Staff picks for GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Denny Hamlin : If Joe Gibbs Racing can get organized in the same way it did at Daytona in February, the No. 11 could be the winning ticket at Talladega. -- Zack Albert Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Series' best plate racer has had three runner-up finishes this season. He's due. -- Kenny Bruce Jimmie Johnson : This will mark the 10th Talladega race since Johnson last won here and, quite simply, it's time. While his teammates will grab the lion's share of the attention, "Six-Time" will ultimately hold the winner's trophy -- his third. -- Holly Cain Joey Logano : Entering the weekend, I'd already pegged Joey Logano as the favorite -- then he went out and topped final practice. Seemingly due for a win and with a pair of restrictor-plate victories in his back pocket from last year, what more are you looking for? -- Pat DeCola Ryan Blaney : His best Cup finish came in this race last year and Penske, with whom Wood Brothers is affiliated, has taken two of the last three 'Dega races. -- RJ Kraft Dale Earnhardt Jr .: I'm jumping on the Junior bandwagon. He's always the one to beat at the 2.66-mile track and he'll make it difficult for the rest of the field en route to his seventh Cup win here. -- Maggie MacKenzie Brad Keselowski : The 2012 premier series champion spoils the recent Hendrick-JGR show of power, thanks to his own racing ingenuity and plenty of fast Fords with which to partner. -- Brad Norman Brad Keselowski : The Team Penske driver earned his first Cup win in 2009 at Talladega and has won twice more since. Couple that with he and teammate Joey Logano 's history of working closely together on-track -- a crucial element to plate racing -- and 'Dega Victory Lane could be calling Keselowski's name. -- Jessica Ruffin Matt Kenseth : All the bad luck that the No. 20 team has had this year has masked impressive speed. Talladega is about both luck and speed. With the former in hand as shown by his fourth-place qualifying effort, Kenseth is due for a more auspicious turn of his fortune. -- Kathy Sheldon Denny Hamlin : Hamlin saw Victory Lane two years ago at Talladega and with his 2016 Daytona 500 win under his belt, the JGR driver seems ready to dominate another superspeedway this season. -- Taylor Starer Chase Elliott : His dad won here twice and the man who drove the No. 24 before him won here six times. Talladega has been known to produce dramatic moments, so let's root for another one to happen Sunday. -- George Winkler Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
The Rundown: Talladega driver grades
RELATED: Full race results " Updated series standings Breaking down the full field for the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway : 1. Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford, Team Penske. Keselowski stayed out of trouble all day, and that was the difference in picking up his second win of the year and fourth at Talladega. Big pushes from Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch helped, too. Keselowski led a race-high 46 laps, including the final 17. Grade: A+ 2. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. The No. 18 was stout all day and kept Busch ahead of the crashes, although the 18 did receive a nudge at the outset of the 21-car wreck on Lap 161. He finished second for the second consecutive week for his eighth top-five finish of the season. Grade: A+ 3. Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Car chief Greg Osborne summed up Dillon's day on Twitter: "We pitted 17 times. Wrecked 4 times. Ran out of tires. We were 32nd 1 lap down. We NEVER quit." Dillon was thrilled with the finish and credited the team for not panicking: "It was wrecked, and we finished third!" Grade: A+ 4. Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Despite being collected in the 21-car wreck on Lap 161, McMurray scored his first top five of the season. It was his seventh at Talladega, tying the superspeedway with Charlotte for McMurray's most top-five finishes. Grade: A 5. Chase Elliott, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Elliott started from the pole and led the first 13 laps and 27 overall. Even though he posted his third top-five finish in the past four races, Elliott said the No. 24 team was "pretty lucky to get where we got to." He avoided trouble -- and all the wrecks -- by running near the front most of the race. Grade: A 6. Tony Stewart /Ty Dillon, No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Stewart made his second start of the season, but unlike last week at Richmond, he didn't finish the race. Stewart, who missed the first eight races of the season because of a back injury, gave way to Dillon -- as planned -- during the second caution. Dillon then navigated through two big, multicar accidents to bring home the No. 14 with its second top 10 of the season. Stewart gets the points and the top-10 finish, but it doesn't take away the spotlight from Dillon. Grade: A+ 7. