Who’s in the headline – Brad Keselowski won his first Cup race at Talladega in 2009. While he isn’t mentioned in the same breaths with Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt or Tony Stewart when plate racing prowess is discussed, the bottom line is he won his fourth plate race at Talladega on Sunday. Even though the race broadcast was more focused on the Joe Gibbs Racing team and Hendrick Motorsports cars, the fact was Keselowski had the strongest car on the track and he easily handled what racing did take place on Sunday.
What happened – You’ve heard the old joke about going to a baseball game and a hockey game broke out when there is a donnybrook during a game. Well Sunday fans went to a restrictor plate race and a demo derby broke out. 17 drivers exchanged the lead 37 times. Only three drivers led double digit laps in a single stint (Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Keselowski).
Keselowski was the only one to do it in the last 100 laps of the race and it was the final 17 laps of the race. 10 caution flags flew for 41 laps after four ‘Big Ones’ and four other incidents. 35 out of the 40 cars to start the race were involved in yellow flag incidents. Kyle Busch chased Keselowski to the line and finished ahead of Austin Dillon.
Why you should care – The restrictor plate package has not changed since 2013. After Daytona, it seemed like it should be changed. This is an even greater reason for it to be altered. While Daytona in July will see a new radiator package, it seems that it is time for an aerodynamic adjustment.
The cars are simply too equal because the teams have figured out all of the major tricks that can be applied. Improvements now are in thousandths of a second. That doesn’t separate the cars and it keeps the pack tightly together. When cars are stacked that close at 200 mph, the slightest slip can have devastating consequences and we saw it four times on Sunday. Charter system or not, destroying $3.5 million worth of cars is not what this sport is about.
What your friends are talking about – Tony Stewart was fined $35,000 by NASCAR for making disparaging remarks about NASCAR concerning their lug nut enforcement. The Driver’s Council cobbled together enough money to pay the fine but Stewart refused to let them pay it for him. Instead they donated the money to Arnie Kempner’s Autism Delware charity. Stewart did not initially understand why he was fined, but later in the week, he had the pleasure of speaking with Brian France and the logic behind the fine was clarified.
After the Stewart fine controversy, NASCAR chose to reinstate the five lug nut rule that had been rescinded for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Most teams on pit lane resorted to only gluing four lug nuts onto tires, and late in the race, only tightening three. The number of loose wheels reported in 2016 increased significantly over previous years.
At the same time, several teams, primarily the JGR teams, were consistently beating the other teams in the series off of pit road. Stewart and some other drivers began beating the drum that the loose wheels were a danger and they could lead to wheels flying off of cars. While a tire had not come off of a car in the Cup Series since 2004, the fact that race teams used safety as a reason to try and hinder teams that have mastered an advantage with the rules is pathetic.
Dover International Speedway is reducing the number of pit stalls from 43 to 40 on pit road. The resulting space on pit lane will mean an extra two feet in each of the 40 stalls on what is one of the more crowded pit roads in the sport.
Most fans remember the tire debacle at Indianapolis in 2008. The primary reason for that fiasco was the introduction of the Car of Tomorrow into full-time use in the series and a lack of tire testing at the famous speedway. The new low aerodynamic package this year is going to put new and different stresses on the tires than previous years. In an effort to avoid another fiasco, Goodyear held a two-day tire test at the most famous race track in the world. Hopefully, the tire that the Goodyear engineers select will be durable enough to withstand the loads that NASCAR stock cars apply to them over full fuel runs at IMS. The test was also Stewart’s last test with Goodyear in his career.
Matt DiBenedetto had a career best run at Bristol two weekend’s ago. The finish has generated quite a bit of buzz around the young driver’s career. As a result, several people are trying to start a movement to have DiBenedetto voted into the All-Star race. We’ve seen this in the past with Josh Wise, Danica Patrick, Kenny Wallace, and Ken Schrader. Should the momentum build and DiBenedetto be the next fan favorite it will be an amazing story of a driver who has done quite a bit with very little in his Cup career.
While it didn’t play out, the potential for a Chase controversy to end all controversies could have played out Sunday. With Stewart taking the green flag Sunday, he was destined to get the points that the No. 14 earned. If by chance Ty Dillon had been the first car to the checkered flag, Stewart would have been credited with the win. Provided 17 drivers didn’t win races before Richmond and Stewart could make it into the top 30 in points, he would have made the Chase.
For the people who lost their minds about Kyle Busch making the Chase and winning the title last year by winning four races and earning his way in, they’d have had full-on aneurysms about Stewart getting in because someone else won a race in his car. Luckily, Dillon only managed a sixth place so it didn’t quite play out.
