TALLADEGA, Ala. — Joey Logano could only shake his head. His Team Penske outfit, the class of the field at Talladega Superspeedway in recent years, was unable to make headway against the four-pronged Stewart-Haas Racing cavalcade, which ran first through fourth for the bulk of Sunday’s event.
No one else was able to make much hay on a day when SHR pegged the meter on performance, engineering and teamwork.
“I don’t know what it is, but wow, from qualifying all the way through, they’re just stellar race cars that Stewart-Haas put together this weekend,” Logano said. “Like I said, it would’ve been a total crime if one of them didn’t win, as strong as they were and as many laps as they led. I mean, they led the whole race. As solid as they were working as teammates, it was definitely remarkable. One of them deserved to win.”
Aric Almirola stood alone at the end of Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500, with only fuel mileage and an overtime restart breaking up a potential top-four sweep for the organization. So powerful was the SHR quartet, any of them stood a well-earned chance on a sunny afternoon full of playoff implications.
Clint Bowyer followed his teammate to the checkered flag in second place, but sputtering gas tanks in the final two laps kept pole-sitter Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick from following suit. But all four emerged on the plus side of the playoff picture after one of the postseason’s biggest wild-card events, with the Round of 12’s elimination event looming at Kansas Speedway next weekend.
Stewart-Haas drivers started like they ran for much of the day — first through fourth — and led 155 of the 193 laps, frequently orchestrating their positions on restarts by getting in formation and powering away. Teamwork is often a best-laid plan that sometimes unravels in Talladega traffic, but Stewart-Haas stayed devoted throughout to their all-for-one approach. Rarely has it worked so seamlessly.
“The way our cars took off, handled, drafted, had more speed than the rest, endured that speed through the distance of a run, I knew our best opportunity was to stay together,” Bowyer said. “That’s what we did. I think the performance of our cars just kind of painted that picture for us, put ourselves in that position. We did a good job of being disciplined, taking care of one another on the restarts.”
That level of care is what has given Stewart-Haas a more comfortable position after a rocky Round of 12 opener last weekend at Dover left Almirola and Bowyer on the outside looking in.
“We worked every restart out to where we stayed committed to each other and got in line, and it was us against the field,” said Almirola, who notched SHR’s 50th premier series victory and its first at the 2.66-mile track. “When we started to drive off from the field in that first stage as the stage went on, I knew we had something special.”
Team Penske had entered Sunday’s tussle with five wins in the last six Talladega races, the latest stretch of dominance in the cyclical nature of restrictor-plate racing. Sunday, Stewart-Haas Racing dictated the tempo and monopolized the strategy, bringing to mind other commanding stretches in stock-car history.
“We knew the Fords coming in here were the cars to beat. They have been at the restrictor-plate tracks for quite a few years now,” said Martin Truex Jr., who came home 23rd Sunday. “But to see that kind of domination … that’s something we haven’t seen since back when Dale Jr. used to come here and lead all those laps. DEI (Dale Earnhardt, Inc.) cars back in ’04, ’03 … before I went there. That’s just crazy to see. Hats off to them. What a hell of a job they did.”
Said Bowyer: “I’ve seen other guys, other teams, other organizations put that together before. The Hendrick organization has been there before, the Gibbs cars have done that before. It was our turn, you know what I mean? The Penske cars have done that before.
“We finally got all four cars to the cream of the crop. Oh my gosh, was it awesome.”