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports. Bowyer survived involvement in the 12-car wreck on Lap 161 to post his best finish of the season and second top 10 in the past three races. Grade: A 8. Kurt Busch, No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Busch was the catalyst for the 21-car wreck on Lap 161 when he got into the back of Jimmie Johnson while running in the top 10. Busch emerged unscathed to restart fourth. Later, he couldn't hold the lead after the last restart on Lap 186 and is now 0-for-61 in restrictor-plate races. Grade: C. 9. Ryan Blaney, No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing. Blaney survived the 21-car wreck on Lap 161, and the 12-car wreck on Lap 181 happened right behind him. His good fortune resulted in his third top 10 of the season. Grade: A 10. Trevor Bayne, No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. A speeding penalty on his first pit stop was no omen. Bayne spent plenty of time in the top five on Sunday, while leading 22 laps. (He led 12 laps in the previous nine races.) His average running position was 8.6, fourth best, and that -- along with good fortune -- kept him out of every wreck Sunday. Grade: A 11. Landon Cassill, No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. Cassill had an eventful day to find himself just outside the top 10 with one lap to go after surviving a pit-road penalty on his first stop and eluding big trouble in the race's two biggest multicar wrecks. But his grade drops a notch because it was Cassill who started the final multicar wreck. He was running 12th when he turned Cole Whitt into Kevin Harvick , touching off a seven-car wreck and a caution just before the leaders reached the finish line. Grade: B- 12. Michael Waltrip , No. 55 Toyota, Premium Motorsports. Making his 60th start at Talladega, Waltrip posted his best finish at the superspeedway since finishing fourth three years ago. Waltrip survived an early scare on Lap 59 when Joey Logano pushed Martin Truex Jr . into the back of Waltrip, who was running fifth at the time. Waltrip went onto the apron but came back onto the track and spun, narrowly avoiding contact. Grade: B+ 13. Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing. Truex was running in the top 10 immediately behind Kurt Busch when Busch made contact with Jimmie Johnson to ignite the 21-car wreck on Lap 161. Truex's Toyota returned to the track all taped up before sustaining even more damage in the seven-car wreck that happened just before Brad Keselowski took the checkered flag. Grade: B- 14. AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing. The multicar wreck at the finish had Allmendinger on his knees next to his battered Chevrolet, but it couldn't overshadow his fourth top-15 finish at Talladega in 13 starts and his first lap led of the season. Grade: B 15. Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick raced among the leaders for most of the afternoon and led four times for nine laps before sliding across the finish line sideways in a damaged car, one of seven cars involved in a crash leading up to the checkered flag. Grade : A 16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse was able to avoid major damage in the 21-car wreck on Lap 161 but sustained heavy damage coming to the finish line when he was collected in the seven-car pileup. Grade: B 17. David Gilliland , No. 35 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. Gilliland survived the late wrecks for a top-20 finish in first start of the season (he failed to qualify at Daytona). It was his best finish since an 11th in the 2015 Daytona 500 . Grade: B 18. Cole Whitt, No. 98 Toyota, Premium Motorsports. Whitt was just outside the top 10 with one lap to go but couldn't improve his position before taking a hard hit against the outside wall as he approached the finish line. It was the fifth top-20 finish of his career and first since his career-best 13th at Talladega a year ago. Grade: A 19. Bobby Labonte , No. 32 Ford, Go Fas Racing. Making his second start of the season (he finished 31st at Daytona), Labonte avoided major damage in the 12-car wreck on Lap 181 and scored his first top 20 since the 2014 Daytona 500 . Grade: A 20. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. That Biffle finished 20th should come as little surprise. His average finish at Talladega is 19.7, and he finished 20th last October at Talladega, too. Grade: C 21. Michael McDowell, No. 95 Chevrolet, Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing. McDowell produced his second-best finish of the season (he finished 15th at Daytona) despite being involved in two of the day's biggest wrecks along with drawing the ire of Danica Patrick . Grade: B- 22. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. The No. 48 was caught up in two wrecks, the second the 21-car monster on Lap 161, which sent the 48 to the garage for repairs. Johnson returned and finished six laps down. Grade: C 23. Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Hard-luck Kenseth's eventful day didn't end when his car got airborne after contact from Danica Patrick and came down on its roof on the backstretch with eight laps to go. Well after the race, he had heated words for nemesis Joey Logano , who had forced him below the yellow line with 15 laps to go. Those two events obscure the fact Kenseth led 39 laps, second only to winner Brad Keselowski 's 46. Grade: B 24. Danica Patrick, No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Patrick's race ended with her hitting the inside wall violently with eight laps to go after contact from behind by Michael McDowell . "I've hit the inside wall of a superspeedway I think maybe like four times now and that was the worst," she said. "I know I got drilled from behind and turned sideways … and hello wall." Grade: C 25. Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford, Team Penske. Logano was still sore from his wreck on the final lap of Saturday's XFINITY race, and his day ended in the 12-car wreck on Lap 181. His aggressive driving initiated the second caution, and there also was his contact with Matt Kenseth that resulted in an earful from Kenseth after the race. Logano didn't want to discuss what Kenseth said, instead saying, "Two days in a row, a couple big hits; can't wait to get out of this place." Grade: C- 26. Paul Menard, No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Menard was in the top 10 having a good run -- but at the wrong time. He was running beside Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson on the outside when Busch turned Johnson right into Menard's Chevrolet, setting off the 21-car wreck on Lap 161. Twenty laps later Menard's day ended in the 12-car wreck on Lap 181. Grade: C 27. Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. Almirola was collected in two wrecks, with the second one, a 12-car mashup on the backstretch with eight laps to go providing the knockout blow to the No. 43. Grade: C 28. Ryan Newman, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Newman was running around 15th place when the 21-car wreck on Lap 161 began right in front of him. His Chevrolet sustained damage and left the scene trailing flames. He finished 10 laps back. Grade: D 29. Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Larson led nine laps and had the lead three-quarters of the way through the race. Larson was running just outside the top 10 when Kurt Busch hit the back of Jimmie Johnson two cars in front him, touching off a 21-car accident that collected his Chevrolet. Grade: C 30. Brian Scott, No. 44 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. The rookie's promising day was derailed after the big wreck on Lap 161. He finished 16 laps back, his most off the lead this season. Grade: D 31. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin's trouble on the track extended to pit road, where he had two incidents and several penalties. He also sustained damage in the 21-car pileup on Lap 161. Grade: D- 32. Regan Smith, No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. Smith was running in the top 10 with 30 laps to go but was collected the Lap 161 wreck and finished 20 laps back. Grade: D 33. Casey Mears, No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing. Mears spun into Aric Almirola on Lap 59 after he was hit by Michael Waltrip , sending the No. 13 to the garage for repairs. It wasn't Mears' fault, but he still finished 22 laps back. Grade: C 34. David Ragan, No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing. Ragan was running 24th and within a second of the lead when his engine expired on Lap 151. Grade: D 35. Carl Edwards, No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Edwards' two-race winning streak came to an abrupt halt. On Lap 110 "something let go" and the No. 19 ran up the track and pinned Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s No. 88 to the wall, ending the day for both drivers. Grade: F 36. Matt DiBenedetto, No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing. The No. 83 suffered damage in the first wreck of the race. Engine issues ended his day after 98 laps run. Grade: F 37. Chris Buescher, No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. Just past the halfway point, Buescher's car became the first of the day to go airborne and flip. Buescher called the wreck "miserable" and a "bummer." He was right. Grade: F 38. Michael Annett, No. 46 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports. Annett was collected in the same wreck that sent Chris Buescher flipping. Annett's Chevrolet smashed hard into the inside wall, ending his day. Grade: F 39. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Kahne followed his best finish of the season (fourth at Richmond) with a two-crash dud, the second a single-car accident that brought out the fifth caution. Grade: F 40. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Terrible day for the 88. Earnhardt's first crash was similar to his crash in the Daytona 500 -- the back of his car came around. "We missed something this morning," he said. "It shouldn't have been on the splitter that hard." Then when he returned to the track after repairs, his steering wheel came off. On Lap 110, Earnhardt's day ended when Carl Edwards ran up the track and smashed into his Chevrolet. Grade: F.
