By Jeff Wolfe
Every race car driver dreams of winning, but not every driver dreams of how to win. That different kind of vision helped Brad Keselowski to Victory Lane Sunday in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron’s 499 at Talladega. As is often the case at Talladega, the winning pass is made on the last lap of the 2.66-mile superspeedway. Keselowski just made sure it wasn’t made by Kyle Busch in the last corner heading to the finish line in front of 108,500 fans.
“I had this whole plan, if I was leading, that I thought about, and thought about and dreamed to do it,” said Keselowski, who was one of the 17 leaders among 34 lead changes. “Going into Turn 3, it was just me and Kyle [Busch] and I knew the move I wanted to pull and it worked, fhe guy in second should have the advantage. I had this move all worked up in my mind. Now, everybody has seen and knows it, but I was glad I was able to get a win with it. I went into Turn 3 high and pulled down and off of Kyle and broke the tandem up which allowed me to drive untouched to the checkered flag. It wasn’t easy to convince myself to do it but it was the right move and I’m glad it worked.”
After an 11-car crash brought out the yellow flag with five laps to go, the race ended in NASCAR’s version of overtime, a green-white checkered-finish. Matt Kenseth was the leader and appeared to have the strongest car. His problem was it may have been a little too strong.
Kenseth, with help from Roush-Fenway teammate Greg Biffle, led on the first lap of the two-lap sprint to the finish. However, Kenseth, who won the season’s other restrictor plate race at Daytona to begin the year, unknowingly pulled away from Biffle by about four car lengths as the duo ran on the inside lane. Keselowski and Kyle Busch teamed up on the high side and found momentum and the lead in the final lap. Once Kenseth was separated from his all-important partner on the restrictor plate track, that left the race to either Keselowski or Kyle Busch.
“Greg got me a great push over in Turn 2 and by the time I realized we were separated, we were separated by four car lengths,” said Kenseth, who led the most laps at 73. “I knew if I slowed up, them two were going to pass me and if I stayed in gas, them two were going to pass me. I kind of waited for him (Biffle). It was just poor judgment on that last restart. I should have dragged the brake and made sure we stayed sealed up.”
While Kenseth, who finished third, was lamenting getting away from his helper, Keselowski knew that was the only chance he had.
“It was a race between him and I and somehow getting into 3 we got disconnected,” said Busch, who also finished second in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race. “Once that happened the race was over. It was all his. I’m not sure if he did anything. If he did he’s pretty smart. I just think our stuff came unplugged.”
Busch and Keselowski have had a contentious relationship over the last few years. But, as is often the case at restrictor plate tracks, conflicts from the past are forgotten if it means helping each other reach the front of the pack, especially on the last lap.
“Kyle did a great job and it was nice working with him,” said Keselowski, who gave Dodge its first win at Talladega since Dave Marcis won in 1976. “We’ve had an up and down history but it was great to work with him to get a 1-2 finish.”
Some other serious contenders were not around at the finish thanks to the fifth and final yellow flag of the day. On the restart with five laps remaining in regulation, A.J. Allmendinger and Denny Hamlin were in line on the outside lane. As the pack headed for the green flag, Hamlin saw an opening in the middle and appeared to go for it. Allmendinger then pulled down in front of Hamlin and clipped Hamlin’s right front fender, hitting Paul Menard, who was in the inside lane, in the side, starting the carnage. The other contenders taken out included Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Michael Waltrip.
“I tried to block but Denny was already there,” a frustrated Allmendinger said after the race.
Another frustrated driver was likely Kurt Busch. He was running second on the inside lane when Keselowski clipped his bumper, sending him sliding and into the infield wall on lap 182.
“At Talladega, patience is a bit of an oxymoron,” said Keselowski, who won his second race of the year. “Because you have to go hard here to win this race. I went hard a little bit early with Kurt. I’m going to say sorry to Kurt. It was a miscommunication on our part.”
Following Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Kenseth in the top-10 were Kasey Kahne, Biffle, Clint Bowyer, David Ragan, Trevor Bayne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton. However, there weren’t much more than ten unscathed cars running on the lead lap at the finish, so there were no problems on the final restart.
“Yeah, you know I figured the last one would be more calm than any of them because pretty much everybody was crashed out already,” said Bayne, who has two top-10 finishes in just four races this year. “There were like 15 cars. I looked in my mirror and saw like five behind me and I was ninth or tenth. I was hoping we could push Junior up there because if we won, or he won because we pushed him it would be a good day for us. I think it was a good run for us and we ended up with a top-10 so that is good.”
It could be another crazy night Saturday when the Sprint Cup Series returns to Darlington, also known as The Lady in Black, for the Bojangles Southern 500. Pre-race coverage is scheduled to start at 6:30pm, while actual race coverage will start at 7:00pm on FOX.