In a race that will go down as one of the most crash filled in recent memory, Brad Keselowski was one of 15 cars left running at Talladega Superspeedway Sunday and made a last lap, last corner pass to win the Alabama 500.
“This is still sinking in. It is a special place to get to race and a special place when you win here,” Keselowski said. “It was really a collaborative effort with the team and getting a real fast car and making the right moves as a driver and a lot of help from up above with staying out of those wrecks. It really takes all three and we had them all today.”
The 24th win of his career came in his 300th start and came at the expense of Ryan Newman who was leading when the petite field took the white flag. Keselowski remained on the bumper of Newman until the two entered turn 3 on the last lap; Keselowski was able to power past Newman thanks to a push from his Penske teammate Joey Logano entering the turn. He was then able to stretch out his lead for his fifth win at Talladega.
“I feel like only eight cars finished the race,” Keselowski said. “It was one of those crazy days. I think we have seen that at the plate tracks this year. A lot of attrition.”
The biggest issue for Keselowski came near the midpoint of the race when his radio antenna broke and the crew was forced to make repairs. He fought his way back to the front avoiding the cranage that took out many.
An early victim was Playoff driver Jamie McMurray who crashed out on lap 27 when coming to the pits under green after contact from Erik Jones. From that point, the only cautions were to end the Stages, Keselowski won the first, Blaney the second, with a caution for debris sandwiched in-between.
In the closing laps, all hell broke loose. Trevor Bayne got into the wall on lap 152; but it was the ensuing restart the was a portend of things to come. At the back of the pack a crash reputed as the front runners got to turn 1. Among those involved was Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Michael McDowell and AJ Allmendinger. In all eight cars were involved as caution seven flew.
On a restart after a crash involving Joey Gase behind the field to start lap 171, Martin Truex Jr. got into David Ragan who spun down across the track sweeping up a total of 16 cars including playoff drivers Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth.
NASCAR stopped the race for 12 minutes and 30 seconds.
Green came out with 12 laps to go. But on the second lap after the restart, another crash broke out when Ryan Blaney pushed Joey Logano into Bayne. Harvick was also swept up and his day was done.
After another short red flag, the green came out with 8 laps to go. Daniel Suarez was leading with Chase Elliott trying to take the top spot. Elliott tried to make it three wide in turn 3 and spun Suarez in front of the field. The third red flag came out lasting 17 minutes and 14 seconds. The final restart came with three laps to go with Keselowski taking the win.
Newman was able to finish second, Bayne third, Logano fourth and Almirola fifth.
“We held them off longer than I expected,” Newman said. “I couldn’t tell how much nose damage I had and I hadn’t led all day, so I didn’t know what to expect. I saw the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) car in the mirror backing up and then he lost his draft and then he backed up again and he caught the No. 22 (Joey Logano). That was all it took for him to get a good run. I would have maybe played it differently and backed it up in hindsight, backed up to them in hindsight, but I don’t think it would have made a difference. They were double-teaming me.”
Denny Hamlin was sixth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. polesitter in his final Talladega race as a fulltime driver, was in contention much of the race. He also avoided much of the carnage but did suffer minor damage when he spun through the grass during the final crash. A win wasn’t in the cards, and on the day the governor of Alabama declared “Dale Earnhardt Jr. Day” he finished seventh.
“The splitter on the right front was about an inch and a half low,” Earnhardt said. “When I’d go in the corner, my splitter would just get tight and slow. I couldn’t really push anybody or get any runs going. And nobody wanted to push me because they could see I was struggling a little bit. So, nobody wanted to go with us.”
“But we got lucky and missed a lot of wrecks there. Man, it’s real hard to get up there to keep that track position. It’s a real challenge. These plate races get harder and harder to win. Congratulations to Brad (Keselowski, race winner). His race car there, has got that cheers to Dale Jr. on it, and that’s pretty cool. It was nice of him to do.”
Kasey Kahne overcame a flat tire to finish eighth with Gray Gaulding a career best ninth and David Ragan rounding on the top 10. In all 14 of 40 cars were running at the end of the race. And the final 17 laps took over an hour to finish.
In all only four Playoff drivers were running at the end. Those who did not finish: Elliott was scored 16th, Blaney 18th, Harvick 20th, Truex 23rd, Johnson 24th, Stenhouse 26th, Kyle Busch 27th, and McMurray 37th.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Kansas for the Hollywood Casino 400 next Sunday with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network starting at 2:30 p.m. ET with the green flag coming just after 3.