TALLADEGA, Ala. – On the Longest Day at Talladega — in a war of attrition that required three red flags and left 14 cars running at the finish — Brad Keselowski powered his No. 2 Team Penske Ford past the No. 31 Chevrolet of Ryan Newman on the final lap to win Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Two laps after the final restart on Lap 186 of 188, Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano ganged up on Newman, who held the runner-up position after Keselowski shot past him. Trevor Bayne ran third in a damaged No. 6 Ford, with Logano and Aric Almirola finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.
Denny Hamlin came home sixth, the only playoff driver other than Keselowski whose car wasn’t heavily damaged in one of the myriad wrecks that punctuated an event that consumed 3 hours, 53 minutes, 17 seconds—not including the three stoppages that totaled 35 minutes, 29 seconds.
But in winning for the fifth time at Talladega, the third time this season and the 24th time in his career, Keselowski claimed the important prize — a ticket into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ Round of 8.
In his final run at Talladega in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, pole winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. restarted third after the 11th and final caution, tried unsuccessfully to push Keselowski to the lead through the first two corners and fell back to seventh at the finish.
“I feel like only eight cars finished the race,” said Keselowski, who gave Ford its seventh straight victory in restrictor-plate races, despite running much of the final stage with a broken radio antenna and intermittent communication with his spotter and crew chief. “It was one of those crazy days. I think we’ve seen that at the plate tracks this year — a lot of attrition. …
“This is still sinking in. It’s a special place to get to race and a special place when you win here. It was really a collaborative effort with the team and getting a real fast car and making the right moves as a driver and a lot of help from up above with staying out of those wrecks. It really takes all three and we had them all today.”
Though Newman surged to the front after the final restart, he assumed his stint at the point would be short-lived.
“We held them off longer than I expected,” Newman said. “I couldn’t tell how much nose damage I had and I hadn’t led all day, so I didn’t know what to expect. I saw the No. 2 car in the mirror backing up and then he lost his draft and then he backed up again and he caught the No. 22 (Logano). That was all it took for him to get a good run.
“I would have maybe played it differently and backed it up in hindsight, backed up to them in hindsight, but I don’t think it would have made a difference. They were double-teaming me, and it was still a good race to finish second with the Caterpillar Chevrolet.”
Any of the 10 playoff contenders whose cars were heavily damaged in wrecks throughout the race would have gladly settled for second. Jamie McMurray was out of the race after 25 laps, his car destroyed in a six-car collision off Turn 4. That was a harbinger of the intense action to come. Playoff drivers Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick all suffered varying degrees of damage in a 16-car accident triggered by series leader Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 172.
“Well, I tried to get into a hole that was closing up at the wrong time,” said Truex, who already had earned a berth in the Round of 8 by winning last Sunday at Charlotte. “By the time that I got in the brakes trying to get out of there I got into the 38 (David Ragan) a little bit on the right rear and he got squirrely out there and all hell broke loose. Just was trying to get to the end and get some track position and try to get towards the front and have a good day and ended up causing a wreck.
“So I hate it for everybody. We definitively had nothing to lose today, but at the same time, you don’t want to be the person that causes others problems. Even though I feel like I’ve never been that guy here before, it looks like today I was, so I hate it for all of those guys and all of their teams. I wish I didn’t make that mistake. Just 18 (laps) to go at Talladega, trying to get going and trying to fill a hole. Bad judgment and should have been more patient.”
That wreck caused the first red flag. The second came after a Lap 178 accident that ended Harvick’s day and that of playoff contender Ryan Blaney, who had led 27 laps, second only to Logano’s 59.
The final caution on Lap 183 — followed by the third red flag — wiped out the Chevrolets of Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson, who were fighting for position at the front of the field when contact from Daniel Suarez’s Toyota ignited a six-car melee that raised the crash toll of Playoff drivers to 10.
The enormous attrition set up a scramble for the final six Playoff positions entering next Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway. Kyle Busch, Kenseth, Stenhouse and McMurray are below the current cut line, but only 29 points separate Harvick in fourth place from Busch in ninth.