Ty Dillon subs for Stewart, salvages sixth at Talladega
RELATED: Talladega results Ty Dillon subbed in for three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart on Sunday, taking over the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevrolet and driving it to a sixth-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway . The team made the driver switch in the 52nd of a scheduled 188 laps in Sunday's GEICO 500 . The swap went according to plan, with Dillon intending to fill in during the first caution period as Stewart eases back to full-time competition after suffering a broken back in an offseason all-terrain vehicle accident. From there, Dillon managed to avoid the four multicar crashes that followed, including one that punctuated the event at the checkered flag. The result earned Stewart 35 valuable championship points as he tries to position himself for a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. "All in all I'm so glad I got a good finish for Tony," Dillon said post-race. "I know this team is so strong they're going to win a race and get in the top 30. Just glad I got to be a part of what they're going to do this year." RELATED: Ty and Tony make the switch, frame-by-frame After a pit-road speeding penalty during the first round of green-flag pit stops, Stewart was running a lap down at the time of the first caution period, triggered by a three-car crash involving Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Kasey Kahne and Matt DiBenedetto . Stewart was the beneficiary of the yellow flag, putting him back on the lead lap. After regaining his lost lap, Stewart pitted separately of the main pack and Dillon resumed near the tail end of the field in 33rd place. "I think it went well; it might have been a little bit slower … but we were being patient, methodical," Dillon said of the driver swap, a change-over the team rehearsed during Friday practice. "I had my belts tight and everything was really smooth. We just made sure everything was perfect. We knew we had ample amount of time and it went well." Stewart told FOX Sports' Jamie Little after exiting the car that "it sucks" to turn over the wheel, but that he understood the reasoning. He plans to return full-time next weekend at Kansas Speedway . "If I wouldn't have broken my back in the end of January, we wouldn't have been in this situation," Stewart said. "The good news is it's the last time I've got to do it and then I'm back in the next week. Really appreciate Ty. I mean, he's been a rock star through this whole thing and especially this weekend. He's done all the heavy lifting and I just go riding around for 50 laps and turn it over to him." WATCH: Stewart talks about getting out of the car Multiple chaotic wrecks ensued in the laps that followed the driver change, further justifying Stewart's decision. Dillon, a NASCAR XFINITY Series regular with 12 Sprint Cup starts, managed to keep the SHR entry free of major involvement the rest of the way. "I don't know how I missed them, really," Dillon said. "(Spotter) Bob Jeffrey on top of the roof did a great job navigating me through. Just missed them by a narrow margin but we missed them. That was all that mattered." Dillon drove the No. 14 in Saturday's Coors Light Pole Qualifying to the 14th starting spot. Stewart started Sunday's 500 -miler, dropping to the rear of the 40-car field before the green flag because of the driver change. "Guys, I know this isn't the optimal situation, but we have a kid who's done a great job for us," Stewart told his team over the radio during pace laps. "He'll do another great job today." As the driver of record at the initial start, Stewart was credited with the finish and points. The two-driver effort moved Stewart up two spots to 38th in the Sprint Cup driver standings, 71 points behind 30th-place DiBenedetto. Under the terms of the medical eligibility waiver granted by NASCAR upon his return, Stewart must win a race and finish among the top 30 in driver standings to qualify for a Chase berth. Dillon made three starts for SHR this season in place of Stewart, dividing driving duties with Brian Vickers in the eight races Stewart was sidelined. Contributing: Kenny Bruce
Junior talks plate success that others still seek
RELATED: Full schedule " Dale Jr.'s 'Amelia' ready to take flight again TALLADEGA, Ala. -- In his mind, the best race Dale Earnhardt Jr . ever ran at Talladega Superspeedway won't be remembered for one simple reason. "Because I didn't win," the Hendrick Motorsports driver said Friday during a day of practice on the 2.66-mile layout. "I'm disappointed because of what happened in that race and what we were doing with the car and what the car was doing was amazing. It sucks because we were just 6 inches short of being declared the winner. … We've lost a lot of races here, but I can't even remember any of them that stand out like that." A winner in the spring race at Talladega, Earnhardt Jr. returned in the fall needing another victory to keep his championship hopes alive. Although he led a race-high 61 laps, officials determined that Joey Logano ( Team Penske ) was the leader and thus the winner when the caution came out on a green-white-checkered restart that froze the field and ended the race. Fifty-five. That's how many races the 41-year-old Earnhardt has lost on tracks where NASCAR requires the use of restrictor plates to keeps speeds in check. However, 10 wins during a career that launched full-time in 2000, puts the son of a seven-time champion in the role of the favorite in plate races. That's twice as many as the soon-to-be-retired Tony Stewart and six-time champion Jimmie Johnson . It's as much a statement about the car, Earnhardt said, as the driver. And what one does with it. "If the car can't complete the passes that my mind mentally wants it to make, then I won't be as offensive and as confident in making those moves," he said. "When I was driving the (Budweiser) car, around 2003, '04, '05 when we were winning all those races, I raced as hard in practice as I did in the race. …You kind of can set the tone early in the weekend with your competitors that this is who you're going to be out on the track; plus this is the car you've got." It certainly helped that his father, Dale Earnhardt, was a master of plate racing, winning 13 times combined at Talladega and Daytona. RELATED: See all of Earnhardt Sr.'s wins "I learned a tremendous amount because I solely watched him whereas, someone else who grew up around the sport may not have focused as much on one particular driver," Earnhardt Jr. said. Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards have combined to win the last four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races heading into Sunday's GEICO 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Fellow JGR teammate Denny Hamlin scored the win in the season-opener at Daytona, the most recent restrictor-plate race. MORE: Edwards: 'Kyle and I haven't talked' since Richmond "You can't make stupid mistakes," Edwards, still searching for his first plate-track win, said. "I learned that early on." Caught up in an incident during one restrictor-plate race, Edwards said he told then-car owner Jack Roush afterward "something like, 'Man, there's just nothing I could do to miss the wreck.' " At which point Roush gave his driver a piece of advice. "He said, 'You might want to go look at the tape because you drove right past Tony Stewart into the wreck and he somehow missed it.' "I went back and watched and I learned from that," Edwards said. "You really have to be watching ahead and you have to pay attention." That he's yet to win a restrictor-plate race is perplexing, considering the 36-year-old has 27 career victories. "I don't need to see my stats at these places," he said, "because they're not good . … I'd like to get a superspeedway win. We've got great cars and we've got great teammates. I feel like I know how to run these races, but I just haven't been able to get the victory out of it. Hopefully we can do that." Edwards isn't the only notable still searching for that first plate win. Former series champion Kurt Busch (2004) and Martin Truex Jr ., who lost to Hamlin by a nose at Daytona, are as well. "We've seen Dale over the years just really show everybody how it's done and that's because he has a really good understanding of the air, the way it works and knowing how to use that to his advantage," Truex Jr. ( Furniture Row Racing ) said. "For me … I've kind of had good races and bad and lately I feel like I've learned a lot more and gotten better at it, but there's still a lot to learn. MORE: Five to Watch: Sleeper picks " Wildest Talladega wrecks
With shades of 'the Intimidator,' Dillon earns third in chaotic 'Dega race
RELATED: Results " Standings post-Talladega " Relive the day in photos TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Austin Dillon , driving a Chevrolet with NASCAR's most famous number -- 3 -- on its side panels, nearly matched one of Dale Earnhardt's most extraordinary feats at the exact location it happened, mere days after what would've been the 65th birthday of the late, great "Intimidator." Instead, he still came home with a career-best finish in what was the wildest race the Sprint Cup Series has seen in some time. "We started 17th with three laps to go and finished third," Dillon said after the GEICO 500 . "So, from 17th to third, that was pretty cool. One guy came up to me in the suite (before the race), said Dale's last win here (in 2000), he came from 15th to first. Maybe if we started 15th, we could have gotten there." Looking at Dillon's Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet after the race, you'd never have thought it was a third-place car. It was as banged up as any car after 500 laps at Bristol and appeared to have more tape on its front right quarter panel than 3M has in one of its warehouses. TEAMWORK. We pitted 17 times. Wrecked 4 times. Ran out of tires. We were 32nd 1 lap down. We NEVER quit. Result = P3 pic.twitter.com/PjxAxjE893 — greg osborne (@greg_ozz) May 1, 2016 But you should've seen the rest of the field. Dillon's ride was one of a handful that actually made it to the checkered flag on the lead lap, a borderline miracle given he pitted a whopping 16 times -- a race-high, with no other driver hitting pit lane more than 13, including some of those involved in some of the several "Big One(s)." RELATED: Dillon one of 21 cars involved in 'The Big One' "We pitted (16) times. That's amazing," Dillon said. "The car was killed and we came home with a third-place finish. What a good day. "It's a testament to my guys. They never panicked today. We've panicked a lot this year on certain problems and today was smooth and calm and they handled their situations that they were put through and it was a great race for us. … We've been meeting about it the last couple weeks. We can't lose our minds because sometimes it's just not your day." The finish is Dillon's third top-five of the year, eclipsing his career total (two) since he began running Cup races in 2011. The 26-year-old finds himself in unfamiliar territory 10 races into the season -- the top 10 in points standings. Immediately after the race he was able to enjoy his showing, but he may be more thankful he made it out relatively unscathed -- his car not included -- once he watches a replay of the race. "Truthfully I don't know everything that happened yet, so I am really excited about my third‑place finish because I know what our team went through today," said Dillon, currently on pace for his first career Chase for the Sprint Cup berth. "I did see a video of AJ Allmendinger getting out, and he looked pretty shook up. I hope everybody is all right from all these crashes. I haven't got a chance to look at all of them. I pray they're all all right. "For me, I'm proud of our team. If you guys can see the car, if you go look at it, you would never expect it to get to third." Dale, undoubtedly, would be proud, too.
