Joe Jennings, NASCAR correspondent
Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch made an outside pass of leader Matt Kenseth with a lap to go at the Talladega Superspeedway with the Miller Lite Dodge driver holding on to win the Aaron’s 499 by .3 seconds.
For the hard-charging Michigan driver, he won for the sixth time in 99 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and for the second time in 2012.
In total, Keselowski led twice for 10 of the 194 laps.
For Dodge, the manufacturer made its way to victory lane at Talladega for the first time since 1976 when Dave Marcis made it happen.
You have to have a plan and execute it, but you also have to have a great car and team behind you.
As the race neared the end, the intensity of the competition heated up, which led to a series of crashes that ultimately resulted in the overtime condition. At the conclusion, Kenseth lined up as the leader with Keselowski, Busch, Greg Biffle and David Ragan in hot pursuit. In total, 19 cars were on the lead lap.
Kenseth bolted into the lead and continued to show he had the car to beat but he lost contact with teammate Biffle, which thwarted his opportunity for a win. Keselowski and Busch made it look easy as they rocketed by him on the outside, taking the point and leading the pack to the checkered flag.
Keselowski’s last-lap maneuver allowed him to break the draft with Busch, and he was uncontested as the field roared to the finish line. The young driver had a plan he conceived overnight and while he didn’t know whether it would work, he carried him to victory.
“I had this plan if I was leading going into turn 3,” the victor said. “It was just me and Kyle (Busch) and I went in high and broke up the tandem, which allowed me to make it to the front. The key was getting an air bubble between the two cars, and I got it. You have to have a plan and execute it, but you also have to have a great car and team behind you. And then the driver has to execute the plan.
“We had a solid day with great pit stops and a strategy. I had a concern about fuel, but it worked out at the end. To get to challenge in the closing laps, you have to be in top five to be part of it. I just fended them off one at a time and everything came together. And I got fortunate at the end with the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) behind me.”
Team owner Roger Penske said, “We have coming here since 1972 and this is our first Sprint Cup win. This is pretty special for us. Our Dodge engine showed its power, but you never know what is going to happen with those green-white-checkered flag finishes. Brad ran a perfect race, and he’s a world-class driver.”
Commented crew chief Paul Wolfe, “This was a big win for us. Coming into the weekend, we had a different approach but it was not followed today. On Friday, Brad wasn’t happy with the car, sow we made some changes, and we put it together
Busch took second in his Toyota with Kenseth third in a Ford.
Said the dejected Busch, “Unfortunately, I got disconnected from Keselowski going into (turn) 3 and wasn’t able to make a move. I got second and that was it.”
Kenseth led 73 laps, the most by anyone, and the Daytona 500 winner looked like a winner today until he lost contact with teammate Greg Biffle.
“I just did a poor job at the end,” Kenseth. “I had a really fast car all day, and no one could stay attached, which kind of worked for us at Daytona. A lot of cars bailed out on Greg; I should have just dragged the brake and kept with him. I knew if I waited for him, we wouldn’t win, so I just did the best I could.”
Kasey Kahne survived three wrecks to gain fourth ahead of point leader Greg Biffle.
Kahne had the top finish of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers. “It was a strong run for us, and we missed the wrecks,” he said.
Stated Biffle, “The car ran hot most of the day, and we had to manage the water temperature and the fuel. I just wish I could have stayed on Matt’s bumper; if we could have stayed together, it would have been between me and him at the end. But my car wouldn’t stay up with him.”
Clint Bowyer took sixth ahead of David Ragan, Trevor Bayne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton.
Seventeen drivers swapped the lead 34 times.
Five caution flags consumed 24 laps with a pair of nine-car wrecks spicing the action. No injuries were sustained.
In the points department, Biffle leads Kenseth, who gained two positions, to trail the leader by seven. Earnhardt dropped to third nine off the pace. Denny Hamlin trails by 27, Kevin Harvick by 45, Martin Truex Jr. by 46, Tony Stewart by 50 and Jimmie Johnson by 54.
Kyle Busch is ninth with Clint Bowyer 10th. Carl Edwards and Keselowski hold down the 11th and 12th spots.