Hey Rookie! Catch….a Win at Talladega Superspeedway? History Says Yes!

(Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

Five First-timers to Compete at TSS in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in GEICO 500, Sunday, May 7 

TALLADEGA, AL – Could a rookie in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series actually have a shot at winning the GEICO 500 at the biggest, baddest and most competitive track on the planet on Sunday, May 7? You bet – at least that is what history shows, and as a result, five rookies are licking their chops, anticipating this weekend’s spring classic.

The highly touted trio of rookies – Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones and GEICO Racing driver Ty Dillon, along with Corey Lajoie and Gray Gaulding – could join a list of drivers who went to Gatorade Victory Lane – in the memorable event – during their first full season in NASCAR. Mention the names of defending GEICO 500 Champion Brad Keselowski, 3-time Talladega winner Davey Allison and 1981 Rookie of the Year Ron Bouchard, and immediately, Talladega Superspeedway comes to mind.

  • In 2009, Keselowski, driving for an underfunded team, stunned the racing world after tapping Carl Edwards through the tri-oval coming to the checkered flag. Edwards went for a spin and Keselowski celebrated a win. The spring victory showed team owner Roger Penske what Keselowski was made of and in 2010, Keselowski became the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford. Since then, he has the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) title to his credit, along with 22 additional victories, including three (2012, ’14, 16) more at Talladega. To date, he is the last rookie to be victorious at Talladega.
  • This year’s edition of the GEICO 500 will mark the 30th anniversary of Davey Allison’s historical first win at the iconic race track. Allison, from nearby Hueytown, AL, started third that day in his famous black, white and gold numeral No. 28 Ford and took the checkered flag 0.78 seconds ahead of veterans Terry Labonte and Dale Earnhardt. He would win at Talladega twice (1989, ’92) more before his life was tragically cut short in 1993.
  • In 1981, rookie driver from Fitchburg, MA, named Ron Bouchard became a household name as a result of one of the most spectacular finishes in Talladega Superspeedway history, emphasizing the importance of the track’s start/finish line that is extended 1,250 feet from the middle of the tri-oval towards Turn one. As future NASCAR Champions – and NASCAR Hall of Famers – Darrell Waltrip and Labonte battled for the lead coming to the stripe, Bouchard in his No. 47 yellow and white Buick, came from third-place through the tri-oval to sweep past both and take the triumph by merely two feet. “I thought it was just between Terry and I,” Waltrip, a four-time winner at TSS, said earlier this year. “I was leading and was looking at Terry in my rearview mirror. Next thing I knew, the 47 car came out of nowhere on the inside and won the race.”
  • 12 years prior during the first race in the history of the Talladega Superspeedway in 1969, Richard Brickhouse became a winner in the Cup Series for the first and only time. While he wasn’t officially considered a rookie (he started seven races in 1968), he had limited experience as the Talladega triumph came in his 19th start during the ’69 season.

Of the focused fivesome vying for rookie immortality this year at Talladega, the edge may go to Suarez, who drives the No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. The team owned by the former Washington Redskins coach (who won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks), has four trips to Gatorade Victory Lane at Talladega with four different drivers – Bobby Labonte (1998), Kyle Busch (2008), Tony Stewart (2008) and Denny Hamlin (2014). Suarez has two NASCAR XFINITY Series (NXS) starts in the Sparks Energy 300 to his credit, with a best finish last year of seventh. He would later capture the season-ending NXS Championship trophy before moving to the MENCS this season after the retirement of Edwards.

Dillon, however, may have the genes needed to win. After all, his grandfather – Richard Childress – is Talladega’s all-time win leader in the Cup series (tied with Rick Hendrick) with 12 victories. Dillon will also drive the car number – 13 – that his Hall of Fame grandfather drove in the very first MENCS race back in 1969 – a race that helped jumpstart Richard Childress Racing. Dillon has competed at Talladega in NASCAR’s XFINITY Series (NXS) with a best finish of eighth in 2015, and the Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS), as well as the ARCA Racing Series where he has one win – the 2011 ARCA Racing Series’ General Tire 200. A year ago in the GEICO 500, he came in as a relief driver for Tony Stewart and brought the No. 14 Chevrolet home sixth.

Jones, who pilots the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota, has started races in both the NXS and NCWTS at Talladega. The 2014 NCWTS Champion has a best finish of fourth at TSS, which came in the 2015 fred’s 250 powered by Coca-Cola event.

It will be the very first time that BK Racing rookie teammates Lajoie and Gaulding have competed at ‘Dega in any series. Lajoie is son of two-time NXS Champion Randy Lajoie, and will pilot the No. 83 BK Racing Chevrolet. Gaulding, a 19-year old from Colonial Heights, Virginia will be behind the wheel of the No. 23 Chevrolet.

Could one of these rookies stun the racing world? Find out Sunday, May 7 to see what happens in the GEICO 500. For ticket information on Talladega’s triple-header spring race weekend (May 5-7) featuring the MENCS GEICO 500, NXS Sparks Energy 300 and ARCA Racing Series General Tire 200, visit www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 855-518-RACE. The weekend kicks off on Friday and includes the following activities:

Friday, May 5
8:30 AM – 10:20 AM         General Tire 200 ARCA Racing Series Final Practice
10:30 AM – 11:25 AM       Sparks Energy 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series Practice
12:30 PM – 1:25 PM         Sparks Energy 300 NASCAR XFINITY Final Practice
1:30 PM – 2:25 PM           GEICO 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Practice
3:30 PM – 4:25 PM           GEICO 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Final Practice
5:00 PM                            Green Flag – General Tire 200
                                         ARCA Racing Series Presented by Menards Race
                                         (76 Laps, 202.16 Miles)
7:00 PM                            “Big One On The Blvd” Fan Infield Parade & Competitions
Saturday, May 6
9:30 AM                           Sparks Energy 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series Qualifying
12:00 PM                         Green Flag – Sparks Energy 300
       NASCAR XFINITY Series Race
    (113 Laps, 300.58 Miles)

3:00 PM                           GEICO 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying
7:30 PM                           Traditional Infield Concert – Headlined by The Charlie Daniels Band
Sunday, May 7
1:00 PM                          Green Flag – GEICO 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race
   (188 Laps, 500.08 Miles)

About Talladega Superspeedway

Talladega Superspeedway is NASCAR’s Most Competitive Track (record 88 lead changes in 188 laps), most banked (33 degrees), and longest (2.66 miles), as well as the most fun and fan-friendly, offering up hundreds of acres of free camping, amazing kids ticket prices and special offers for military members and college students. The historic venue, built in 1969, is NASCAR’s “Party Capital” thanks to the track’s infamous infield, which features the traditional Saturday Night Concert and the world-renowned Talladega Blvd, home of the “Big One on the Blvd” party. It is the site of the most comfortable seats in motorsports, large video viewing boards lining the frontstretch and endless activities for fans throughout its event weekends. Talladega Superspeedway’s next NASCAR weekend is set for May 5-7 with the Sparks Energy 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race and the GEICO 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event, in addition to the General Tire 200 for the ARCA Racing Series. Log on to www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 877-Go2-DEGA for more information.

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