Chase Elliott earns 21 Means 21 Pole Award at Talladega
RELATED: Lineup " See all 40 cars TALLADEGA, Ala. – Numerologists doubtless will have a field day with the front row for Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (on FOX at 1 p.m. ET, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Touring the 2.66-mile race track in 49.704 seconds (192.661 mph) during Saturday's time trials, Chase Elliott put the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the pole, making the 20-year-old rookie driver two-for-two at restrictor-plate superspeedways. In his first qualifying run as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, Elliott won the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500 . The pole was the sixth at Talladega for the No. 24, the first five having been recorded by Jeff Gordon , who retired after the 2015 season and turned the car over to Elliott. And the pole run came roughly 30 years after Elliott's father, Bill Elliott , earned the top starting spot for the spring Talladega race with a lap at 212.229 mph, before restrictor plates were introduced at the superspeedways. Coincidentally, Bill Elliott also won the pole for the Daytona 500 in 1986. "This is definitely a special place," Chase Elliott said after his pole-winning run. "It's cool to get it done today. This is a team effort, and those guys and everybody at the No. 5 and No. 24 shop, in particular, and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and the Hendrick engine department and obviously (sponsor) NAPA Auto parts. "But, man, this is cool. Those guys do such a good job. And as I said in Daytona, this had nothing to do with me. This is the car that we had. This is the same car we had in Daytona. They brought another fast one here." The car Elliott beat for the pole, the No. 3 Chevrolet driven by Austin Dillon (192.424 mph), also has a noteworthy history at Talladega. Driving the No. 3 for owner Richard Childress, Dillon’s grandfather, the late Dale Earnhardt collected nine of his 10 Talladega victories and all three of his Talladega poles. "There's a lot of history here with Dale and RCR," Dillon said. "A lot of good stuff happened with RCR here, so hopefully we can continue that streak of good runs for RCR here. We’ve got a car capable of doing that, obviously, with the qualifying effort, and I'd love for it to be my first Cup win." Dale Earnhardt Jr ., who has never won a pole at NASCAR's biggest oval track but has six race wins on his resume here, qualified third at 192.293 mph. Matt Kenseth (192.181 mph) claimed the fourth position on the grid, followed by Jimmie Johnson (192.116 mph) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr . (192.089 mph). The only other driver to top 192 mph was seventh-place starter Brad Keselowski (192.008 mph), a three-time Talladega winner. Ty Dillon qualified the No. 14 Chevrolet for Tony Stewart and earned the 14th starting spot, but Stewart will start Sunday’s race and will have to drop to the rear for the green flag because of the driver change. The plan is for Stewart, who returned to action last Sunday at Richmond after injuring his back during the offseason, to turn the car over to Dillon during the first caution of the race. Note: Josh Wise failed to make the 40-car field.
Recap: Keselowski crowned after crash-filled day
NASCAR.com’s Jonathan Merryman recaps the GEICO 500 , which included Tony Stewart and Ty Dillon swapping seats, half of the field wrecking and Brad Keselowski outlasting the remaining field to capture his fourth win at Talladega.
Race Rewind: Talladega in 15
Relive all of the highlights from the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in only 15 minutes.
