By Cole Cusumano
Scheduled to be run on Father’s Day, rain forced the Geico 500 from Talladega Superspeedway to be postponed until Monday. While there was no racing on Sunday, NASCAR dominated headlines around the globe after a noose was found hanging about the garage stall of Bubba Wallace in Alabama.
Following the horrific events, Wallace received support from masses of people within industry; Petty-blue No. 43s decorated social media timelines with the hashtag #IStandWithBubba and the top-trending Twitter topic was painted on the infield grass prior to the race.
During the pre-race ceremonies — drivers, teams and officials walked Wallace’s No. 43 Camaro to the front of the grid and stood in unison and solidarity to support their competitor and all he stands for. This was an emotional moment that radiated far past NASCAR’s community. It was a profound and essential display that will go down in history for the sport and the world.
After enacting a revolutionary message to the eyes of the world, 40 gladiators strapped in for 500 miles of action at Talladega and put on the show of a lifetime.
It was a Penske parade the entire day that resulted in Ryan Blaney replicating magic and capturing his second consecutive Talladega win — in photo finish fashion — by .007 seconds over Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The Daytona 500 pole-sitter was the only likely candidate to have a shot at taking down Team Penske. Taking the green flag from 20th, Stenhouse worked his way up to the front in a hurry. Building a reputation as one of the most efficient superspeedway racers currently, the 32-year-old was aggressive and snagged his first stage win of the season from the eventual winner.
The No. 47 was still no match for Team Penske. The trio of drivers controlled the race at Talladega like a well orchestrated show. Lined up front-to-rear nearly the entire day, they were able to coordinate and maneuver through traffic without any hesitation. Blaney and Joey Logano led for a combined 96 laps, while Brad Keselowski served as the MVP — most valuable pusher.
A Lap 142 caution brought an early end to the Penske party after pit stops caused their first separation of the day. This resulted in 17th and 19th-place finishes from Logano and Keselowski, respectively, after running top-five in the first-two stages.
Calamity struck for another pair of Champions late in the race — Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson.
Heartbreak reigned supreme once more for Johnson and the No. 48 team after the seven-time Champion was running second with four laps remaining when he made a move for the lead and got turned by Kevin Harvick. While the Ally Chevrolet didn’t sustain any damage, track position limited the Hendrick Motorsports driver to a 13th-place finish.
Busch had been running an impressively conservative and smart race until a flat tire derailed his day with just over 30 laps to go. The driver of the No. 18 may have been the preferred car to have hooked up to your rear bumper. The Interstate Batteries Camry was linked up with runner-up, Stenhouse, for a large portion of the race and his raw speed made for a worthy adversary to the Mustang gang.
Rookies impressed yet again in an event of ups and downs. Tyler Reddick followed up his breakout performance by picking up his first-career Stage victory at Talladega. Cole Custer and Christopher Bell shared their time inside of the top-10 and even picked up stage points throughout the day.
The most stellar Rookie of the Year hopeful was John Hunter Nemechek, who picked up his second top-10 of the season. The 23-year-old was able to rebound from a single-car spin on the frontstretch a little over halfway through Stage Two.
In an event we thought would come down to a race against the rain, turned into a battle of carnage-free fuel mileage.
A theme could be forming in the NASCAR Cup Series after yet another race flaunted minimal cautions with immaculate racing that overshadowed the insignificant fact. This was testament to another winning rules package that the sanctioning body implemented in 2020.
Nerves were felt throughout the sport all week after finding out drivers would be thrown right into fire at the high banks of Talladega without any prior track time using the new setup. Shockingly, this was one of the cleaner races in the venue’s recent history and the competition was outstanding.
It was still that trademark three-wide, lead swapping, edge-of-your-seat Talladega action, just without wrecking — and that’s exactly what this sport needed.
Everyone remembers the deadly incident in the Daytona 500 that left Ryan Newman unconscious. This new package was made to prevent scares like that from ever happening again and it was on full display Monday afternoon.
Not to mention, this was relatively a cheap day for team owners in terms of salvaging these cars. While a few cars did get involved in a last-lap incident, all the vehicles remained grounded and roughly only 10 cars left Talladega with significant damage.
NASCAR has been able to adapt and ensure safety to these drivers without sacrificing any entertainment value. Coinciding with the new short track package, it appears the sanctioning body may have found another path to a successful future with this superspeedway setup.
Following the action-packed event, Wallace shared a moment with fans in the stands after an emotional weekend. He emerged from his No. 43 and hurried over to a crowd of fans on the frontstretch. The Alabama-native stood silent, embracing and appreciating the support from his home crowd.
“The sport is changing,” Wallace said after gazing at a sea of spectators in “Black Lives Matter” tees and “I Stand with Bubba” posters. The disturbing act that was committed just hours prior seemed like an eon ago by the conclusion of the Geico 500.
NASCAR received the message loud and clear and reacted in a way that will go down in history. Feeling the appreciation and support from his competitors and the Alabamans, Wallace purposely conducted his post-race activities without a facemask to show the perpetrator and those who resist change that his character would never be compromised.
We’re all winners today after the sport banned together to combat a disgusting deed that was felt way beyond NASCAR. It can’t be understated how well the sport has done in taking progressive strides. We recognize this change, we embrace it, and we look forward to what’s next.