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Talladega report: Dale Jr dominates, again.

By Andrew Charman

Dale Earnhardt Jr just loves Talladega. His DEI squad is the acknowledged leading force in restrictor plate racing, and on Sunday Earnhardt maintained the dominance by taking the EA Sports 500. His fifth win at the frighteningly fast superspeedway came on a day which provided as much frantic pedal-to-the-metal action as ever but for once avoided the traditional big wreck.

Joe Nemechek kept up an enviable Talladega record for front row starts, the #1 US Army Chevrolet on the pole, and he led the 43 car field into the first of 188 flat-out laps around the 2.66-mile track. Within a lap the 190mph pack was formed, three and four-wide in places and all 43 covered by two seconds, fourth-place starter Scott Riggs moving the #10 Valvoline Chevrolet out front only to be almost immediately replaced by Elliot Sadler's #38 M&M's Ford – the first two of what would be 47 lead changes between 20 drivers this day.

By lap four, most people's favourite to win had taken his customary place, four-time victor Dale Earnhardt Jr moving the #8 Budweiser Chevrolet up front. Coming fast behind was team-mate Michael Waltrip's #15 NAPA Chevrolet, aiming to establish a DEI dynasty at the head of the field – bad news for everyone else. But Sadler held doggedly onto second to deny the NAPA car.

Jimmie Johnson was next to try his luck, the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet stalking Earnhardt for several tours before moving ahead on lap 24. Just as the first pit stops were due Mike Wallace sparked a timely caution by blowing a tyre and spinning the #09 Miccosukee Gaming & Resorts Dodge, causing a heart-stopping moment for Tony Stewart as the Wallace car came back up the track in front of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet. The stops proved a disaster for Kevin Harvick, who slid the #29 Goodwrench Chevrolet into his pit box and sent his jack man flying, fortunately without injury.

The #41 Target/Breast Cancer Awareness Dodge of Casey Mears led the field back to green on lap 35, but after a frantic lap Johnson was at the front, heading the highest of three drafting lines of cars. Within six laps Rusty Wallace added the #2 Miller Lite Dodge to the growing list of leaders, then with 56 laps down championship leader Jeff Gordon moved the #24 Dupont Chevrolet to the front, earning a vital five bonus points as the race's 10th leader. But almost immediately the second caution flew to check for fluid on the track, a big break for 10th-placed Robby Gordon who had got plenty of said fluid on his windshield, making it impossible to see out – just what you need in the middle of a 190mph pack…

Waltrip beat Gordon and Johnson away from the pit stops to the lap 64 restart, but was immediately passed by the two co-operating Hendrick team-mates. Clearly with a good car this day was Rusty Wallace, juggling the lead with Gordon before Johnson forced his way back to the front, only for Waltrip to reclaim the place with some bumping help from the impressive Mears.

With every car boasting only a 14-gallon fuel tank pit visits would be frequent on this track, and on lap 94 the green flag stops began, a whole line of cars peeling off in a bid to maintain drafting partners. Strategies varied between two and four tyres, and by the time all the stops had cycled through Earnhardt Jr was back ahead from Busch and Scott Wimmer's #10 Caterpillar Dodge, while Mears' impressive run had been ruined by a one lap penalty for speeding on pit road.

The top three enjoyed 15 laps in single file before the chasing pack of three-wide cars caught up, and on lap 109 Busch briefly nosed ahead of Earnhardt to join the list of leaders, as did Ward Burton's #0 Netzero Highspeed Chevrolet a lap later. But soon Earnhardt had big opposition in the form of Gordon. By lap 119 the Dupont car led and the action behind was getting intense, so a caution on lap 123 came as relief to many, and just in time for pit stops. The cause was a detonated engine, ending an impressive run for Carl Edwards in the #99 Roush Racing Ford.

This time Mike Wallace took the two tyre route and thus led the field back to the green flag with 60 laps left. He held onto the place for a whole lap before Earnhardt forced his way past, Busch going with him but Jeff Burton's #30 AOL Chevrolet leading the lap by the width of its fender.



Related Pictures

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Earnhardt`s Budweiser car (left) heads for the front and another Talladega win.
The action was frantic on Talladega`s high banking.
The Fords of Busch, Jarrett and Kenseth all showed well in the EA Sports 500.ports
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Harvick finishes as the runner-up in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS finishes in sixth place, and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision finishes in twelfth place Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. This Chevrolet drivers finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th (respectively) in the Chase of the Cup Championship. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Series championship contenders Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, take part in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, qualifies for thirteenth position Friday, November 20, 2015 for Sunday`s Championship 4, the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Harvick will be joined by Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS to compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, qualifies for eleventh position Friday, November 20, 2015 for Sunday`s Championship 4, the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Truex, Jr. will be joined by Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS to compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fifth position Friday, November 20, 2015 for Sunday`s Championship 4, the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Gordon will be joined by Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS to compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Sunday will be Gordon`s last race as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, advances to the Championship 4 with his fourteenth place finish Sunday, November 15, 2015 in the final round of the Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. Truex, Jr. is joined with Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Pepsi Chevrolet SS, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS to the Sprint Cup Series Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida next Sunday. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Pepsi Chevrolet SS, advances to the Championship 4 with his sixth place finish Sunday, November 15, 2015 in the final round of the Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase race at Phoenix International Raceway (renamed Jeff Gordon Raceway for the day to honor the four-time champion) in Avondale, Arizona. Gordon is joined with Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS  and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS to the Sprint Cup Series Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida next Sunday. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, races to victory Sunday, November 15, 2015 in the final round of the Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS advances to the Champion 4 with his second place finish. Harvick is joined with Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Pepsi Chevrolet SS to the Sprint Cup Series Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida next Sunday. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, leads Carl Edwards, driver of the #19 Stanley Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 15, 2015 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, lead the field onto pit road due to rain during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 15, 2015 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, celebrates on pit road after winning the rain-shortened NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 15, 2015 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the crew of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet team celebrate in victory lane after winning the rain-shortened NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 15, 2015 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
(L-R) Team owner Rick Hendrick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, and crew chief Greg Ives celebrate in victory lane after winning the rain-shortened NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 15, 2015 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

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