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.
In the same car that he raced, and crashed in the Daytona 500, Chase Elliott posted a lap of 192.661 mph and will lead the field to the green flag on Sunday at Talladega.
This is Elliott’s second career pole in the Cup Series, the other one coming in the season-opening race in Daytona. It also marks the first time that the No. 24 car will start from the lead spot at Talladega other than Jeff Gordon, and going back to last season the team has sat on five restrictor-plate poles in the last six plate events.
“This is a team effort,” Elliott said post-qualifying. “Like I said in Daytona this has nothing to do with me, it’s the car that we had. It’s the same car that we had in Daytona and brought another fast one here.”
30 years ago to the day Elliott’s father, Bill Elliott won the pole at Talladega, one of his better tracks, including the one where he laid down the fastest lap in NASCAR at over 212.000 mph.
After having the quickest first round lap, Austin Dillon came up just short and will start alongside Elliott on the front row at 192.424 mph.
“We sat around for a while, Chase was later he may have had some more heat in the car,” Dillon said on why he slowed down from round one. “I’m just proud of these guys. We barely got into the top 12 at Daytona and last year we were 24th.”
Six-time Talladega winner, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. recorded the third fastest time at 192.293 mph. Much like his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, the No. 88 team had to repair Amelia, his favorite racecar on a plate track after crashing in Daytona.
Matt Kenseth posted the fourth fastest lap at 192.181 mph after sitting on the front row of the first plate race this season. Jimmie Johnson was fifth at 192.116 mph, marking the third Hendrick Motorsports car in the top-five starting positions.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. just missed out on the top five and will begin from sixth, his best career starting position at Talladega. Daytona 500 winner, Denny Hamlin was eighth quick and the guy he edged out for that victory, Martin Truex, Jr. was 12th on the speed chart
Ty Dillon qualified Tony Stewart’s racecar 14th for Sunday’s 500-mile event. The three-time Cup champion will begin the race and compete until the first caution, where the XFINITY Series regular will take over.
Two of the other Stewart-Haas Racing cars had disappointing qualifying runs, with 2014 Cup champion Kevin Harvick in 29th and Danica Patrick 37th. The No. 10 machine was fourth in each of Friday’s practice sessions.
Fall winner at Talladega, Joey Logano will begin from 22nd. He was quickest in final practice with Jamie McMurray fastest in the opening practice. The No. 1 car will start 30th.
Josh Wise is the only competitor that failed to make the event.
Practice hardly matters at Talladega unless a team crashes due to the unpredictability of the event. Fortunately, there were no incidents in either of the two sessions on Friday.
In opening practice, Jamie McMurray paced the field at 199.737 mph. The No. 1 Chevrolet was on track for 16 laps, most of them coming in the draft, where he set his quick time.
Daytona 500 pole-sitter, Chase Elliott slated the No. 24 just behind McMurray at 199.729 mph. Kurt Busch, at 199.409 mph was third, with Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Danica Patrick in fourth at 199.384 mph and Trevor Bayne rounded out the top five at 199.317 mph.
30 teams posted a 10 consecutive lap run and Kyle Larson topped that list at 195.541 mph. On single lap speeds the No. 42 car was ninth overall.
Teams such as the Wood Brothers, Front Row Motorsports, Premium Motorsports and The Motorsports Group were all racing the weather with drivers Ryan Blaney, David Gilliland, Cole Whitt, Michael Waltrip and Josh Wise.
With the new charter system, none of those five drivers have a guaranteed spot in the main event on Sunday. Prior to the 2016 season, 36 teams were granted a charter giving them a position in each of the races this season and with qualifying being questionable for Saturday, each team needed to lay down a quick lap.
The slowest was Wise in 35th at 194.551 mph and if qualifying were to get cancelled he would miss the show.
The fall winner at Talladega, Joey Logano led final practice at 196.290 mph. Slated just behind him was Blaney at 196.239 mph.
Both Elliott and Patrick were in the top five in each session as the No. 24 car had a lap at 196.185 mph and the No. 10 machine was fourth at 195.094. Brian Scott completed the top five at 195.003.
Patrick also held the point on best 10 lap averages, though only a handful of drivers made a run of at least 10 laps. Three of the other four drivers were from the Hendrick Motorsports stable, with Jimmie Johnson as the odd man out.
Tony Stewart climbed into the No. 14 Chevrolet with roughly 15 minutes remaining to make his first laps of the day. The team worked on swapping Ty Dillon and he out of the car as the three-time Cup champion will only participate in the race until the first caution due to his lingering back injury.
Qualifying is set to begin on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. There will be a new pole-sitter from last year as Jeff Gordon won the pole for Sunday.
Tony Stewart has caused a raucous in the NASCAR world this weekend heading into Richmond. Stewart, who is in his final season as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, suffered a L1 vertebrae injury back in January made news two times on Thursday.
First, around 11 am Eastern, Tony Stewart announced that he would return back to competition this weekend at Richmond International Raceway. Stewart will have only missed eight races in a quicker-than-expected comeback. Although he will return to the track this weekend, at Talladega Superspeedway, Stewart will practice, qualify, and start his Chevrolet in the Geico 500, where Ty Dillon will take the reins. Stewart went to Twitter to make the announcement stating, “Well, the long wait is over. I’ll be back in my Mobil 1 Chevy this weekend at Richmond. I can’t wait to race again. The Dr’s said my scans ‘looked much better than they thought they would after 3 months.’ So they cleared me. Thanks for everyone’s support & well wishes.”
