Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove to his sixth ever victory at Talladega Superspeedway in the Geico 500 Sunday, locking down a spot in the chase for the Hendrick Motorsports for the fifth consecutive year. The victory comes shortly after Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s birthday, making the win especially emotional for Junior, who last won at the 2.6-mile superspeedway back in 2004.
After starting from second row in fourth position, Earnhardt Jr. beat teammate Jimmie Johnson to the finish line in the 188-lap race by 0.159 seconds. Before the race start, Earnhardt decided he wanted to race up front all day, not at the back in anticipation of the all but inevitable ‘Big One’ at ‘Dega.
“Last year, I waited in the back expecting a wreck,” Earnhardt Jr. told FOX. “I just was real ashamed of that choice, felt like I really wasted my team’s time and everybody’s hard work. I was just really, really ashamed of that. So I got a run up in there, even if I wreck, we’re in the middle of it, we’re going to be racing for the lead or trying to, anyways. That’s my mentality ’til I don’t race anymore.”
Luckily for Junior, his plan worked. He ran towards the front of the pack for much of the day and ended up leading a race-high 67-laps. His Hendrick Motorsports teammates led the second- and third-most amount of laps, with Johnson leading 50 laps and Jeff Gordon leading 47. Running at the front also allowed Earnhardt to avoid the various mid-pack wrecks, including a Lap 47 crash which collected 15 cars including major names such as Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Danica Patrick and Joey Logano.
Earnhardt was understandably emotional in victory lane, recognizing his father’s massive accomplishments at Talladega and the fan support for the Earnhardt family in the Talladega area.
“I don’t really get to think about him that much,” Earnhardt told FOX. “His birthday came and went. Today, it made me think about his birthday, how much I miss him, how much he meant to me and so many more people that I can’t even fathom the number of folks that he had a relationship with in this sport, a connection with, all his fans out there really enjoyed seeing him compete here.”
Chevrolets dominated the top five, with Johnson finishing second, Paul Menard in third and Martin Truex Jr. in fifth. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series excitement continues this weekend as the series heads to Kanas Speedway for the SpongeBob SquarePants 400, a track where Earnhardt Jr. has yet to rack up a victory.