Race Capsule: Keselowski wins the Talladega Lottery, many others bankrupt
Maybe the racing was so frenzied in Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was because bad weather seemed imminent the entire 188 laps. Or maybe
Flag to flag: Chase Elliott (finished 5th) started on the pole and the rookie spent most of the race with the leaders, finishing as one of only seven cars in the 40-car field not involved in any kind of
In the first half, Matt Kenseth (23rd) looked like one of the most dominant in the field, trading the top spot with teammates Kyle Busch (2nd) and Denny Hamlin (31st). Keselowski started in the top 10 and hung there most of the rest of the race, taking the lead for the first time on lap 72.
Tony Stewart's (6th with Ty Dillon driving) No.14 team patiently awaited the first caution of the day to properly extract Stewart from the car in favor of Ty Dillon. Stewart's deal with doctors to return the racecar included racing as little as possible at Talladega. Stewart got a speeding penalty on an earlier green flag pit stop and got a lap down, but then got it back on the caution that the team switched drivers. Dillon got behind the wheel and stayed out of enough trouble to salvage a good finish.
The day's first caution came at the expense of the sport's most popular driver. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (40th) started 3rd and entered the race in his famous restrictor plate car "Amelia" - a piece he trashed in a crash in the Daytona grass. He only led one lap and spun and collected teammate Kasey Kahne (39th) and Matt DiBenedetto (36th) on lap 51. Earnhardt Jr. would return to the race only to get collected by Carl Edwards' (35th) damaged ride and
Teams saw the dark clouds all day and spotters reported sprinkles to their drivers - rain that could end the race early if it passed the official halfway mark of lap 94. That meant the race never saw the "plate race lull" where the pack settled into a single-file line. Instead, drivers sliced and diced all race long and once lap 94 hit, the wrecks were on.
Lap 97 saw Austin Dillon (3rd) and Jamie McMurray (4th) make contact and hit David Gilliland (17th), rippling the field and sending rookie Chris Buescher (37th) on a serious barrel roll. Michael Annett (38th) also plowed the inside wall, Jimmie Johnson (22nd) went spinning, Carl Edwards (35th) also got damage.
Trevor Bayne (10th) and Kevin Harvick swapped the lead spot quite a bit around the race's two-thirds mark. Bayne ended up leading a career-high 22 laps Sunday and could have won, but couldn't find drafting help at the end. Harvick got shuffled back and wrecked at the finish.
The damaged cars of Edwards (lap 111 and crashing Earnhardt Jr.) and Kahne (lap 129) brought out yellow flags and bunched the field again, setting up a homestretch with wrecks for the ages.
With 26 laps to go, a grinding crash damaged 21 cars. Kurt Busch (8th) pushed the right-rear of Johnson's car, turning him into Paul Menard (26th). Quite a few cars in that crash survived to the finish and factored in it.
Then on lap 182, Danica Patrick (24th) got turned by Michael McDowell (21st) and into Kenseth. Patrick's car nailed the inside wall and Kenseth's flipped on its roof and
In front of these melees, Keselowski kept the No. 2 Ford up front, leading 26 of the final 32 laps (the other six were his teammate Logano). Ky. Busch, A. Dillon, and McMurray could not get a run on Keselowski and the Michigan driver notched his 19th-career win.
As he drove to victory, Landon Cassill (11th) and Cole Whitt (18th) sparked another multi-car wreck that sent Harvick perpendicular and airborne into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (16th) and A.J. Allmendinger (14th). This made for the third race of the three this Talladega weekend that ended with a big wreck just before the checkered flag.
The top 10 were Keselowski; Ky. Busch (said he would
Keselowski joins Johnson, Edwards, Ky. Busch, as two-time winners in 2016. Harvick and Hamlin each have a lone win and there are your Chase drivers, so far. Harvick leads the actual point standings by nine markers over Ky. Busch. 18 points separate 8th-in-points Earnhardt Jr. from 13th-place McMurray. And 14 points is the small gap from 14th-place Allmendinger to 20th Stenhouse Jr. Bayne, believe it or not, is 16th in the standings and would make the Chase, if it started now. Notables outside the cutoff include Kahne (17th), Ryan Newman (18th), Kyle Larson (22nd), Greg Biffle (23rd), Patrick (26th), and Bowyer (27th). Someone is going to be unhappy, come late-September. The parity in the points is astounding.
This iteration of Talladega Superspeedway racing will go down in infamy. It was both exciting and dangerous. Thrilling, but frustrating. The NASCAR Driver's Council is gaining more clout and many spoke out against plate racing as it exists today. One not as vocal, Council Member and race victor Keselowski. He says, based on his capitalist values, it is self-policing. But we wouldn't expect him to be too angry after another win there. No one seems to know the solution, but many seem to think something has to change.
RaceTweet: Pack race, crash, draft, crash, bump, crash. Keselowski wins 'Dega again and the sheet metal budget skyrockets for most of the rest of the field.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Keselowski - That whole "ride in the back and wait until the big wreck" strategy is the exact opposite card fro what Keselowski played. He led the race's most laps (46) and stayed in front of all the big messes. And just as he has done before, he played his hand perfectly at the end and kept the field at bay. He also kept another driver from punching their ticket to the Chase playoffs.
