Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – TALLADEGA, AL – In the waning laps of Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway it became evident the only question of the finish was which Ford driver would hoist the big trophy.
As it had for much of the race, the Ford entries appeared like a high-speed train with alternate conductors. Thirteen times and for 127 of the race’s 188 laps, seven Ford drivers led the pack on the Talladega high banks.
Penske Racing’s Joey Logano collected his third Talladega win holding off fellow Ford Fusion drivers. Six of the top-seven finishers drove a Ford with Chevrolet’s Chase Elliott (third place) feeling very much the lone outsider in a Chevrolet.
Kurt Busch’s runner-up finish was his best of the season. His Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick was fourth, followed by last year’s race winner, Roush Fenway racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in fifth. David Ragan and Aric Almirola finished sixth and seventh – Ragan scoring his best effort of the year for himself and his Front Row Motorsports team.
“There at the end you work together as much as you can,’’ Logano acknowledged. “You just want to make sure a Ford wins, and you hope it’s you, but you try to do the right thing as well.
“I had some Stewart‑Haas cars behind me which aren’t necessarily teammates, but with the Ford performance relationship, it’s the closest thing that I’m ever going to have to it. I was thankful to have them behind me.”
Logano’s own Penske Racing teammates Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney had also been part of the Ford train for most of the day, but were caught up in the Talladega “Big One” with 23 laps remaining. Keselowski – who led four times for 21 laps – tied a season low finish of 33rd. Blaney was 18th – his No. 12 Ford was not as damaged as his teammate’s and he was able to finish the race.
“The one thing that I do know is that the Fords were all really fast, all of us were really fast,’’ SHR’s Aric Almirola said.
Ford has now won the last six Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races at Talladega, seven of the last eight and nine of the last 12. More so than any other type of racing in the Cup series, restrictor plate tracks involve some form of teamwork. Sometimes that’s a matter of opportunity and convenience, no matter what engine is powering the car. But on Sunday, it looked very much like a coordinated effort.
Elliott would vouch for that.
“When its five to go, no one cares the shape of your hood or whose got what manufacturer,’’ Elliott said.
“Last few laps [I] was really trying to make a run and do something there at the end. Those guys [the Ford drivers] were being awfully patient with one another. I was very surprised. I mean, it was more than obvious that they were not going to help me move forward.’’
The result was not only a good Sunday afternoon for Ford, but a strong reinforcement in the season’s points standings.
Six of the top-10 and five of the top-six drivers in the championship standings drive Fords. Logano remains in second place but made up some definite ground on points leader Kyle Busch. The victory helped cut the deficit from 56 to 30 points heading into Dover International Speedway next week.
Three-time winner Harvick moved into third place, but is still 81 points behind Busch. His SHR teammate Bowyer dropped a spot to fourth place. The day’s biggest mover was Kurt Busch, who vaulted four positions in the standings to fifth thanks to his runner-up finish. Brad Keselowski dropped a spot to sixth
Ford has won five of the season’s 10 races compared to Toyota (four) and Chevrolet (one).
“You try to find those guys that have common interests and I would say our relationship with Stewart‑Haas and with Roush Fenway, we have a common goal: we want Ford to be in Victory Lane,’’ Logano’s crew chief Todd Gordon said. “We want our own Ford to be in Victory Lane, but we all want Ford to be there.
“You look to work with the guys that you know have similar stuff to you and have similar interests. That’s a relationship that, as Ford brought Stewart‑Haas into the mix, they continue to push us to make our stuff better. We see that. When Kevin outruns us, there’s no excuses. Same motor, same body spec. We have work to do.
“It’s a great relationship where we can push each other to be better.”
And on Sunday, to be the best.