(Photo: Rusty Jarrett/ NKP)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Brad Keselowski Spoils Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Farewell Party at Talladega

Who’s in the headline – In a true survival of the fittest, it was Brad Keselowski who was the first driver under the checkered flag on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Keselowski was able to make a pass on Ryan Newman on the last lap to power to the victory as two handfuls of cars were left on the track for the final three laps of the race.

What happened – NASCAR came up with stage racing during the playoffs and a demolition derby broke out in Talladega. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his first pole at the track but was never really a factor until the late stages. Instead, it was last year’s winner Joey Logano who was the first of 16 drivers to swap the lead 30 times during the event. Logano led the most laps (59) in the race, winding up fourth driving a car that looked like it had banged fenders at Martinsville.

And that was one of the cars in good shape after Sunday. There were 11 cautions for 47 laps, which included three red flags for incidents. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson was parked for working on his car under one of them; in all, eight playoff drivers were eliminated. 40 cars started the race and 36 of them are listed as involved in caution flags.

Just another race at Talladega.

Why you should care – Everyone talked about Talladega being a wild card race that could make or break someone’s playoffs. While it did shuffle the standings a little, it ultimately wasn’t much of a game changer thanks to all the carnage. It did prove that Ford continues to have the aero advantage on the plate tracks, winning all four of them this season and seven in a row dating back to the spring race at Talladega in 2016. The biggest concerns from the race surround the playoff drivers. Jamie McMurray is now in a huge hole, 29 points outside the top eight. Joe Gibbs Racing has only one driver, Denny Hamlin, on the positive side of the cut line right now. Johnson sits eighth and needs a strong run at Kansas to hang on.

What your friends are talking about

Like it or not, most of the fan interest for plate races is for the wrecks. While there have been some “Big Ones” in the last few years, it has been quite some time since we’ve witnessed this kind of destruction. Roughly nine racecars were still capable of running inside the lead draft at the end of the race, less than a quarter of the field. 26 cars failed to finish, easily a season high and the highest total for NASCAR’s playoff era. It was the closest we’ve gotten to the late 1990s Survivor-type plate racing in quite sometime.

George Silbermann, NASCAR’s vice president of regional and touring series, is leaving to assume a new role. Going forward, Silbermann will be President of the Automobile Competition Committee of the United States. The committee is an association of all of the major sanctioning bodies in America. His focus will now be on issues facing the auto racing industry in the United States. Silbermann will also become the U.S. representative to the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). He will work in both roles until the end of the year as NASCAR transitions his replacement.

Brennan Poole’s future at Chip Ganassi Racing is uncertain after an odd sequence of events. A report earlier this week indicated he could be the new pilot of the No. 27 Cup car for Richard Childress Racing. But he might also be back in the No. 48 car in the XFINITY Series, too. Felix Sabates, co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing, said he expects the Texas native to return in 2018 on SIRIUS XM Radio after that report surfaced.

Martin Truex Jr., the predominant favorite for the championship this season, has full sponsorship for 2018. With Erik Jones heading to the Joe Gibbs Racing camp next season, 5-Hour Energy is going to stick with Furniture Row Racing and share time with Bass Pro Shops on the No. 78. As of now the team, has 30 races committed from Bass Pro Shops and 5-Hour Energy with another six lined up with Auto-Owners Insurance.

This also signals the death of the No. 77 team to this point. FRR announced this week that it will not field the car next season due to a lack of sponsorship. They hope to field a second car in the future, but they are currently intent on bringing 100 percent of their effort to the No. 77 team. It’s notable that owner Barney Visser, who ran his own company (Furniture Row) on his car for full seasons in the past is refusing to do so for a second team in 2018.

Speaking of commitments for next season, Front Row Motorsports announced this week that Landon Cassill is out of the No. 34 next season. David Ragan has received no official confirmation for next year, but he is expected to be back in the No. 38 next season, as first reported by Frontstretch

Earnhardt left Talladega with an extra racecar this weekend. Talladega Superspeedway and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame presented the No. 2 car that his father drove to his first championship in 1980. Earnhardt was able to drive the car on track and also through the garage area during the weekend. He was also presented with champagne bottles from his father’s final win in 2000 and his first victory in 2001 at the famed superspeedway. Fans were treated to a view of the car as Donnie Allison took a lap in front of the field before the race.

