E.A. Sports Today

Contenders and carnage

Keselowski wins at Talladega for the fourth time in a race that seemed more demolition derby than racing

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA — Given his success around this place, Brad Keselowski certainly knows the secret to winning at Talladega — stay in front and avoid the wrecks.

Keselowski did that most of the day and won for the second time this season and fourth time at Talladega Superspeedway when he took the checkered flag Sunday in the GEICO 500.

The day was more a high-speed demolition derby than a superspeedway race. Wrecked racecars are the norm around here, but this day seemed more over the top than normal.

There were eight wrecks involving 35 of the 40 cars. There were four incidents involving at least seven cars and two involving 10 or more, including “The Big One” collecting 21 cars with eight laps to go.

Sixteen of the drivers were involved in multiple incidents, with Landon Cassill and Aric Almirola getting mixed up in three. At least two cars went sliding down the track on their roofs during the race.

It seemed fitting, then, that when Keselowski crossed the start-finish line for the final time – one-tenth of a second ahead of Kyle Busch — the yellow flag was waving the same time as the checkered due to another multi-car wreck behind them.

Outside pole-sitter Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray and pole-sitter Chase Elliott completed the top five.

Keselowski, Elliott, Trevor Bayne, David Ragan and the tag team of Tony Stewart and Ty Dillon were the only guys not involved in an accident.

Besides being his fourth win here, it also was his ninth top 10 finish in 15 Talladega starts. All four of his wins — 2009, 2012, 2014, 2016 – had some sort of dramatic element to them, perhaps none moreso before today than his first in 2009 that will be remembered for Carl Edwards cutting across his nose at the finish and ending up in the fence.

“What can you say? Talladega has been good to me,” Keselowski said. “You never know what you’re going to get here. Talladega’s always been that way, but it’s been very good to me and I’m thankful for that.

“Crazy day. Somehow we managed to stay ahead or out of all the chaos. That’s how Talladega goes. Sometimes we run here and everybody kind of lines up against the wall and sometimes we come here and it’s crazy, side-by-side, rack ‘em up, flip ‘em.

“I think that’s part of the allure of coming here, that you don’t know what you’re going to get and as a driver you’ve got to be prepared for either way and take advantage of the situation.”

The case can be made that he was the most deserving winner. In addition to avoiding all the wrecks, he controlled the race all day and was only out of the top 10 once the entire race.

“We ran up front, and none of the accidents today were at the front,” he said. “That’s you’re highest percentage shot is if you can ride up front.

“It sounds really easy. It’s not, otherwise everybody would do it and we were fortunate to be second, third or better in every one of those accidents.”

Keselowski became the fourth driver to win twice this season, joining Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards (who won the previous two races) and Jimmy Johnson. Last year the circuit went nine races without a multiple winner.

The race came down to a three-lap regulation shootout after 12-car wreck that collected among others contenders Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano.

That left Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Trevor Bayne and Jamie McMurray in the top four.

Keselowski took the outside line for the restart. Bayne lined up behind Busch and McMurray behind Keselowski, but it was actually Kyle Busch who pushed Keselowski into the lead, where he stayed to the finish.

“The outside lane had won the battle on the last three or four restarts to get to the lead and that’s so pivotal here,” Keselowski said. “Unfortunately it didn’t work for us on the last restart and we fell back. But we got a push from the 1 car (McMurray), which helped me get a run to get up next to the 41 (Kurt Busch).

“We were kind of stalemated next to each other pulling side drafts until the 18 car (Kyle Busch) came with a huge run, gave me the push we were looking for to clear and get up to the lead and take ownership of that position. All those things came together for us, but we put ourselves in position all day by running up front.”

The race lost some of its luster for the crowd 49 laps in when Dale Earnhardt Jr. went out in a wreck that collected Kasey Kahne and Matt DiBenedetto. Junior tried to stick his nose between Stewart and Edwards, had his air taken off by both cars and lost control coming out of Turn 2 onto the back straightaway.

The caution allowed Stewart to swap out with Dillon, which finally allowed the retiring driver’s surgeons to breathe again. Stewart was making his second start since being cleared from a broken back he suffered right before Daytona and he compromised with his doctors that he would race here until the first caution. (He told them it usually comes in the first three laps).

Ironically, they were the recipients of the free pass under caution, but they couldn’t swap seats until getting the Lucky Dog wave around. The swap took about 70 seconds. The tandem eventually finished sixth after starting in the back of the field.

The accident also impacted Elliott, who suffered damage after being hit in the rear by Austin Dillon.

A few minutes later three more cars mixed it up – Michael Waltrip gave Casey Mears the slightest of taps, but it was enough to get him sideways and collect Almirola. Danica Patrick got the free pass on that one.

The most harrowing part of the race came on Lap 95 when rookie Chris Buescher got airborne, did three barrel rolls then landed on his nose before falling back on his wheels. He called the ride “miserable.”

“Not the way we wanted to finish Talladega,” he said. “Tired of superspeedway racing. If not for bad luck we wouldn’t have any luck in these races.”

Matt Kenneth also took a wild ride on his roof after getting hit by Patrick.

Earnhardt and Kahne did get back on the racetrack, but both were involved in a second crash that ultimately put them out of the race. Earnhardt was “just out there riding around” when something broke in Edwards’ car and ran up into him in Turn 1.

Internal car video showed the steering wheel coming off in Earnhardt’s car and Junior trying to steer with his bare hands. Kahne lost it with less than 60 laps to go.

“It’s just Talladega — it is what it is,” Kyle Busch said, trying to explain the wrecks. “These cars, you try to get a little bit aggressive and start bumping people and pushing people and they’re real easy to get out of control. I don’t know why we’re bumping and pushing because these cars they go slower when you push, so it makes a whole lot of sense, but that’s how stupid we are.

“It’s been this way for 30 years. I hate it. I’d much rather sit at home. I got a win. I don’t need to be here.”

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