About an hour after the announcement, NASCAR announced that Stewart would be granted a waiver to compete in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. "NASCAR received the appropriate medical clearance documentation allowing Tony Stewart to resume normal racing activities. We also have granted the request from Stewart-Haas Racing for a waiver for Tony to be eligible to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. As he begins his final season, we wish Tony the best of luck,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer.
Nearly a few hours later of the announce of Tony’s return, NASCAR placed an absurd $35,000 fine for his comments earlier in the week about lug nuts. Tony expressed safety and concern for the tactics teams are taking with their tires on pit stops. Stewart denounced NASCAR for leaving their mandatory five lug nut rule from years past. In an event with Mobil1 on Wednesday this week, Stewart stated “You see the problem getting worse. Well if you see a problem getting worse like that, where’s the bottom of that trend going to happen? It’s going to happen when somebody gets hurt, and that’s going to be one of the largest black eyes I can see NASCAR getting when they’ve worked so hard and done such a good job to make it safe. In this one particular area, they are totally dropping the ball on and I feel like really made a grossly bad decision on.”
Late Thursday Evening, the NASCAR Driver’s Council released a statement about the Stewart penalty. The statement from the council was released by councilmember Denny Hamlin. The statement announced that the nine members of the council were going to equally pay for the fine. In a statement to NBC Sports, the Driver’s Council stated, “We as drivers believe Tony has the right to speak his opinion on topics that pertain to a sport that he has spent nearly two decades helping build as both a driver and an owner. While we do not condone drivers lashing out freely at NASCAR, we do feel Tony was in his rights to state his opinion. We as a Council support him and do not agree with the fine. Therefore, we fellow council members have agreed to contribute equally to paying his fine."
Today at Richmond International Raceway, drivers were supportive of Tony and his comments. Many drivers continue to question where the line is of making comments to not make NASCAR mad.
After activities at Richmond, NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Competition, Scott Miller, spoke to the media about where NASCAR stands. It was announced that NASCAR is reevaluating the policy for lug nuts because of the driver’s concern. Miller was adamant that there are rules in place to penalize teams for loose wheels if the lug nuts are not tightened correctly. “Technology is the way to see us home on the matter,” said Scott Miller.
This has been a crazy 72-hour news cycle. Here are my thoughts:
First, I am glad to see that Tony Stewart is returning to the track. NASCAR is better when Tony Stewart is around. Hopefully, this return will bring a boost to attendance and TV ratings, which have been at an all-time low, but have beat other sports. I wish Tony the best in his final season.
Second, Tony Stewart does know how to keep people on their toes. This is the second time in 2016 that fans have been blindsided from announcements from Stewart-Haas Racing. The first happening earlier in the season when it was announced that SHR would transfer manufacturers from Ford to Chevrolet. The announcement of his return was also a shocker because at the day before, Stewart was adamant that he did not know when he was going to return.
Third, NASCAR needs to get thicker skin. Why would you fine a driver who has legitimate concerns about safety more than someone who stated that you “fix” races? Why is one penalty more than the other? The concerns from Stewart about safety are valid. Why did you not fine the sports most popular driver, Dale Jr., when he basically made the same comments as Stewart? NASCAR wants the drivers to be open about their concerns, but this penalty basically gives the mentality that “If it is something that NASCAR does not like, then they will penalize.” NASCAR has taken away the personality of the drivers. To me, the penalty shows that NASCAR is not taking the concerns very seriously. NASCAR should rescind the penalty handed down to Stewart after today’s statement from Steve Miller.
Lastly, I applaud the Driver’s Council for taking a stand against the rule of NASCAR. I was amazed to hear that the members agreed to equally pay this penalty for Stewart. My hope is that this council will continue to take a stand on important issues facing NASCAR.
Tony Stewart formally addressed the media Friday at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the first time since his accident on January 31. Stewart suffered a L1 vertebrae burst fracture in the deserts of California. He remembers going over a sand dune, not realizing he was in the air, and when he hit the sand, he knew he broke something. “It’s the cards we were dealt. It was a weird accident that nobody ever thought would happen.”
Much to the demise of his doctors, Stewart was at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and will be at the races of the “West Coast Swing”. “I can’t lay in bed any longer. It’s about to kill me. We did everything short of bubble wrapping me to get me on the plane to ride out here,” said Stewart.
Stewart hopes to receive the medical waiver from NASCAR.
Although Stewart is out for his last season, Stewart opened up for questions about his final season. To much surprise, he is still adamant that this will be his last season as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Driver. At the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour, Stewart stated, “"We're done. When Homestead happens, no matter how the year went, we're done. If it's a terrible year, I'm not going to sit there and say that defined my year because the stats will show what we did over 18 years. No matter how the season goes, I'm going to be able to say I had a successful run in the Sprint Cup Series." Stewart is still adamant that he will not change his plans.
Stewart missed the Daytona 500, a race in which he never won. When asked if he would consider running a couple one-off races in the Sprint Cup Series, Stewart mentioned, "No, I'm not even 1 percent considering it," he said. "There's races that I want to run. I honestly am trying to figure out how I could run the Truck race at Eldora. … I'd love to run the Truck race there. I'd love to run some Mod Tour races at Loudon when we're up there. There's one-off races like that, but there are not going to be one-off races in the Cup Series."
No matter how the 2016 Sprint Cup Series season will go for Stewart, he remains unwavering in his decision of retirement. "If we went out there and won 15 races and won the championship, it would not make me say, 'Man, I want to come back next year,' " Stewart said. "When Homestead happens, no matter how the year went, we're done."
Ty Dillon will drive the No. 14 car when Bass Pro Shops is the primary sponsor, and Brian Vickers will drive the remaining races until Stewart is able to return to competition.