Amy Earnhardt has been tabbed to drive the pace car before the race at Martinsville Speedway in two weeks. As the Dale Earnhardt Jr. retirement tour continues, he is incorporating his wife which is always good to see. Martinsville has been nice enough to include her in the event as well.

Who is mad – McMurray was trying to make his way to pit lane early in the race Sunday. As he made the move to pit lane he slowed more than people around him anticipated. In the end, he was hit by Jones, turned to the right and drilled in the passenger side by Jeffrey Earnhardt. McMurray was already in a tough spot in this round. It became immensely tougher as he finished 37th Sunday.

You could legitimately put 30 drivers in this category, but Ryan Blaney should absolutely be pissed. Blaney appeared to have the strongest car outside of Logano all day long. He drove to the front with minimal assistance and looked capable of winning the race. Chase Elliott has heard since Dover, if not before, about not being aggressive when wins are on the line. Well Sunday, he tried to assert himself and it ended up taking Blaney out of the race.

Who is happy – Anyone who could roll their car back into the hauler had to feel good about their day. Trevor Bayne, in particular, had to feel great. Bayne was involved in the second multi-car wreck of the day and one of the red flags, but managed to finish third. Bayne hasn’t had a lot to smile about in his Cup career but Sunday gave him a much-needed dose of good luck.

We’ve always known Aric Almirola was a good plate racer. Sunday proved it with another solid result that came at a good time for all involved at the No. 43 Ford. After May’s fractured vertebrae, followed by an announcement that he’s not coming back to Richard Petty Motorsports, driver and team have struggled. In fact, Sunday’s fifth-place finish marked Almirola’s first top-10 result since the spring Talladega race. Even though he got wrecked at the line, it had to feel good looking at so few cars out the windshield.

When the checkered flag flew

  • Brad Keselowski won his 300th career start for his 24th career Cup triumph.
  • This is Keselowski’s third win in 2017.
  • Keselowski has five career victories, including his first, at Talladega. That’s one behind Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon’s six for second all-time. (Dale Earnhardt Sr. holds the Talladega record with ten).
  • 24 Cup victories leave Keselowski ranked 33rd on the all-time list.
  • Ryan Newman crossed the finish line as the first loser. It is his second top-two run of the season.
  • Second place marked Newman’s best career finish at Talladega.
  • Newman has 17 career runner-up runs, which puts him in a tie with Geoffrey Bodine and Sterling Marlin for 49th on the All-Time list.
  • Rounding out the podium was Trevor Bayne in third place.
  • Third place marked Bayne’s best finish of 2017. It’s also his personal best at Talladega.
  • Bayne has three career podium finishes, which is a tie for 171st on the All-Time list.
  • Rookie of the Race was Gray Gaulding after earning a career-best ninth-place finish. It’s the first time he’s won the award this year. Daniel Suarez has won the award 14 times, Erik Jones has won it thirteen times this season, and Ty Dillon has earned it three times.

The victory for Keselowski gives him the second guaranteed slot in NASCAR’s playoff Round of 8. He joins Truex, whose massive stockpile of playoff points remains unchanged at 64.

Here’s a closer look at the 12 playoff contenders with their rank, points, and playoff points heading to Kansas Speedway this week.

2017 NASCAR Playoff Standings (Playoff Points)

  1. Martin Truex Jr. – 3120 (64)

  2. Brad Keselowski – 3101 (26)

  3. Kyle Larson – 3096 (34)

  4. Kevin Harvick – 3089 (17)

  5. Denny Hamlin – 3088 (13)

  6. Chase Elliott – 3087 (6)

  7. Ryan Blaney – 3076 (9)

  8. Jimmie Johnson – 3074 (17)

  9. Kyle Busch – 3067 (41)

  10. Matt Kenseth – 3066 (5)

  11. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 3052 (10)

  12. Jamie McMurray – 3045 (3)

What is in the cooler (one to six beers, where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)

It all depends on what you want from a restrictor plate race. If you want devastation, you got it on Sunday. Lots of leaders, gobs of lead changes, and a last-lap pass for the win. But whether you like crashes or not, it was definitely an entertaining race, one that deserves four ice cold Budweisers.

