After a race in which only 14 cars remained on the track at the time the checkered flag dropped, Talladega delivered in yet another exciting and exhilarating display of restrictor-plate racing. It was truly a race of attrition especially in the closing laps where the racing increased to the next level and it turned into a demolition derby on the track. Brad Keselowski was able to manage a last-lap pass with a push in his Miller Lite Ford Fusion from teammate Joey Logano to secure the win of the Alabama 500 passing Ryan Newman.
Keselowski was one of two playoff drivers to finish the race on the lead lap along with Denny Hamlin who came home in 6th place. The other ten playoff drivers now find themselves with work to do heading into Kansas the cut-off race for the Round of 12 that sets the stage for NASCAR’s “elite 8” that will run for a title. Meanwhile, Keselowski earned his 5th win at Talladega and the 24th of his career as he punched his ticket to the next round.
Keslowksi acknowledged there were really only eight cars with a chance to win at the end of the race including Dale Earnhardt Jr. who started his final Talladega race from the pole position. The No. 88 had a real shot to win the entire way skating through major wrecks and avoiding “The Big One”. However, when push came to shove at the conclusion, Jr. couldn’t link up with the other drivers because in a small pack with the damage he had incurred through the battle on Sunday, his car just didn’t have enough to win the race or put other cars in position to warrant linking up with the retiring star. Dale Jr. came home 7th and Keselowski who’s paint scheme paid tribute to Earnhardt Jr. for giving him his first shot at racing in a NASCAR series, came home in victory lane. What a way to pass the torch from one of the best restrictor-plate racers of his era to another.
“It was one of those crazy days. I think we’ve seen that at the plate tracks this year — a lot of attrition. This is still sinking in. It’s 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.” Brad Kesekelowski said in Victory Lane following the win that secures him into the next round of the NASCAR Playoffs.
Two playoff drivers, Kyle Larson and Matt Kenseth, both managed to tape up their wounded machines and secure a finish one lap down taking away a 13th and 14th place finish respectively for their team’s efforts. In a race like this with only 12-cars finishing on the lead lap and 14 on the track, being able to patch it up and run laps for track position and final points is huge with all of the carnage that piled up on Sunday afternoon. Chase Elliott was running for the lead when he got caught up in a late wreck and came home 16th along with Ryan Blaney who finished 18th.
Other playoff driver finishes: Kevin Harvick came home 20th after a being caught up in pair of accidents and couldn’t re-fire his engine ending his afternoon. Four playoff drivers afternoon came to an end after being caught up in the big wreck on the day in which Martin Truex Jr. and David Ragan were caught jockeying for position on the high line running three-wide in the pack and all hell broke loose. Truex, Kyle Busch, Jimme Johnson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. all saw their days come to a finish after incurring major damage in the big one setting them up in a fight for their life at Kansas next week. Truex is already locked in to the next round after a win at Charlotte, but the other three drivers are not in such a favorable position. The last playoff driver Jamie McMurray, a usually great restrictor-plate racer, went out early after being caught up trying to get off the track and onto pit road in stage one when he was rammed by rookie Erik Jones and sent up the track where he incurred terminal damage to his vehicle and came away 37th.
Updated Playoff Standings following ‘Dega:
- Martin Truex Jr. (advanced)
- Brad Keselowski (advanced)
- Kyle Larson +29
- Kevin Harvick +22
- Denny Hamlin +21
- Chase Elliott +20
- Ryan Blaney +9
- Jimmie Johnson +7
- Kyle Busch -7
- Matt Kenseth -8
- Ricky Stenhouse -22
- Jamie McMurray -29
Kansas now holds a lot of meaning for drivers such as Kenseth and especially Kyle Busch who appeared to be an automatic to advance to the next round after winning two out of three races in the opening round, but after coming away 29th in a damaged race car at Charlotte and wrecking out at Talladega, now finds himself below the cut-off line heading into the last race of this round. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is only 7 points ahead of the cut-off position which means he has to go out, qualify well and come away with a good finish or he could find himself in jeopardy of missing the cut. Stenhouse and McMurray almost certainly need to win in order to advance, but at the very least need to run up front all day and collect stage points to have any chance. Kansas holds a lot of meaning for at least six drivers, as the top six have built a big enough gap that if they go out and have a solid day they should have a comfortable enough shot to advance.
Talladega was as advertised and it really flipped the entire playoff and championship picture on it’s head. Brad Keselowski came away victorious in a the highest rated fall Talladega race on television since 2012, up 35% from last year.
Follow Frank Pimentel on Twitter: @FrankBostonTank