E.A. Sports Today

Lucky, and good

High five: Keselowski overcomes all manner of adversity to win for the fifth time at Talladega Superspeedway

Race winner Brad Keselowski runs up on teammate Joey Logano during Sunday’s Alabama 500. On the cover Keselowski celebrates in Victory Lane. (Photos by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA – Of course, it takes a little luck to win at Talladega Superspeedway. If nothing else, you just have to be lucky to avoid all the wrecks.

To win here for the first time might involve little good fortune, but five times? After a while you’d think track experience and superior equipment would figure somewhere in the equation.

Brad Keselowski won for the fifth time at Talladega Sunday when he found a way to avoid three late wrecks that shut the race down, overcome a malfunctioning radio and hold off a last-lap move by teammate Joey Logano to win the Alabama 500.

To see a gallery of photos from Sunday’s race, visit www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

It was his third win of the season and qualified him for the next stage of the playoffs. He was below the cutoff entering the race, and his team thought this was his best chance to get a win before the cut, making it something of a must-win.

He was followed across the line by Ryan Newman, Trevor Bayne, Logano and Aric Almirola, none of whom are in the playoff chase.

The 33-year-old Michigan native who was making his 300th career start also won the fall race at Talladega in 2014 and the spring races here in 2009 (his first Cup win), 2012 and 2016. It leaves him one behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon on the track’s all-time win list.

Earnhardt was making his final Talladega start before retiring. He finished seventh after starting on the pole.

“It’s a special day any day you can win, but to win at Talladega for the fifth time is something I was never sure I’d ever have the opportunity to do,” Keselowski said. “Just winning once here felt pretty incredible … To win here again it still feels pretty darned good.

“You’d love to pat yourself on the back and say it’s all skill, but there is some luck that’s involved in this and today we had the luck we needed. We’ve wrecked out of the last three plate races and you’re like I can’t keep getting the bad cards so I’m going to get some good cards and when you get them you’d better make a good play with them.

“You know when you come here that probably three out of every four races you’re going to get caught up in a wreck or something like that, but the races where you have the good fortune … you have to take those races, run up front and win them. And I think that’s what we’ve been able to do.”

There were seven multi-car wrecks in the race, three of which brought out the red flag, and Keselowski managed to avoid all of them. What he couldn’t avoid, however, was a problem with his radio when some track debris took out his antenna.

It made talking to the spotters that are so important to success here impossible and the best signal he had was with crew chief Paul Wolfe when he circled back around to the pits. He tried to stay on track just by looking at the mirrors, but was losing track position. Eventually his crew was able to reconnect and they talked him through the remainder of the race.

Good thing, too. All the big wrecks happened in the late stages of the race and steadily thinned the field to where only 14 cars were on the lead lap at the end. The biggest of the wrecks involved 16 cars — and six of the 12 playoff drivers – 17 laps from the finish.

The longest red-flag stoppage came three laps from the end in a wreck that took out front-runners Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson.

Keselowski held the lead on the restart with Earnhardt right on his rear bumper, but at Talladega three laps is still plenty of time for drama.

The last wreck damaged Junior’s front end and he couldn’t challenge for what would have been a storybook finish. Newman was pushed to the front by Denny Hamlin and he had the lead on the final lap until Keselowski passed him on the high side of the track and then held off both Newman and Logano to take the checkered.

“Joey and I are good friends and I think great teammates, and I think we have an understanding that no matter what the scenario is we don’t expect each other to hurt themselves to help each other, but if you have a way of helping each other without hurting yourself you try to take it,” Keselowski said. “At the end he made the move to win the race and I just was able to execute the block.

“He didn’t let up at all. He could have chosen a different lane for sure and probably had an equal shot at winning. He chose the one he did and it didn’t work. I don’t think I would have won the race if he would have picked a different lane. I don’t think he was trying to make sure I won the race. I think he was trying to make sure he won it, and it just didn’t come together for him.”

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