Brad Keselowski was one of only five cars to not be involved in any wrecks in Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. In a race that featured a 21-car crash, the threat of rain, flipping cars, fast speeds, drafting galore and close quarters, the No. 2 team of Keselowski came out victorious, snatching their second win of 2016 and fourth of his career at Talladega.
With the threat of rain in the forecast, the intensity was instantly ramped up, as drivers and teams alike believed halfway into the race (when NASCAR deems it “official” and okay to stop a race if needed) was going to be as far as the race would go.
However, Mother Nature played nice with the 2.66 mile tri-oval, and the 188-lap race went the scheduled distance, to the pleasure of fans everywhere. And my goodness, did they get to see a show.
The final restart, with two laps remaining, had Keselowski in the outside lane as the leader, with Kurt Busch on the inside. The No. 41 eventually cleared the No. 2, but not before the Team Penske Ford powered his way ahead of the Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. Then, the third and final “Big One” occurred with the field racing to the finish line and the checkered flag. Keselowski, who led 46 laps, maintained the gap over the rest of the pack at that point to find victory lane.
“One of the tickets to stay out of the wrecks at Talladega is to stay up front,” Keselowski said in his post-race interview with FOX Sports’ Jamie Little.
“This No. 2 machine, man,” he said as he patted above the window net of his hot rod. “This feels really good, really good. This is Talladega and it’s my fourth win here. I never thought I’d win at Talladega four times.”
The caution that ended the race began when the No. 98 of Cole Whitt (finished 18th) ever so slightly got into the No. 38 of Landon Cassill (finished 11th), who in turn clipped the No. 4 of Kevin Harvick (finished 15th), sending the 2014 champion on his side, and collecting multiple other cars as they crossed the finish line either backwards, in flames, smoking, or all of the above. Thankfully, all drivers climbed from their machines and were okay.
But if you thought that wreck was big, you’d be mistaken. The first “Big One” came on lap 161, which involved a whopping 21 cars (more than half the field). Some of the cars involved came back to finish the race. The most notable return was Austin Dillon, who came back to finish the race in third place with a beaten and battered No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
However, nobody flipped in that crash. But there were two other wrecks where vehicles went airborne, tumbled and barrel-rolled to a stop before the melee ended. With seven laps remaining, Danica Patrick and Matt Kenseth were sent down towards the inside wall, where the No. 20 (finished 23rd) momentarily went airborne, and Patrick took yet another hard hit on a restrictor plate track. Patrick called it “the worst crash of [her] career.”
“It hit really hard. Everything […] is way out of place,” Patrick said after her 24th place finish on Sunday afternoon in Alabama. “I hit my foot. Hit my arm. There was fire inside the car. It kind of knocked the breath out of me a little bit.”
“I wish there wasn’t so much distance between the track and the wall (on the backstretch) because you gain such momentum at such a bad angle when you go there,” she said, as it’s not the first time a crash like this has occurred for Patrick. “I’ve had the unfortunate scenario of hitting the inside wall at a superspeedway a few times now, and they’re all bad.”
She went on to explain that the fire inside the cockpit was the scariest part, as the flames got to her gloves.
Kenseth, on the other hand, was more displeased with Joey Logano for allegedly starting the whole wreck. Of course, they have a history of hostility towards each other.
“I don’t think he ran me off. He did run me off,” Kenseth said as Logano listened to him, as the drivers spoke to the media in close proximity to each other outside the infield care center. “He ran me so far down I couldn’t really lift. I couldn’t get back up the track. It looked like there was no penalty, and we kept racing.”
The first large crash of the afternoon happened on lap 96, as rookie Chris Buescher’s No. 34 took a tumble down the backstretch after four-wide racing triggered contact with Jamie McMurray (finished fourth) and Dillon.
“It was so quick, never had any time to react,” Buescher explained. “I thought we were clear of the wreck. Next thing you know, I’m upside down. I’m pretty sick and tired of superspeedway racing at this point.”
Kyle Busch, the defending champion and runner-up finisher for the GEICO 500, had some choice words about superspeedway racing.
“It is what it is,” he said. “These cars, you try to get a little bit aggressive, start bumping people and pushing people, they’re real easy to get out of control. I really don’t know why we’re bumping and pushing and everything else, because these cars, they go slower when you push. Makes a lot of sense. That’s how stupid we are.”
Ty Dillon brought the No. 14 Chevrolet home in sixth place – unscathed. However, under the first caution of the race, Tony Stewart got out of the car, and Dillon got in, executing the planned driver swap in a little over one minute. The top ten finish is huge for the No. 14 team, as they need to accumulate as many points as possible if they want to have a chance at making the Chase.
“It sucks to be honest,” Smoke said after climbing out of his car about 60 laps into the event. “I know why we got to do it, but it sucks. It still sucks that you have to do it but if I hadn’t broke my back at the end of January, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”
Dillon, however, was extremely happy with the result.
“We had a really strong car,” the Xfinity Series regular said. “Early on, once I first got in the car, we drove right up to into the top ten really quick and we had some air on the nose and was able to go. The team built an awesome race car. I just kind of got mired back. I made some mistakes being my first time here racing. But we were able to dodge crashes and survive here, which is the big thing.”
Chase Elliott came home fifth after leading 27 laps from the pole, Clint Bowyer seventh (best finish of the season), Kurt Busch eighth, Ryan Blaney ninth and Trevor Bayne (22 laps led) in tenth.
Some notables included Michael Waltrip in 12th (had a scare early on, leading to Casey Mears’ misfortune), Jimmie Johnson in 22nd (involved in one of the “Big Ones”), Joey Logano in 25th (involved in one of the “Big Ones” also) and Denny Hamlin in 31st (yup, you guessed it — involved in one of the “Big Ones” as well).
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the popular pick to win this weekend. However, the racing gods had different plans. He finished dead last in 40th, and was involved in two separate cautions. The first came before lap 100, when he “just lost it” coming off turn two, collecting Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne, and hitting the wall hard. The No. 88 team made repairs, but it was all for not. On lap 110, Carl Edwards’ No. 19 blew a tire, shooting up the banking and hitting the No. 88 again, ending his and his beloved “Amelia’s” days.
Earnhardt Jr. also lost his steering wheel at one point under caution, as it just came off. He took full responsibility for the incident. But it brings to memory when his teammate Jimmie Johnson had a similar incident in qualifying at Phoenix of just this year. Interesting.
Overall, the racing was spectacular. Some writers, drivers and fans are calling for NASCAR to look at ways to make superspeedway racing safer, so cars don’t fly like they did this weekend, because that’s not the show. The racing is – and it was spectacular on Sunday.
In fact, the racing was great even on Saturday, as Elliott Sadler grabbed his first win in the Xfinity Series since 2014 at Talladega on his birthday. The ending was crazy, and had to be reviewed by NASCAR, but Elliott was deemed the winner after a race that saw crazy passing, bumping and racing.
The Sprint Cup Series race was the same way – overall entertaining. I enjoyed watching, and I’m sure the fans in the stands at the largest track in NASCAR and at home did as well.
Next week, NASCAR heads to the heart of Kansas for the GoBowling.com 400 (7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 7) at Kansas Speedway.