A recap of Sunday's race at Talladega follows:
Sam Hornish Jr., No. 9 Medallion Bank Ford Team
Sam Hornish Jr. and the No. 9 Medallion Bank Ford team scored their first Top-10 finish of the season on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. The No. 9 Medallion Bank Ford showed speed throughout the 500-mile race. Hornish avoided the "Big One" early and used the draft to his advantage throughout the race. He then put himself in a winning position in the closing laps. On the final lap, the field jockeyed for position, and Hornish earned a sixth-place finish, his career-best Cup finish at Talladega.
Hornish started the 188-lap race from the 12th position but fell back through the field on the start after being shuffled to the outside line with no help. Hornish stayed in the back of the pack and was in the 26th position when an accident in Turn One brought out the caution. Hornish reported the No. 9 Ford was loose on entry and exit and tight in the center and came to pit road for a four-tire stop. Hornish restarted 28th on Lap 25.
Over the next green-flag run, the field went from three-wide racing to a single-file line and back to racing three-wide. As cars jockeyed back and forth for position, the No. 6 spun in front of the field, causing the "Big One" on Lap 48. Hornish maneuvered through the carnage and came out unscathed. NASCAR officials brought out the red flag as track workers cleaned up the debris on the backstretch. Once the red-flag conditions were lifted, Hornish brought the No. 9 Ford to pit road for four fresh Goodyear tires. He restarted 11th on Lap 52.
Just four laps later, debris brought out the caution once again. The No. 9 Ford pitted for fuel only, and the Medallion Bank crew switched the left-side mirror as requested by Hornish. The extended stop put the Medallion Bank Ford in the 28th position for the restart on Lap 59. As cars shuffled around over the next run, Hornish raced in and out of the Top-25. An accident in Turn Two brought out the caution, and Hornish informed Crew Chief Drew Blickensderfer that he had picked up a slight vibration at the end of the run. The No. 9 Ford came to pit road for a four-tire stop, and Hornish restarted 22nd on Lap 96.
Over the next 69 laps, Hornish remained patient on the track and was able to work his way back through the field quickly after losing any ground in the draft. He brought the No. 9 Ford to pit road under caution on Lap 116 for a four-tire stop. Back under green-flag conditions, he was racing within the Top-20 when Blickensderfer called him to pit road for a green-flag pit stop on Lap 159. Just as Hornish was about to pull into his pit stall, the No. 3 blew an engine and brought out the caution. The Medallion Bank crew completed the four-tire stop, giving Hornish the fourth-place spot on the restart on Lap 163.
After the restart, the field was aggressive, racing two and three wide before settling into a single-file line. Hornish raced in the eighth spot for 22 of the final 23 laps. As the field took the white flag, the lead pack started to make their move. Hornish gained two spots in the final lap to take the checkered flag in the sixth position. This is the best finish and first Top-10 of the season for Hornish and the No. 9 Medallion Bank team. It's also Hornish's career-best Cup Series finish at Talladega. The Top-10 finish moves Hornish up three spots in the Championship Point Standings to 28th.
"It was a really good day," said Hornish. "Just by the way the race was going and how good our car was, I felt like we were going to have more of an opportunity to get a Top-Five out of it or maybe to win, but some of the other guys up front made their move a little bit quicker than what I thought they were going to. All-in-all, our Medallion Bank Ford handled really well, and I'm just really proud of everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports. They gave us a fast race car. I don't know what would have happened if we would have had another couple laps, but I know that it was exciting."
A restrictor-plate winner, Aric Almirola and the No. 43 Fresh From Florida team came into the weekend at Talladega Superspeedway with high expectations. Despite qualifying in the 28th spot, Almirola knew his No. 43 "Petty Blue" Ford would be fast in the draft, and he was right. He worked through the field throughout the race. The "Big One" hit early, and the Fresh From Florida Ford received damage to the right-front fender. The team fixed the damage and Almirola was just as strong.
In the final laps, the field jockeyed for position, and Almirola was poised for a Top-10 finish. However, contact with another car on the last lap barely allowed Almirola to get to the finish. He still crossed the line in 15th.
Almirola started the 500-mile race from the 28th spot, and in just four laps, raced into the 13th spot using the middle line. He continued to race in the Top-20 and was 16th when an accident in Turn One brought out the caution on Lap 20. He told the crew the No. 43 Fresh From Florida Ford was a little loose. Crew Chief Trent Owens called for a two-tire pit stop, and the team restarted 22nd as the field varied their strategies on pit road.
The field continued to race two and three wide during the next run and unfortunately saw the "Big One" early with a 15-car accident on Lap 48. The accident broke out in front of Almirola, and as he tried to avoid spinning cars on track, he made contact with the No. 10 car. The No. 43 Fresh From Florida Ford received damage to the right-front fender. NASCAR displayed the red flag, and the No. 43 team used the time to prepare to fix the damage. When the red flag lifted, Almirola came to pit road. The Fresh From Florida team put a new piece on the right, front fender and Bear Bond to smooth out the fender. They came back down to continue to work on the damage and finish their four-tire pit stop.
Almirola restarted 27th and despite the damage, he still showed strength in the draft. He raced to the 16th spot by Lap 56 when NASCAR Officials displayed the yellow flag for debris. Owens called Almirola down pit road for fuel and to finish fixing the damage to the right-front fender. The extended stop gave the team the 27th spot on the restart. Almirola used the middle lane to race into the Top-10 in just 12 laps. He radioed that the car was now tight and surmised it was because of the damage to the car while he continued to race in the Top-15.
An accident on Lap 92 brought out the caution with the No. 43 Fresh From Florida Ford in the 13th positon. Owens called for a four-tire pit stop and wedge adjustment to help the tight condition. The team noticed a tire rub from the damage, so Almirola returned to pit road for the team to fix the tire rub. The multiple stops gave the team the 24th spot on the restart. Almirola raced the top line and back into the Top-15 in just five laps. He continued to race in the Top-15, using the middle and inside lines to earn spots on track. He raced as high as eighth before debris brought out the yellow flag on Lap 116. He told the crew the car was better but still tight when he tried to race the inside line. He pit for two right-side tires and restarted 10th.
During the next 41 laps, he continued to race in the draft. He raced as high as sixth and stayed mostly in the middle line. The field saw one last caution on Lap 159 with Almirola in the 10th spot. The Fresh From Florida team used the final caution to pit for two right-side tires and fuel. The No. 43 Ford restarted 18th. The field raced single file for the majority of the closing laps. With eight laps to go, Almirola raced in the 12th position and waited until the final lap to make his move to the front. But when the field raced for positions, the No. 43 Fresh From Florida Ford was hit and received significant damage to the left-side of the car. Almirola limped the car across the finishline in the 15th spot. He fell one spot in the Championship Points Standings to 12th and is just two spots outside of the Top-10.
"We had high expectations coming into Talladega," said Almirola. "Our car was good in the draft. Unfortunately, we had damage to the right-front from the early 'Big One,' but the guys did a great job fixing the car. We could still work the draft and run up front. We tried different lines throughout the race to see what would work best for us to make a move at the end. Everyone raced single file until the last lap. We went to make a run at it but got hit on the left side. Thankfully, we made it to the finishline. We definitely could have had a Top-10 finish, but we'll take 15th with all the damage we had to the car."