Junior: 'Amelia' 'needs to be parked for awhile'
RELATED: Watch: Edwards finishes off Junior's bad day TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Perhaps it's time for Dale Earnhardt Jr . to break up with "Amelia." The Hendrick Motorsports driver and Chevrolet Chassis No. 88-872 -- affectionately dubbed "Amelia" by Junior after trailblazing pilot Amelia Earhart -- had their moments, winning twice in four restrictor-plate events in 2015, but things went sour early between the power couple in Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway , as they did in the season-opening Daytona 500 . RELATED: ' Amelia' goes spinning at Daytona The first caution of the race flew when the No. 88 driver appeared to lose control while driving in the midst of the lead pack on Lap 49 of the scheduled 188-lap event. "Amelia" suddenly spun, and No. 5 Kasey Kahne slammed into his HMS teammate, doling out significant damage. "Just got loose. I was in a bad spot with the wind. It pinned the nose real hard off the corner and the car was a little bit loose off the corner that run," Earnhardt explained at his hauler. "Real, real tight the first run (which) is why we fell back, we were just on the splitter real bad pushing. I could only run the top, I couldn't even run the middle or the bottom because the car just would plow across the race track. "So, we missed something this morning, I don't know, but the thing shouldn't have been on the splitter that hard. We couldn't fix that. You have to put packer in the front or something when it is on the splitter as bad as it was. It was still on the splitter that second run. I had a lot of wheel in the car in the middle of the corner and then the back was swinging on the exit with the adjustments we made on the pit stop. Just a bad combination … We just got to look at what we are doing on our adjustments and try not to do that." Earnhardt, who said "the same thing that happened at Daytona to us," took his car to the garage to assess the damage, his crew working to get his ride back on track shortly after the halfway mark, 46 laps down. Not long after, the No. 88 again ran into trouble after making hard contact with the No. 19 of Carl Edwards on Lap 110, forcing its hood up over the windshield and catching on fire. WATCH: Edwards finishes off Junior's bad day "We were just out there riding around and something broke on the 19 and he came up into us and we were just out there chilling out, having fun," Earnhardt said. More importantly, it appeared to cause a problem with the No. 88's steering wheel, which completely came off. "Oh, it (came) off. Yeah, I didn't have it on there. Luckily it was under caution," said Earnhardt, who managed to corral his machine without taking another major hit. "I just grabbed the shaft and steered the car that way. Ripped the skin off my hand, but I wasn't going to let it hit the wall. That was just a freak deal. … We're working on something to keep that from happening going forward." The car did not return to the track after that, saddling Earnhardt with a 40th-place finish and possibly resulting in a final resting spot for "Amelia" in Earnhardt's car graveyard. "Hell, I'm going home. I'm done," Earnhardt said. "We need to park the car for a while, too." RELATED: Wildest wrecks at Tall adega " Junior's 'Amelia' takes flight again
'The Big One' tangles 21 cars with 28 laps left at 'Dega
RELATED: Keselowski wins chaos-filled race at Talladega " Full race results "The Big One" came with 28 laps to go in the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway when Kurt Busch 's No. 41 car hooked the bumper of the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson to send it spinning into the outside wall, tangling 21 cars in the impact by the time the pileup was totaled. "The No. 41 (of Kurt Busch ) was bump drafting me and caused that wreck and just kept hitting me and finally ended up taking me out in the process," Johnson said. " ... He got me coming out of the tri-oval. He got me going in and through and I was trying to stay on top of it and finally he got me once too hard and off I went." Johnson was running in fifth place at the time of the incident. The full list of cars involved in the accident included: No. 78 Martin Truex Jr ., No. 3 Austin Dillon , No. 47 AJ Allmendinger , No. 1 Jamie McMurray , No. 95 Michael McDowell , No. 7 Regan Smith , No. 42 Kyle Larson , No. 48 Johnson, No. 27 Paul Menard , No. 31 Ryan Newman , No. 44 Brian Scott , No. 35 David Gilliland , No. 10 Danica Patrick , No. 41 Busch, No. 18 Kyle Busch , No. 38 Landon Cassill , No. 43 Aric Almirola , No. 21 Ryan Blaney , No. 16 Greg Biffle , No. 11 Denny Hamlin and No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr . "There was a lot of hard racing and people being aggressive," Blaney said. "I don't know what caused that. A little of it might have been the weather threat. I think early in the race for sure. With 40 or 50 to go they said there might be some more weather so that might have played a role in it." RELATED: Kenseth, Patrick crash hard in final laps at Talladega Brad Keselowski 's No. 2 was leading at the time of the wreck, and escaped the pileup as collisions took place behind him -- and Kes would go on to win the race. RELATED: Closer look at 'The Big One' " Updated standings