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OBSERVATIONS: Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

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When NASCAR initially revealed they would be going around from the restrictor plate to the tapered spacer, it brought forth questions and mixed reviews as to what would happen on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Certainly any concerns were settled following the GEICO 500.

After watching several restrictor plate events over the past couple of years where drivers rode around single-file along the high groove to the point fans were bored, that did not occur on Sunday afternoon. Instead, there were drivers side-by-side within the pack throughout all 188 laps to keep everyone entertained.

Maybe it had something to do with the fact that no manufacture was able to boast an advantage. The past couple years have seen dominance on the superspeedways happen by Ford getting all of their cars to line up together. This caught the attention of others, namely Chevrolet, with VP of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports Jim Campbell sitting down all of their teams on four different occasions to cause a mandate to work together.

From the drop of the green flag to the checkered, the Chevrolets followed the request of Campbell in working together in a single-file train along the bottom of the track. Ford certainly showed more speed at times and was able to get a couple runs in the second lane and get for the lead, but it proved no match at the pivotal moments of the event. The teamwork mandate allowed bowties to sweep all three stages of the event, with Ty Dillon winning the first, while Chase Elliott took the second and the victory.

The only question that seems to remain as why didn’t this take place sooner?

“We’ve tried before to very little success,” Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson said post-race. “There wasn’t certainly ever as much effort as we have had over the last few weeks. I think Jim Campbell deserves a lot of credit for stepping up and facilitating it all, drawing the box of guidelines we’re going to have to work in. Everybody quickly agreed to that and continued to push forward to support Chevrolet.
 
“Like I said, we’ve tried this before. It’s really been a pathetic attempt at it. Today was a culmination of a lot of hard work and a lot of effort by all the Chevy teams. I think all those guys, certainly the drivers and the crew chiefs, the team managers, they share in this victory because they were a huge part of that, a huge part of the success today.”

Maybe it just happened correctly now due to the desperation to get the manufacture their first victory since October 2018.

Ultimately, though, Elliott reaching victory lane isn’t any surprise, either. He has ran up front through the restrictor plate races over the past couple of years, despite Sunday’s win only marking his third top-10 in seven races at Talladega Superspeedway. Notably, on three different occasions, he has been wrecked out while running in the top-five in the final 30 laps of the event. 

He showed the right patience in sticking to the plan in running the bottom with as many of his counterparts behind him, resisting the urge to leave the yellow line unlike many of competitors. Although aggressiveness normally pays off, it was that right timing as the hole opened up and with six Chevrolets in toe, he was able to sneak by and out front to the lead.

The Chevrolet strategy also allowed for the manufacture to take up six of the top-10 positions, highlighted by a top-three sweep. It also wasn’t made up of just their strongest teams finishing up front as Alex Bowman finished second for a career-best, along with career-bests for rookies Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric in third and fifth, respectively. 

It will be interesting to see whether the strategy continues when the series heads to Daytona International Speedway in July. It will also be intriguing to see if Ford and Toyota change their game plan as they had plenty of cars capable, but fought the ability to figure out who should lead and get in line at times halting their ability. 

Either way, the fans were rightfully entertained on Sunday afternoon for the first time for the full distance of a restrictor plate race for the first time in a couple years. That’s something nobody can complain about.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.