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.
Chase Elliott Wins another Restrictor-Plate Pole
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.
High Speeds at Talladega in Practice Sessions
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.
For the second consecutive week Carl Edwards will lead the Sprint Cup Series to the green flag after winning the pole at Bristol Motor Speedway. On Friday afternoon, the No. 19 car posted a lap of 127.997 mph. that earned the Joe Gibbs Racing team the first starting position.
“This place is really complicated,” Edwards said. “My guys did a really good job making the car drive well on all different segments. You drive into the corner and these things just take off and slide. Dave [Rogers, crew chief] and everybody did a really great job. It’s really cool to get this pole.”
Edwards has three career wins at the world’s fastest half-mile, the most recent coming in this race two years ago.
Alongside Edwards is his teammate at JGR, Matt Kenseth. The No. 20 Toyota laid down a lap at 127.419 mph. which was .068 seconds off the pole winning time.
Kenseth won both the pole and the 500-lap event last spring, ending a 51-race winless streak. In all three rounds the No. 20 car was among the top five on speeds, which gives him confidence heading into Sunday.
“We were just a little off,” Kenseth said. “The first round we were pretty good. The second round we tried to make it better and got it a little too tight and in the third round we were just too loose. Overall, it was a great day and we’ll get a great pit spot to start.”
Breaking up the JGR parade in the top five was two-time Bristol winner Joey Logano. The No. 22 Ford was quickest in the first round, second in round two and finished third in the final round.
Denny Hamlin will begin Sunday’s event from fourth, after posting the quickest time in opening practice on Friday morning. Just behind him on the starting grid is the fourth JGR driver Kyle Busch.
The Toyota organization dominated Friday at Bristol, at a track where the four JGR drivers have a combined 13 victories.
Jamie McMurray was the first driver not to advance to the final round of qualifying and will start 13th on Sunday after having a top five speed in practice. Ryan Blaney is the highest starting rookie in 18th, with fellow Rookie of the Year competitor Chase Elliott just behind in 19th.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will start 20th on Sunday following a tight condition where the left front dragged through the center of the corner. The No. 88 Chevrolet was seventh in the opening practice session Friday Morning.
In the first round Ty Dillon hit the apron of the track coming off of Turn 2, spinning down the backstretch, sliding into the right rear of Landon Cassill’s No. 38 machine.
Cassill had already posted a lap and will lineup 28th on Sunday as opposed to Dillon’s 34th quickest lap. The contact left the No. 14 car with heavy right side damage just behind the front fender. NASCAR allowed the team to change four tires after flat spotting the original tires on the Chevrolet.
Every team made the event as there were 40 cars for 40 positions. The Food City 500 is slated to begin shortly after 1:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
Denny Hamlin Quickest in Opening Practice at Bristol
With just under 10 minutes remaining in Sprint Cup Series opening practice at Bristol, Denny Hamlin laid down a lap at 128.666 mph, shooting him to the top of the speed chart.
At a track that is a half-mile in length, Hamlin’s time lap time was 14.913 seconds. The top four all posted laps under 15 seconds as practice dwindled to a close.
In the last five races at Bristol, the No. 11 car has sat on the pole three times, including the night race last August, the last time NASCAR visited the world’s fastest half-mile.
After dominating last week in Texas, Martin Truex, Jr. was second fasest on the leader board at 128.399 mph, .031 seconds behind Hamlin.
Two-time Bristol winner, Brad Keselowski was third on the chart at 128.374. Jimmie Johnson posted a lap at 128.176 mph. and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top five at 127.767 mph.
With qualifying being so important at Bristol, the first 17 cars were within two-tenths of a second of the top time. Notable drivers under that mark was August winner Joey Logano in 19th and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. who has two career top five finishes at this track in 26th.
Casey Mears was the fastest of the drivers who made a 10 lap run as well as running 43 laps, the most of all drivers in the hour-and-a-half session.
Qualifying will get underway at 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon. Matt Kenseth is the defending pole-sitter and winner of the spring race in Bristol.