The crowd went wild when the lead changed at Talladega. That means that a popular driver must have taken over in front. That was the case, but it wasn't who most race fans that missed the race would think of if asked. Did Danica Patrick pop into your head or just Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
Race fans at Talladega are famous for cheering on Dale Jr. who is the most popular driver in NASCAR. But, they also cheered wildly for Danica Patrick when she powered her Godaddy machine to the front. The move came late in the race and again after a round of pit-stops. Patrick says the lead was great but she's not sure if she was shuffled out or just messed up as she finished in the 19th spot.
"I got either hung out to dry, or I made a bad move,” Patrick said following the race as she was congratulated on a great run. “I don’t know what I should have done different.”
Taking the lead
As the closing laps began to unfold drivers such as Jimmy Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had already led many of the laps in the race and things were setting up for a possible win by Ryan Newman.
Patrick joined up with a line of cars and was able to pull to the front as the pack roared through the turns it was obvious that she would be counted as the leader. That's when the crowd of fans exploded. It was a cheer heard over both radio and TV.
Patrick lead seven laps during the final part of race and was able to maintain the lead after winning the battle off pit road. Following the series of pit stops she was still in good position near the front until a caution came out which set up a restart with only nine laps remaining.
When the green flag dropped after the caution Patrick's lead at Talladega was over as she began to fall back. Patrick squeezed back in line before the entire pack passed her. It's common for a driver at Talladega to drop like a rock in position when they are shuffled out. Patrick managed to save her position for a top-twenty finish in the 19th spot.
She should not feel bad about falling back after leading. Jimmie Johnson was out in front of the pack for an amazing 84 laps but finished 24th. The second driver with the most laps led was Dale Earnhardt Jr. After leading 31 laps Earnhardt finished in the 31st spot.
Both Johnson and Earnhardt needed to win in order to advance to the next level of the chase. After their disappointing finishes the two drivers were eliminated from championship eligibility.