Brad Keselowski Survives Talladega To Win The Alabama 500 And Advance In The Playoffsby Camille Jones October 15, 2017
TALLADEGA, Ala. – Brad Keselowski won the race of attrition at Talladega Superspeedway in Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Alabama 500, capturing his fifth victory at the track and a berth in the Round of 8.
Keselowski, driver of the Team Penske No. 2 Miller Lite Ford, made a thrilling last-lap pass on Ryan Newman in order to earn the victory in his 300th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start. He held off the small, but valiant field of about a dozen cars left racing for the win. The victory marked Keselowski’s third win of the season.
“This is still sinking in,” Keselowski said in Victory Lane. “It is a special place to get to race and a special place when you win here. 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.”
Newman finished second on Sunday as he was unable to hold off the hard-charging Keselowski. He led just three laps of the event, two of those laps coming at the final restart. The runner-up finish was quite an effort for Newman, who started 27th and avoided the big crashes throughout the afternoon.
“We held them off longer than I expected,” said Newman. “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 (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 and you know it was still a good race to finish second with the Caterpillar Chevrolet.”
Trevor Bayne held on to capture a third-place finish as the sunlight began to dwindle when the checkered flag finally flew. He was involved in several incidents, but his Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 Liberty National Ford team was able to make repairs to keep him in the mix.
Joey Logano finished in the fourth position after leading 59 of the 188 laps, the most of any driver in the field on Sunday. Aric Almirola finished fifth, even after crashing on the final lap. Denny Hamlin took home the sixth-place spot.
In his final start at Talladega Superspeedway, a track where he established dominance throughout his career, following in his father’s footsteps, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to dodge several wrecks by just inches, only sustaining minor damage over the course of the event. He lined up in the second row for the final restart, but he was unable to maintain the speed needed to pass Keselowski. He ultimately was forced to settle for a seventh-place finish.
“Yeah, we got lucky,” said Earnhardt Jr. “That was just luck being in the right place at the right time and not getting swept up in any of those wrecks. We had one there that knocked the splitter down really bad on the right-front and that is why we couldn’t do anything at the end. The car was just dragging the ground and wouldn’t go, wouldn’t take off, so it was a little wounded out there at the end. Still got a decent finish and came out of here in one piece.”
Kasey Kahne finished in the eighth position, while Gray Gaulding finished ninth and David Ragan rounded out the top-10.
For a race at Talladega Superspeedway with an abnormally clean Stage 1 and Stage 2 with just a few cautions for smaller incidents, Stage 3 brought on a series of messes resulting in lengthy clean-ups. There were 11 cautions over the course of the race and three red flags. The red flag conditions all came in Stage 3.
The destruction in the event hurt the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship hopes of several NASCAR Playoff drivers.
The true “Big One” at Talladega brought out the caution on lap 173, when Martin Truex Jr. and David Ragan made contact when entering Turn 3. The massive 16-car wreck took out multiple NASCAR Playoff contenders including Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson. Kevin Harvick also sustained damage in the incident. Matt Kenseth was involved as well. The wreck brought out the red flag.
“Well I tried to get into a hole that was closing up at the wrong time and by the time that I got in the brakes trying to get out of there I got in the 38 (David Ragan) a little bit on the right rear and he got squirrely out there and all hell broke loose,” Truex Jr. said. “Just was trying to get to the end and get some track position and try to get towards the front and have a good day and ended up causing a wreck, so I hate it for everybody. We definitively had nothing to lose today, but at the same time you don’t want to be the person that causes others problems. Even though I feel like I’ve never been that guy here before it looks like today I was, so I hate it for all of those guys and all of their teams. I wish I didn’t make that mistake.”
The second red flag of the race came when the caution was thrown on lap 179. The accident began, when Trevor Bayne and Joey Logano made contact entering Turn 3. Logano bounced off of Bayne and into Ryan Blaney as they all spun through the field. Kevin Harvick was taken out in the wreck, as well as Blaney and Brendan Gaughan.
“We were up by the wall and somebody probably got turned and I got in it,” Blaney said. “I didn’t think there were enough cars to wreck that much anymore, but we happened to find it and a good day kind of down the drain.”
Extensive clean-up was needed following the final caution of the event, which brought out the red flag for more than 17 minutes when the yellow was thrown on lap 184 in the 188-lap race. Daniel Suarez and Chase Elliott made contact, totaling both cars. The two drivers were battling to win their first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race when the accident occurred. Kyle Larson also sustained significant damage in the wreck while leading the event.
“Yeah, I had a really big run, Dale (Earnhardt, Jr.) was giving me a great shove and Daniel (Suarez) had left enough room in the middle and (Kyle) Larson left me enough room from the bottom,” Elliott said. “There was a hole and I filled it. I don’t guess Daniel (Suarez) either saw me in time or what it was just had a high rate of speed coming and he didn’t know or tried to block it I’m not sure. We will move on.”
Martin Truex, Jr. still leads the points standings. With his win at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Keselowski’s win at Talladega Superspeedway, both drivers are locked into the Round of 8. Outside of the cut-line following Sunday’s race are Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jamie McMurray, who crashed out of Sunday’s race on lap 25.
Here is the NASCAR Playoff point standings following Talladega: Martin Truex Jr. (+19), Brad Keselowski (-19), Kyle Larson (-24), Kevin Harvick (-31), Denny Hamlin (-32), Chase Elliott (-33), Ryan Blaney (-44), Jimmie Johnson (-46), Kyle Busch (-53), Matt Kenseth (-54), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-68) and Jamie McMurray (-75).
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Kansas Speedway next weekend for the Hollywood Casino 400, the final Round of 12 race in the NASCAR Playoffs. Live coverage will be found on the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) and the Motor Racing Network (MRN) on Sunday, October 22 at 3 p.m. ET.
Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images