Who is mad – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. liked to brag about his favorite plate car Amelia. He ran her at Daytona and wadded her up. His team fixed her and felt like she was better than ever heading into Talladega. For the second plate race in a row, his car was too loose and he wrecked on his own. His team patched up the car and he came back out to drive around and try and gain two or three points. Unfortunately Carl Edwards did the same thing and had a failure. When Edwards car shot up the track, he totaled Earnhardt’s car and Amelia is most likely headed to the car graveyard in his backyard.
Kenseth continues to have a season to forget. Looking like one of the two or three cars that could contend with Keselowski for the win on Sunday, Kenseth led the second most laps in the race. Unfortunately, he got into a pissing match with Joey Logano as the laps were winding down and ended up back in the pack. With six laps to go, he made contact with Danica Patrick on the back straightaway, and ended up on his lid, sliding down the backstretch wall. The end result was his second DNF of the season and his fifth finish of 19th or worse. Once again, he was a strong contender but the racing gods are just not smiling on Kenseth this season.
Casey Mears has shown in the past that he is a solid plate racer. He has more top 10 finishes at Talladega and Daytona than any other tracks on the schedule. He appeared to be capable of contending for a top 10 or even top 5 on Sunday before Michael Waltrip went for an unintended cruise through the infield and back up onto the track on Lap 59. The damage to his car ruined his day and resulted in an extended stay behind the wall to reattach his rear deck lid. In the end, he finished 22 laps down in the 33rd position.
Who is happy – Dillon was caught up in four incidents on Sunday. His team made 17 pit stops and ran out of tires before the end of the race. When the checkered flag flew he was in third position and was making a run toward the front when the final flag of the race went in the air. Dillon’s third top 5 of the season in 10 races this year is more than he had in his previous 85 starts.
Trevor Bayne is believed to be a one trick pony by many race fans since he’s won a single Cup race. Fortunately for him it was the Daytona 500 during the tandem racing days. Sunday was the second top 10 of the season, which matches his best total of his career for a year and the season is only 10 races old. Bayne’s two top 10s in the last three races is most certainly a momentum shift in the right direction for himself and Roush Fenway Racing.
Stewart was a frequent member of the ‘Who is Mad’ section last year. This year hasn’t started off much better considering he hasn’t been behind the wheel for eight of the first 10 races. In addition he had to climb out of his ride this weekend as part of an agreement he made with his doctors, in order to get back last weekend for Richmond. When Stewart climbed out Dillon climbed in and proceeded to bring the iconic No. 14 home in sixth place. Dillon made several poor decisions on restarts, leaving himself hung out in the top lane and further back than he needed to be. Fortunately he made some good moves to get through some bad incidents, kept his nose clean and ended up as one of the five cars who was not officially part of an caution flag.
When the checkered flag flew:
Brad Keselowski scored his fourth win at Talladega Superspeedway, which is two more than he has at any other track on the schedule.
The race is Keselowski’s second win of the season and has locked him into the Chase, assuming he attempts all of the remaining races before Richmond.
The victory is Keselowski’s 19th of his career and came in his 243rd start. That ranks him 40th on the all-time wins list. He’s ties with Davey Allison, Buddy Baker, Greg Biffle, and Fonty Flock.
Kyle Busch crossed the line in second. That is his third career top 2 at Talladega.
The finish is Busch’s fourth top 2 of the season and second in a row.
Busch has 33 second place finishes in his career which is 21st on the all-time list. That is also fourth among active drivers behind Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart.
Austin Dillon crossed the line in third for his best career finish.
Dillon has three top 5 finishes this season which is more than he had in his entire career before this year.
Dillon’s 5 top 10 finishes this year is equal to his career best which was last season.
Chase Elliott came home in fifth to be named Rookie of the Race.
Busch, Johnson, Carl Edwards and Keselowski have all won two races this season and are locked into the Chase provided they attempt the remaining 16 races before Richmond. Denny Hamlin and Harvick have each won a race and have the inside track to making the Chase assuming the total number of winners before Richmond doesn’t exceed 16.
The drivers who are Chase eligible based on their current point position are:
- Joey Logano
- Kurt Busch
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Austin Dillon
- Chase Elliott
- Jamie McMurray
- AJ Allmendinger
- Matt Kenseth
- Trevor Bayne
What is in the cooler – Admit it or not, most fans like to see carnage during races and plate races are the place where it occurs more than any other type of race. Having 7/8 of the field involved in wrecks that certainly fit the bill in the wreck column. As plate races go, it was an underwhelming race but it still had 37 lead changes and 10 different leaders. There was a wreck coming to the line and three cars were airborne at some point during the event. Just another day at a plate race earns it three cold Old Reliable Ales from Cheaha Brewing Company.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The traveling show heads to the heartland of America for the first of two visits to Kansas Speedway. For those fans who can tear themselves away from the amazing casino that is next to the track they can see the race on FS1 at 7:30 PM Saturday May 7th. The race is also broadcast on local MRN affiliates and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.