Talladega, AL (SportsNetwork.com) – Dale Earnhardt Jr. punched his ticket into
this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship with a victory in Sunday’s
Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Earnhardt, who led the most laps with 67, won a Sprint Cup Series race at
Talladega for the sixth time, but it was his first victory here since October
2004. He is now tied with Jeff Gordon for second most wins at this 2.66-mile
track. Earnhardt’s late father, Dale Earnhardt, holds the record with 10
Earnhardt Sr. was killed in an accident on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona
500. His last career victory in NASCAR’s premier series occurred at Talladega
in the fall of 2000. He would have turned 64 years old this past Wednesday.
Earnhardt Jr., who is NASCAR’s most popular driver, turned 40 years old last
“It’s just real emotional, and I haven’t won here in a long time,” a jubilant
Earnhardt said in Talladega’s Victory Lane. “It was my daddy’s birthday a
couple of days ago (April 29). Everything has just (been) so good for me right
now, in my personal life and the (No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports) team I’m with.
I don’t feel like I deserve it. I just feel overcome with a lot of emotion.”
Jimmie Johnson, the six-time Sprint Cup champion, ran second to Earnhardt, his
Hendrick Motorsports teammate, in the closing laps, but Johnson could not make
a pass on him for the lead. He crossed the finish line 0.16 seconds behind
Paul Menard finished third, while Ryan Blaney, running a partial schedule for
The Wood Brothers in Sprint Cup this season, took the fourth spot. It was
Blaney’s sixth career start in the series. Martin Truex Jr. was fifth.
Earnhardt became the eighth different driver to win a race this season and
therefore virtually guarantee himself a spot in the Chase.