The race’s third caution, called for rain, resumed after red flag conditions covered 3 hours, 36 minutes and 6 seconds. Track officials deployed jet dryers twice.
Track officials had to dry Talladega’s 2.66-mile tri-oval twice, after each cell passed through. The second cell formed south of Talladega and blew over the track not long after the track was dried the first time.
The race was red flagged at 2:18 p.m., 125 laps in, with pole-sitter Carl Edwards in the lead, having pulled a half-car length ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as caution came out. If the race is not resumed, Edwards will be the winner.
Under NASCAR rules, a race delayed past the halfway point is official unless resumed. The possibility of an early end to the race forced drivers to race aggressively and take chances on the line they chose.
“It’s interesting with the weather,” said Kurt Busch, running in 13 place when caution came out. “When they say, ‘All right, rain is coming,’ you should just see the intensity pick up and how the game changes out on the track.”
With rain imminent, the scramble was on for the lead.
“Well, some guys built a run on the outside and got in line,” said Dale Earnhardt, who was ninth when the red flag came out. “A lot of people committed up there and just went around us.
“I didn’t think the outside line was going to be able to do that, but enough people got up there. They got some good cars going.”
The approaching rain forced drivers on the outside line to get more aggressive than usual.
“When our group is up front running, we were running the low lane, then those guys got on the outside there,” Busch said. “They came up charging. A lot of cars jumped on that top side.”
Some teams struggled to time their move with the rain. Clint Bowyer said he’s pit crew radioed him that rain was about four minutes away just before the drops started to fall.
“I think I heard Bowyer talking about when the rain was going to come,” said Ryan Newman, who led earlier in the race and was 10th at red flag. “I just didn’t expect for it to get crazy when it did, then it didn’t rain, then it got crazy again and it rained.”
Concern over rain and track position likely contributed to the Talladega “big one” occurring earlier in the race than usual. Kasey Kahne, running third on lap 43, moved high to pass Jimmie Johnson just as Kyle Busch arrived at the point of the outside line. Busch hooked Kahne from behind, touching off the chain-reaction crash.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, email@example.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.