Chase Elliott seized the lead in the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway during a four-lap shootout to the finish and took the checkered flag under caution after Kyle Larson barrel-rolled behind him.
Elliott's victory broke a Chevrolet drought in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series dating to last October at Kansas Speedway and broke a seven-race Ford stranglehold on the 2.66-mile track.
The first driver not from Team Penske or Joe Gibbs racing to win this season, Elliott crossed the stripe ahead of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman, who scored his career-best finish but regretted he didn’t have the chance to make a move on Elliott on the last lap.
On a day when Chevrolet drivers faithfully executed a game plan to work together, Elliott scored his first win at Talladega and the fourth of his career. Elliott had taken the checkered flag in three of Chevrolet’s four 2018 wins, including the triumph at Kansas.
“What a day!” Elliott said. “A huge thanks to all my partners, my team, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet—there was a lot of teamwork done today.
"We just had a plan, and we executed really well. Obviously, it could have gone either way, but fortunately everybody stayed together and stayed the course and we got a little help on the last lap with the caution.
"I appreciate all the support, man. This is special. This is close to home for me and sort of feels like a home race."
Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric ran third and fifth, respectively, as Chevrolets claimed four of the top five positions. Joey Logano was fourth in his Team Penske Ford.
Kyle Busch was 10th in the top-finishing Toyota, extending his streak of top 10s to start the season to 10 races.
After taking the white flag, Elliott held the lead over Bowman, when David Ragan over-corrected on the backstretch and turned William Byron’s Chevrolet across traffic. After contact from Byron's car, Larson slid toward the inside wall beside Jeffrey Earnhardt’s Toyota, got airborne and began rolling. NASCAR called the sixth caution of the afternoon, and a half-lap later, Elliott crossed the finish line to seal the win.
“It was a really crazy day, well‑executed day on the Chevrolet teams' behalf,” Elliott said. “Proud of that effort. That last lap was going to get wild. I don't know exactly what Alex had up the sleeve. I know he was coming with something.
"We'll take it. Unbelievable feeling. The crowd was intense. We're proud to get it done for them.”
Bowman confessed to mixed feelings after his runner-up finish.
“I'm not just going to let him win, right?” Bowman asked rhetorically. “I’ve got to try. I knew I could get to his quarter panel. I was pretty confident I could get to his quarter panel through the tri‑oval. Who knows who is going to get to the line first? At that point, I thought I could do it. Depends on the car behind you, where he goes.
“It would have been fun to try, but happy for Chase, Nationwide (Bowman’s sponsor), everybody that lets us keep doing this thing. I’m glad to kind of turn the season around. It’s been a rough start to the year. These guys deserve way better than the finishes they've had. To come home second, it's not a win, but headed in the right direction.”
Logano had control of the race on Lap 182 of 188, when contact between the cars of Aric Almirola and Chris Buescher sent Buescher’s Chevrolet spinning on the backstretch. Matt DiBenedetto couldn’t avoid Buescher’s Chevy and lifted it off the pavement with enough force to rip the hood off DiBenedetto’s Toyota.
The cars of Martin Truex Jr. and Justin Haley were also damaged in the wreck. Haley was unable to continue and retired from his Cup debut in 32nd place. Elliott, who led a race-high 44 laps, grabbed the lead from Logano after the restart on Lap 185.
The race just 10 laps old when a crash in Turn 1 eliminated a handful of cars expected to contend for the victory. Fighting for the second position, Bubba Wallace had a strong run on close friend Ryan Blaney, and the nose of Wallace’s Chevrolet rubbed across the rear bumper of Blaney’s Ford, getting both cars out of shape.
As Blaney righted his car and moved forward, Wallace steered his Chevy toward the apron and lost control, spinning across traffic near the front of the pack. Clint Bowyer’s Ford slid up the track into the Mustang of Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick, knocking Harvick’s car into the outside wall.
After futile attempts to repair the cars, Wallace and Harvick retired from the race, along with Michael McDowell and Matt Tifft. Denny Hamlin also sustained damage in the wreck and soon was three laps down and out of contention. After hitting the wall on Lap 83, Hamlin took his car to the garage.
“The No. 22 (Joey Logano) pulled up and he checked up a little bit,” Wallace said of the crash. “I went to go to the bottom, where I was safe. I don’t know if I crossed (Blaney’s) bumper or whatever. But it got him wiggled down and shoved me even farther down than I wanted to go.
“So I went back up just to stay off the apron and it just unloaded. It’s just unfortunate, but I tried not to wreck my buddy, Ryan, and it cost our day and some others’.”
During the Lap 11 accident, debris from McDowell’s car slammed into the nose of Jimmie Johnson’s Chevrolet, and on Lap 25, the No. 48 Camaro of the seven-time champion clobbered the Turn 3 wall. Though Johnson got to pit road without causing a caution, his race was effectively over.
Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Brendan Gaughan, Almirola and Kyle Busch completed the top 10.