North Korean Missile Dud: Earnhardt Jr. - Anytime the No. 88 doesn't win or dominate a plate race, it's a dud. Earnhardt Jr. is the best plate racer of this generation, but he is 2-for-2 in wrecking his best plate car this season. And "Amelia" looks like she will be going to that famous race car graveyard on the Earnhardt Jr. property. Earnhardt Jr. didn't just wreck, he finished last at Talladega. But he did incredibly drive his car for a couple of seconds without a steering wheel. Face saved.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Landon Cassill - Cassill shared this award at Bristol for the laps he led and his staying power in the top 10. This race, the No. 38 Ford was never a factor for the
Ghost Driver: Martin Truex Jr. - Remember the Daytona 500 where Truex Jr. stayed with the leading Joe Gibbs Racing cars most of the race and finished an eyelash short of the win? Sunday saw him lead zero laps, get in two wrecks, and place 13th. And his Bass Pro Shops Toyota looked just like the No. 14 to boot.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Ryan Blaney - The rookie got a lap down with crash damage, got the free pass, and then notched a top 10. Blaney has a knack for these plate races, finishing 4th at Talladega last spring. His season is not as impressive as fellow-rookie Elliott, but they both certainly are earning their keep.
Wheel of Misfortune: Matt Kenseth - This was a typical Kenseth 2016 race: fast, leads lots of laps, something puts him mid-pack, then trouble. Kenseth has only two top 10s in 10 races (both finishes of
Jimmie Johnson Golden Horseshoe: Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray - Like we talked about before, they each wrecked twice (and Dillon hard against the front geometry of the chassis), yet scored their best finishes of the year. For as bad as the wrecks were Sunday and for how many cars were involved, a surprising amount continued and stayed on the lead lap.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: What's with the lack of conflict resolution in NASCAR these days? We heard Kyle Busch say that he and JGR teammate Carl Edwards had not talked since Edwards bumped Busch out of the lead to win last week's Richmond race. Reports indicate that the No. 19 team of Edwards tried to reach out to the No. 18 early last week, but Busch did not want to talk.
And then there's the simmering, long-lasting Matt Kenseth-Joey Logano feud. Kenseth's biggest gripe with Logano after their first confrontation last season was that Logano had not done anything to try and smooth it over. Result: Logano's championship run ended at the hands of Kenseth's front bumper. After Logano forced Kenseth below the yellow line in Sunday's race, Kenseth said words to him in passing (and on camera) at the infield care center. Logano just basically ignored him, instead of trying to resolve it.
Whether it's Busch or Logano, they need to think of the long-term effects of not trying to patch these things. For Busch, a rift with a teammate could affect the entire JGR organization. For Logano, it could put him into bad spots on the racetrack and derail his title hopes once again. These drivers travel together and race each other every week, so resolving feuds (and not just with text messages or over Twitter) is much more paramount than in other sports.
Georgia On My Mind: This Talladega race weekend was tumultuous, to say the least for the Georgia gang. Chase Elliott won the pole for the Cup race and ran with the leaders much of the day, finishing 5th and not wrecked. Elliott also led laps in Saturday's crazy Xfinity Series race and finished 9th.
David Ragan started last Sunday and an engine problem eliminated him early, in the 34th spot. Reed Sorenson did not race, as Michael Waltrip piloted the No. 55 Toyota. Sorenson should return to the team this week at Kansas Speedway.
Saturday's NXS race was scary for Conyers' Chris Cockrum - and he got help from Peachtree City's Garrett Smithley. Smithley pushed Cockrum too hard in a corner on lap 32 of 116, spinning Cockrum's No. 25 Advanced Communications Group/Remembering Captain Herb Chevy. He collected Joey Gase's No. 52 and slammed hard, head-first into a wall ending on the backstretch, sending the car into a violent tailspin. Cockrum tells me his leg and arm did get bruised in the wreck and that the throttle hung after the initial hit. But he is okay. Smithley survived to finish a stout 12th.
Brandon Jones led some laps but faded at the end and finished 19th. John Wes Townley lost a couple of laps with a problem at one point and finished 26th. Ryan Sieg got as high as the top 5, but couldn't hold it and ended the day 21st. Elliott Sadler won the race after Logano blocked him and triggered a big wreck. The yellow flag came out with Sadler as the leader, even though Brennan Poole barely beat Justin Allgaier back to the finish line.
Several Georgia drivers ran Friday evening's ARCA race that officials called early for darkness. Former Gresham Motorsports Park driver Gus Dean (not from Georgia) won the race ahead of Watkinsville 19-year-old Brady Boswell in 10th. Boswell actually had run the past two races in the No. 98 that Dean drove to victory. Cartersville's Mark Gibson was in the last wreck and placed 19th, along with Korbin Forrister in 22nd. Townley had a transmission problem and placed 29th, hurting him in the points standings.
And a nod goes to Lawrenceville's Casey Roderick, winner of Friday night's Southern Super Series super late model race at Five Flags Speedway. He has put together some big wins in the No. 7 Graham Motorsports super late model, since taking the reigns a couple of years ago. Senoia's Bubba Pollard sits 5th in the SSS points.
Next: The NXS takes a week off, while the Camping World Truck Series returns, along with the Sprint Cup Series at Kansas Speedway. The NCWTS runs Friday at 8:30 p.m. on FS1, MRN, and Sirius/XM 90. The NSCS races Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on all those same channels. Happy Mother's Day Sunday to all the mothers out there, including mine.