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.
Bobby Labonte has done just about everything there is to do in NASCAR. Sprint Cup Series champion. XFINITY Series champion. He’s won at a variety of the larger races, such as the Brickyard 400, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500. There is really nothing left for him to prove, or is there?
As Labonte takes part in his 25th year in the Cup Series, he is doing so for the second consecutive season with Go FAS Racing in a limited role. Just like last year he is strictly running the four restrictor plate races, where his best finish last season was 23rd at Talladega in October.
Go FAS Racing is in a transition period. Jeffrey Earnhardt will be piloting the No. 32 Ford for the majority of the races that Labonte is not behind the wheel. Last season the 26-year-old made his Sprint Cup debut at Richmond finishing 40th.
Labonte is serving the role as mentor to Earnhardt, something that he has done a lot of to younger drivers in recent years.
“He has to have a desire to do it first of all,” Labonte, the 2000 Cup Series champion, told Speedway Digest at Daytona. “I can’t drive anything for him. I can’t tell him how to drive the car. He can lean on me if he has those questions that anybody would have if they are starting their first year.”
Stability and seniority might be what the young team needs. After being formed by long-time crew chief Frank Stoddard, Archie St. Hilaire purchased a minority interest in the team in 2014 to form Go FAS Racing, the team that it is today. However, he is now the majority owner.
Since the 2014 Daytona 500, the team has had 14 different drivers in the No. 32 car. While 2014 was the most successful season for the organization, competing in all 36 events and finishing the season with an average finish of 33.1, 2015 left the organization scratching its head. It qualified for 30 races last year, with Mike Bliss and Josh Wise piloting the car for nearly half the season.
During the off-season, Can-Am hopped on board to fulfill the majority of the season while Earnhardt is in the car, along with sponsoring Labonte in the Great American Race.
“It’s important,” Labonte said of what his seniority means to the team. “It’s something as they want to grow and if they want to grow, there are things that I can probably do and there are things that they have to obviously do, too. If I can speak the right words and hopefully give them the right few items here and there I think it would be great.”
Though the 52-year-old Labonte doesn’t miss racing every week due to the long grind that is the NASCAR season, he wants to see the team he races for part-time succeed without him in the car. His main focus while being a part of this young team is to help them elevate the performance.
Labonte has been through a ton in the latter part of his career, which could be one of the main reasons why he doesn’t want to call it quits just yet.
While he isn’t at the racetrack on a weekly basis, he can be seen as a part-time analyst for NBC. This is something he did a handful of times last year and expects to early on in 2016.
The 2000 Cup Series champion also participated in the season-opening XFINITY Series race at Daytona for Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 18 ride. The main reasoning for competing in that race was to help the organization kickoff its 25-year anniversary campaign.
“Obviously there was a lot of things, but Kyle getting hurt last year, not wanting to do it this year, NOS coming on board, [the] 25th anniversary [for Joe Gibbs Racing],” Labonte said.
Labonte also admitted that the two sides are talking about the possibility of pairing up for one more event later in the season.
The only thing that is missing from Labonte’s repertoire is a Camping World Truck Series championship. He is one of four drivers to win a Sprint Cup and XFINITY title. As he gets older, he realizes the magnitude that would have on his career.
“I think that would be fun, it would be really good,” Labonte said. “The opportunity is not really there, so we’ll see what happens. That would be great. I think that would be something I would like to do.”
As elite drivers get older, they often just ride into the sunset and don’t race back down the rankings in which they were brought up. Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Mark Martin and after this year, Tony Stewart would have all retired racing in the top series.
Labonte, on the other hand, is doing a mixture. He is looking for opportunities. The deal with JGR was brought up and he jumped on it, knowing that he would be in a competitive ride. The race didn’t go as planned after getting caught up in an early crash, but he did qualify third and was quick in practice all week long.
He still has the drive to get it done, it’s just an opportunity hasn’t arose that is appealing.
If Labonte were to ever compete in a full season and win a Truck Series championship, more than likely, he would be an automatic Hall of Famer, something that his brother, Terry Labonte is.
The elder of the Labonte brothers was inducted into the most recent Hall of Fame class, with his brother by his side. If ever inducted, the Labonte’s would become the first brothers in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“I think it’s great that we were able to do that,” Labonte said. “It’s a dream come true to be able to do something with your brother and be so successful at it.”
