Talladega strategy doesn't go as planned, but Toyota still celebrates a win

TALLADEGA, Ala. — A bold plan by Toyota drivers gave them an opportunity to take the lead at Talladega in the final stage and potentially win at a superspeedway for the first time in the Next Gen era.

Technically, this plan backfired as multiple Toyota drivers crashed, but Tyler Reddick was still able to capture his first win of the season after a wild final lap.

MORE: Talladega Cup results

The plan came to light when Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Reddick, Bubba Wallace, Ty Gibbs and John Hunter Nemechek headed down pit road on Lap 152.

They stopped for enough fuel to make it to the finish. That would force other teams to react.

“As soon as everybody pitted, we were going to cycle to the front,” Hamlin said. “That’s what the goal was.”

The Toyota drivers were racing wide open to stay ahead of the rest of the field and on the lead lap when problems arose on Lap 157.

Nemechek pushed Wallace into Jones entering Turn 3. Both Jones and Wallace lost control and slammed into the outside wall. Hamlin also was collected in the incident as Nemechek slid down the track and clipped the rear of the No. 11 Toyota.

Wallace, Jones and Hamlin all sustained race-ending damage. Nemechek sustained damage but continued. He finished 33rd and four laps behind the leaders.

“We were all pushing really hard to keep our line going,” Wallace told Fox Sports’ Regan Smith. “We had a plan and just didn’t execute it as well as we should.”

If the plan had worked to perfection, the Toyota drivers would have cycled back to the lead as the Chevrolet and Ford drivers made their final green flag pit stops. There would have been seven Toyota drivers at the front of the pack and in control of the race. Christopher Bell was out of the race after a crash on Lap 132.

The caution for Jones, Wallace, Hamlin and Nemechek ruined that plan.

NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500

NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500

Michael McDowell heartbroken, yet proud after last-lap Talladega crash

Michael McDowell led a race-high 36 laps before crashing.

The rest of the drivers in the field were able to come down pit road for fuel during that caution, ensuring they could make it to the finish. Michael McDowell won the race off pit road with Brad Keselowski, Noah Gragson and Josh Berry directly behind him. Reddick, Truex and Gibbs stayed out and moved up to the top three spots.

The remaining Toyota drivers assessed the situation as they prepared for the restart.

“I didn’t actually ask the question but certainly when you look at a crash of that nature where cars go up into the wall at that angle, your first thought is, ‘Man, I hope everyone’s okay,'” Reddick said after the race. “Then you’ve got to shift gears and recenter in on own your race.

“Like, ‘Okay, well that really stunk for the drivers involved, but now we’ve got a real opportunity for those that remain to capitalize on this moment and make sure one of us gets to victory lane.'”

Reddick did exactly that. He was never worse than fourth the rest of the race with Truex and Gibbs behind him.

AUTO: APR 21 NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500AUTO: APR 21 NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500

AUTO: APR 21 NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500

What NASCAR Cup drivers had to say after Sunday’s Talladega race

Drivers had much to say after the 188-lap race.

McDowell attempted to block a run by Keselowski on the final lap, a move that resulted in McDowell spinning into the outside wall and sparking a multi-car crash. Reddick kept his foot on the gas, avoided McDowell’s car and passed Keselowski before crossing the start-finish line to capture his first career Cup win at Talladega.

On paper, Toyota’s lineup had the right plan for the final stage, a plan that would have put the group in prime position to capture a win. In practice, that plan didn’t go as anticipated.

Yet a Toyota driver still celebrated in victory lane.

“As a Toyota driver and as the other Toyota drivers, we’re committed to each other and whatever the strategy may look like,” Reddick said. “Whatever the plan is, we’re all on board with one another. Ended up working out for some of us.”

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