Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – TALLADEGA, AL – Throughout Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson patiently worked his way forward from his 16th-place starting position, running as high as third and battling with the fastest cars in the race.
On Lap 166 of 188, however, Johnson’s race fell apart, when he and Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron got too close together as they rolled into Turn 3. Johnson slid sideways in dirty air and collected both Byron and Paul Menard, triggering a 14-car wreck.
The melee eliminated the cars of Byron, Menard, Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Michael McDowell, AJ Allmendinger and Austin Dillon. The machines of Ryan Blaney, Darrell Wallace Jr., Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne and Brendan Gaughan also sustained damage.
The accident, however, didn’t affect the race winner. Joey Logano led the last 42 laps – through two cautions – and took the checkered flag .127 seconds ahead of runner-up Kurt Busch.
“I knew I had help somehow just the way it turned around,” Johnson said of the wreck. “Unfortunately, when I was sliding, the No. 12 car (Blaney) hit us and bent something in the rear end. It wasn’t the same after.”
Johnson managed a 12th-place finish. Byron, on the other hand, saw a solid run spoiled after leading 14 laps in his Monster Energy debut at the 2.66-mile track.
“Honestly, I think we just got side-drafted going into (Turn) 3 and got me a little bit free and then I think I just packed some air on his left rear,” Byron said of the circumstances that sparked the wreck.
“It was just unfortunate that we couldn’t get to the end of the race, but we’ll learn from it and come back here in the fall and hopefully have an even better run.”
KYLE BUSCH FALLS SHORT IN ATTEMPT TO WIN FOURTH STRAIGHT RACE
Kyle Busch recovered from a pit road speeding penalty at the end of the second stage of Sunday’s GEICO 500, but he couldn’t shake off the effects of a 14-car wreck with 22 laps left in the race.
Busch came to Talladega Superspeedway seeking a fourth straight victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Instead, he fell victim to the same “Talladega curse” that ended the winning streaks of three NASCAR Hall of Famers.
Bobby Allison (1972), Dale Earnhardt (1987) and Rusty Wallace (1993) all came to Talladega with victory strings of three races or more and failed to extend their streaks at Talladega. Now you can add Kyle Busch to that list.
“Once we got in that wreck, it was over, but we had a decent car up until then,” said Busch, who finished 13th. “We got the car handling better all day long, and every adjustment we made to it was an improvement and gave us more on the race track, but we just lack speedway speed.”
Both Busch and Kevin Harvick have won three consecutive races this season. Harvick’s string ran out at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
ERIK JONES IGNITES WRECK THAT SENDS TREVOR BAYNE TO GARAGE
A bad week for Trevor Bayne ended with additional disappointment in Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Four days after learning he would have to share driving duties in his No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford with returning veteran Matt Kenseth, Bayne was the innocent victim of a wreck that began when Erik Jones washed up the track on the backstretch, turned across the nose of Jamie McMurray’s Chevrolet and knocked Bayne’s Ford into the outside wall.
The wreck sidelined the cars of Jones, Bayne and Kyle Larson.
“I believe I got down on the apron there a little bit, and after that it took off on me, and I got up into the 1 (McMurray), and that was kind of it from there,” Jones said. “I feel bad that I ruined everybody’s day that was around me and also for our day.
“These cars are just really challenging to drive now, and I think that’s why you’re not seeing a ton of racing early on. Unfortunately, I just pushed it to the limit a little too much and got up in an accident that took us out.”
With something extra to prove at Talladega, Bayne didn’t get the result he wanted.
“I went to the top to keep my run going, and coming off the corner (Turn 2) I didn’t see what happened,” Bayne said. “But watching the replay, it looks like the 20 (Jones) got turned and turned up into us.
“It stinks. You try to manage your highs and lows, though. We will move on and go to Dover next weekend. It’s frustrating because Talladega is one of the ones you know you can win at, and we wanted to do that today.”