TALLADEGA, Ala. — When rain stopped the NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday afternoon, a gaggle of Chevrolet drivers headed into a private room for a meeting about alliances. That strategy session was a bonus in the battle of the manufacturers.
NASCAR was able to get in 57 laps, all the way until the end of the first stage, before the rain began and teams were given a break. The race was ultimately postponed and will resume Monday, so the Chevy group must wait to exercise the plans it hashed out in an impromptu midrace meeting.
Still, teams got a preview of who is fast, who works well together and whether the battle of the manufacturers will dictate the outcome. The Chevy drivers were tight-lipped on their discussions — Hendrick Motorsports' Chase Elliott deadpanned that the group discussed an updated Corvette under development — and the Ford camp met hours before the start of the race.
William Byron won the first stage, with Hendrick teammates Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson right behind him, and Joey Logano dipped to the bottom lane to lead a pack of Fords in a challenge for the stage victory that came up short. Close to the finish line, Johnson — who is not in the playoff field — eased off the gas to let fellow Chevy driver Kyle Larson gain a spot ahead of him for critical playoff points.
Ryan Blaney spun the Team Penske No. 12 Ford while trying to enter pit road in the only dramatic moment of the first stage. Paul Menard ceded his seat in the Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Forday to Matt Crafton during the rain break because of a neck ailment that had been bothering Menard for days, and Crafton will resume the race Monday.
Johnson, a seven-time season champion, said the cooperation between drivers of the same manufacturer at Talladega and Daytona International Speedway is like nothing he's ever seen before in NASCAR but that the draft-dependent superspeedways "are the only two places it works."
Toyota got this movement rolling in the last five years when it convinced its teams to work together in an effort to win the Daytona 500. Ford figured out the plan worked through seven consecutive victories at Talladega, and Chevrolet got serious about the effort after Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing went 1-2-3 in the Daytona 500 with assistance from the Hendrick cars.
Chevrolet engineered its first win at Talladega since 2015 with an Elliott victory in April.
This race is the middle one in the second round of NASCAR's playoffs, with four drivers set to be eliminated from the field next week at Kansas Speedway.