Even if Labonte were to never compete in another NASCAR sanctioned event, his numbers are appealing. 21 Cup victories, 115 top fives and 203 top-10 finishes in 726 career starts.
What a whirlwind career the Texan has had.
Kevin Harvick is quite happy once again. The 25-time winner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series shattered Ryan Newman’s track record at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway by setting a time of 47.647 seconds to win his 10th career pole.
By setting the quickest time, Harvick has broken the 14th track record this year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in what will be the 20th event of the season. This will be the second time in 14 starts at the yard of bricks in which the California-native will lead the field to the green flag. In 2003, he won the pole for the Brickyard 400, and also won the race after pacing the field for 33 laps.
“After the first lap I was probably more nervous than I have been in a while for qualifying. I wasn’t really expecting to have the car run that fast. From there they are all looking at you ‘alright if you screw this up it’s on you buddy’. It’s great to have fast cars they do a great job preparing the cars and just being able to come to the race track and know the cars are going to be fast takes a huge burden off of everybody’s shoulders just to get the balance right," Harvick said.
Jeff Gordon, the inaugural winner of the Brickyard 400 in 1994, will start in the runner-up position after coming up .178 seconds off of Harvick’s time in the final round of qualifying. Gordon was the second quickest car in each of the three rounds behind the No. 4 Chevrolet, and will start on the front row for the fourth time in 20 starts at Indianapolis. Along with Gordon, Bobby Labonte will be the only other driver to have raced in each of the 20 races at Indianapolis.
"To have that off of a day and be back this close, I got a little bit tight off to Turn 4 or we would have been a little bit closer to Kevin, but I’m still really proud of this effort. Qualifying second, qualifying is so huge here. To be on that front row and 20 years after that first Brickyard 400 I get excited about that," Gordon said.
Last year’s winner of the Brickyard 400, Ryan Newman, will start this year’s edition of the race from the fourth position. Juan Pablo Montoya makes his return to Indianapolis after racing at Michigan earlier in the season for Team Penske. After struggling with the handling of his No. 12 Ford during the first practice session of the weekend, Montoya will start from the eighth position.
Missing the race were Brett Moffitt, David Stremme and Matt Crafton. Labonte made the race on having the past champion’s provisional, albeit the No. 37 Chevrolet owned by Tommy Baldwin had no previous attempts entering this weekend’s event. Crafton was attempting to start his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race after winning the 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title. Moffitt was attempting to make his third career start in NASCAR’s top-tier division after signing a contract with Michael Waltrip Racing.
His career has been spectacular. It’s highlighted with 21 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins, and a pair of NASCAR championships in each of the sport’s top-two divisions.
After ending his consecutive starts streak last season that last since 1993, Bobby Labonte’s career is slowly winding down. Last year, Labonte ended his stint with JTG Daugherty Racing. Since then, he has raced just twice this season – both events being restrictor plate races at Daytona. However, the 50-year-old is not calling it quits just yet.
Tommy Baldwin Racing gave Labonte a call – asking for him to drive a third car for them at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in this weekend’s event. TBR usually races two Chevrolet’s on a weekly basis with Michael Annett and Reed Sorenson behind the wheel. But this weekend will be different as they will have a veteran behind the wheel.
“The big thing for Tommy (Baldwin) is - he's wanting to start a third team. Anytime you start a team or you want to accelerate your program, as you're moving forward, hopefully moving up, you put people in positions that they might not have been in before,” Labonte said on a NASCAR teleconference Wednesday afternoon. “It's just building his operation up. Anyway, I'm trying to help him out, get to that point. Hopefully he can get to that point one day with a third team like he wants to get to. If it works out for him, I wish him all the luck.”
As he will be helping Baldwin, Labonte will also be getting to experience the yard of bricks for possibly the final team in his career. Along with four-time champion, Jeff Gordon, Labonte is the only other driver to race in every single race at the Brickyard.
In order for Labonte’s No. 37 Accell Construction car to race on Sunday, he will need to qualify inside of the top-36 as the car has no previous attempts this season. There is no word on who the team is looking at to fill the seat for the third car next year, but Labonte might just get a call from Baldwin again this year – putting him in the seat a few more times.
Previously, Circle Sport Racing team owner, Joe Falk, stated that he was open to putting Labonte back into the seat of the No. 33 Chevrolet several more times this year if sponsorship is found.