In a day that was filled with hard racing, big crashes and barrel rolls, Brad Keselowski came out victorious in Talladega.
Arguably, Keselowski had the strongest racecar on Sunday leading a race-high 46 laps. After a mid-race pit stop that forced his hand and go toward the rear of the top 10 the last 20 laps, the No. 2 car established itself as the one to beat.
“This Fusion was hauling,” Keselowski said. “That’s one of the tickets of staying out of the wrecks at Talladega is if you can stay up front, you have a great shot of not getting in a wreck. Daytona didn’t go the way we wanted it to go. We just didn’t have the speed, but the guys went to work and brought me a really strong car here for Talladega.”
This is Keselowski’s fourth-career win at NASCAR’s biggest track, the most he has at any one track.
After leading 12 laps early on, Kyle Busch came home second. He was getting a huge shove coming to the white flag, but Keselowski blocked, settling the No. 18 car for the runner-up position.
Austin Dillon posted a career best third-place finish after making 15 pit stops throughout the day. Just passed halfway, David Gilliland got into the rear of the No. 3 machine turning him into the outside causing the first big crash of the day that saw rookie Chris Buescher flip multiple times.
“What we’ve really been focused on going forward is trying not to panic,” Dillon said of his day. “They fixed the car and what a run to the finish. Our car probably wasn’t good enough to really win the race, but it was good enough for the No. 1 to push me all the way through [Turns] 3 and 4.”
Jamie McMurray notched his best finish of 2016 with a fourth-place result. The former winner at Talladega never led, but pushed several cars to the lead throughout the 500 miles.
Pole-sitter Chase Elliott led 27 laps and notched his third top-five finish of the young season. After leading much of the opening stint of the event, the No. 24 car fell back throughout the day, but came on strong in the final three laps.
“You can’t have a good day unless you finish,” Elliott said. “I think it was just focusing in on that and obviously it got really wild and for us we tried to keep that in mind to try and make it to the end.”
Tony Stewart was credited with a sixth-place finish, though Ty Dillon drove the No. 14 Chevrolet to the checkered flag. After the first caution on Lap 50, the XFINITY Series regular replaced the three-time Cup Series champion behind the wheel.
The Cup veteran admitted that “it sucked” having to get out of the racecar, but it was part of the deal to get him back in the car last weekend in Richmond.
Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill, Michael Waltrip, Cole Whitt, Bobby Labonte and the aforementioned Gilliland all posted season best finishes on Sunday.
The biggest incident of the afternoon came with 28 laps to go when Kurt Busch got into the rear of Jimmie Johnson spinning him into the wall, causing a 17 car crash. Daytona 500 winner, Denny Hamlin was one of the drivers involved in the accident.
With eight laps to go Michael McDowell, spun Danica Patrick, clipping the side of Matt Kenseth’s machine and causing him to flip into the inside fence. The No. 20 car was one of the strongest racecars throughout the day leading 39 laps, finishing a disappointing 23rd.
Coming to the checkered flag was the last crash that saw 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick get airborne, hitting the outside retaining wall. Eight cars came across the checkered flag with damage due to this incident.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne all finished toward the rear with each driver had multiple problems at the 2.66-mile track.
In all, 33 out of the 40 cars received some kind of damage throughout the wildest race of the season to date.
The Cup Series will head to the Midwest for some night racing next Saturday in Kansas, with Johnson the defending winner. It was the controversy in the fall that led to the Kenseth and Joey Logano drama that saw its latest chapter on Sunday when the No. 22 car forced the No. 20 Toyota below the yellow line.
After the event had concluded Kenseth pointed his finger out of displeasure at Logano, where the 25-year-old shrugged his shoulders and chuckled.