With traditional plate racing stalwart Dale Earnhardt Jr. running second to Jamie McMurray on the final lap of today’s Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, it appeared everything was set for a thrilling finish.
But instead, McMurray won under caution after Austin Dillon, running third, snapped loose in front of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in Turn 2 and then spun into the oncoming car of Casey Mears, who hit and sent the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship leader into the air briefly before he came back down right-side up.
Dillon would keep his car rolling back to the garage, and the incident ensured that McMurray would score his first Sprint Cup victory since the 2010 fall race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He led the final 16 laps in a race that was remarkably clean by Talladega standards and came off without the dreaded “Big One.”
“I felt like I was pretty patient all day, and I saw the 17 [Stenhouse] and 88 [Earnhardt] coming on the top, and it just seemed like the top was the best place to get hung out rather than be hung out on the bottom,” McMurray explained to ESPN. “Fortunately, I was able to get myself into position.
“I don’t know how the last lap would’ve played out. I could see the 88 trying to set me up, trying to figure out where he could get a run on me. But when I saw the caution come out behind me – I honestly wanted it to end under green, but at the same time, [I was like], ‘Throw a caution and I’m OK with it right now.'”
He would get his caution, which robbed Earnhardt of the chance to make one final assault for victory at the track where he’s triumphed five times in his career – but not since the fall of 2004.
“We were kind of forming our run around the middle of [Turns] 1 and 2, and I think we had a really good head of steam coming off of 2,” Earnhardt said. “Then they got together behind us and that was that. I was gonna try something down the back straightaway but I never got the chance.”
Meanwhile, the two main Chase contenders, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth, were unable to have a say in the outcome. Johnson led a race-high 47 laps but finished 13th, while handling problems forced Kenseth to swallow a 20th-place result – and also caused him to lose the points lead, which Johnson now holds by a margin of four points going into next weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway.
Stenhouse posted a strong third place result, with Paul Menard also having a good run to fourth. Kyle Busch rounded out the Top 5 after falling to the rear of the field when he was unable to get to his pit box during an early stop and had to come back a second time for service.