Brad Keselowski won the race in the second overtime — after a wreck that ended the title run of Keselowski’s former boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
TALLADEGA, Ala.—In a must-win situation at Talladega Superspeedway, Brad Keselowski did exactly that, preserving his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship hopes with a victory in Sunday’s GEICO 500.
With the right side of his car damaged in the wreck that brought out the first caution flag of the afternoon, Keselowski persevered, taking the lead during the first attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish and winning the race in the second overtime—after a wreck that ended the title run of Keselowski’s former boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“I can’t believe it,” Keselowski said in Victory Lane. “Talladega is such a wild card, and to be able to win here you have to catch breaks and make your own breaks-a little of both.
“I can’t believe we won at Talladega. This race is the scariest of the three in the (Contender Round) bracket. To be able to win here is really a privilege. It really is.”
I just barely started to push him and it hooked his car—and we all wrecked.
Keselowski won his series-leading sixth race of the season, his third at Talladega and the 16th of his career. That alone propelled him into the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup on a day that saw three of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers—Earnhardt, Kasey Kahne and six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson—fall by the wayside.
On the first lap of the first overtime, Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate gave the No. 2 Ford the push that enabled him to clear Ryan Newman and take the lead.
“We just persevered,” Keselowski said. “We didn’t give up. I got a lot of help from my teammate Joey Logano and, wow, this is just special. Everything about today is special. I want to say ‘Thank you’ to everyone that supports our team.”
A week after losing his cool on the race track and on pit road at Charlotte, Keselowski was the very model of professional poise at Talladega. Coincidentally, the driver with whom Keselowski had the most significant altercation at Charlotte—Matt Kenseth--was behind him on the final restart at Talladega, and at the finish line.
And, coincidentally, both Keselowski and Kenseth, the race runner-up, started the race at the rear of the field, Keselowski after breaking an alternator and Kenseth after changing an engine.
Kenseth, Newman (fifth Sunday), Denny Hamlin (18th), Jeff Gordon (26th) and Carl Edwards (21st) joined Contender Round winners Logano, Kevin Harvick and Keselowski in the Eliminator Round, which opens next Sunday at Martinsville, (Va.) Speedway (1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) with points for all the Chase drivers reset to 4,000.
Kyle Busch, victim of an early wreck, joined Earnhardt, Johnson and Kahne as drivers knocked out of the Chase.
Johnson, who led a race-high 84 laps, was shuffled back after a restart on Lap 188, the first attempt at a green-white-checkered following a debris caution on Lap 184. In the second overtime, which took the race six circuits past its scheduled 188 laps, he fell back to 24th at the finish.
But Johnson’s finishing position was of little consequence, once victory was out of the question. Like Keselowski and Earnhardt, Johnson came to Talladega needing a win to move forward in the Chase.
After a wild shuffling of positions in the two overtimes, Clint Bowyer finished third, followed by Landon Cassill (first career top five in 147 starts) and Newman. Travis Kvapil, Kurt Busch, Marcos Ambrose and Kevin Harvick completed the top 10.
At Talladega, there are always victims, and Kyle Busch was the first. On the backstretch on Lap 103, Aric Almirola tapped the back bumper of J.J. Yeley’s Toyota and turned the car sideways into the outside wall, igniting a 10-car chain-reaction wreck.
Riding 28th near the rear of the field, Busch checked up and appeared poised to avoid the melee, only to be launched into the inside wall by Austin Dillon’s Chevrolet.
With the frame of the No. 18 Toyota bent like a pretzel and suspension parts askew on both ends, Busch brought the car to the garage and dropped to 43rd on the scoring monitor as his team frantically tried to restore the Camry to running condition.
“We were just all starting to shuffle around there and getting ready to pit, and I think it was the 83 (Yeley) in front of me, and I think he might have been trying to check up to get to the bottom,” Almirola said of the incident that started the wreck.
“I just barely started to push him and it hooked his car—and we all wrecked.”
Earnhardt’s run at a first championship came to a sudden end on the backstretch on Lap 188, when contact from Greg Biffle’s Ford spun the No. 88 Chevy, which had spent 31 laps in the lead, but restarted 16th on the first green-white-checkered attempt.
With the car damaged in the wreck, Earnhardt finished 31st, a far cry from the victory he needed to advance to the next round of the Chase.
Reid Spencer - NASCAR Wire Service