martin, Bill Elliott and Kenny Wallace. No one was injured in the incident.