How many beers would you give Sunday's race at Talladega Superspeedway?

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Where do you point your DVR for next week?

The NASCAR Cup Series elimination race for round two of the playoffs will be Sunday, October 22 at 3 p.m. ET from Kansas Speedway. The race can be seen on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App. It can be heard on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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About Mike Neff

Mike Neff
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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15 comments

  1. Avatar

    Well I’d have to say it was entertaining in the same manner as a train wreck. That was ridiculous and was more of a demolition derby than a race. NASCAR continually talks about keeping costs down, I wonder what the 4 RP races end up costing per year. I never liked the RP races when I had a driver that I cheered for, now that I don’t have a driver, have it boys… (I guess).

  2. Avatar

    You might want to edit the last paragraph that has Truex’s info from Charlotte

  3. Avatar

    what a mess. I said it would be like this. stage racing and plate racing don’t work well together. I wonder if the double secret look the other way wore off of Johnson since the team was penalized for working on the car during red flag. jr had a golden horseshoe up his arse to manage to get through the wrecks like he did. you’d think after all these years of racing he’d figure out what the pit road speed was.

    I realize the safety improvements these new seats give the drivers, but so many complained of not being able to see cars to the side of them.

    for a moment I thought I was watching the days of blunder movie when clint bowyer got out of his car and stood on the wall to yell at his crew chief.

    now weren’t most of the lead changes result of pit stops and restarts?

    so much equipment torn up. all that money.

    I did end up with one king sized headache from the intensity of the race. i’ll go back to being a casual fan who turns on the tv to check every once in a while.

    I was amazed at the number of fans there. sure it was Earnhardt country, but Thursday when I checked on line, you could still get decent seats.

    so the fairytale weekend of jr at dega is over with, basically the end of the season for him.

    i’m still trying to figure out of the Toyotas were sandbagging during qualifying to be in mid pack to avoid early mayhem. not that it is a guarantee, every segment of the group of cars got involved in the mayhem during the race.

    will the Earnhardt tradition be spoken about next year at dega when Jeffrey is the only Earnhardt in a car?

  4. Avatar

    Worse race of the year as far as I’m concerned
    Especially with red flags. Way too many commercials. Also Burton saying Elliott had to make that move where the hole was not really there. I guess he must be in Chases fan club, looked like he stuck his nose where it didn’t belong.. Nascars favoritism was fully on display.

    • Avatar

      I disagree with you Steven. The hole WAS there. Suarez came down on the 24. Not Chase’s fault.

      • Avatar

        I have to agree with Steven on this one and not just because of his name. I could understand if this was the last lap, but it was not. There was still 5 laps to go at the time and he could have been a little more patient. Instead he ruined his own and someone elses day. As expected the booth tripped all over themselves making excuses for him.

        That aside, I got very concerned for Dale Jr after listening to him talk about scripture during one of the red flags. He appeared to be one scared race car driver on Sunday and listening to his interviews after the race didn’t help change my feeling on that. He needs to get out of that car now.

        • Avatar

          jr said during one of the nascar shows on monday that he was scared in the car sunday. he should not be driving a race car if he’s scared. he hasn’t had the edge it takes all year long. just put alex in the car for the remaining handfull of races. jr can show up for the jr nation appreciation tour, but he’s afraid of being hurt.

          maybe he was extra scared cause he’s going to be a father, but he’s not of the mindset to race.

  5. Matt

    Four cans? I must respectfully disagree (with my jaw hanging agape aghast) Dunno. When it takes over an hour to run the last 17 laps of a race something has gone terribly wrong.
    NASCAR says they are trying to lower costs for racing in their top 3 touring series. Howabout we start by not forcing teams to prepare four cars a year with the horrifically high costs of wind tunnel time, only to see those four cars trashed, bashed, and left as scrap for the amusement of the mouth-breathing bottom feeder fans, those ghoulish least common denominators who really do go to Daytona and Talladega just to see the wrecks.

    • Avatar

      Turned it on at some point to watch, say that there were two packs playing follow the leader, that the 24 was in the lead. At that point went on to other stuff for the rest of the day, never went back to it, and never missed it.

      Good to see that after 39 years they are still looking for a replacement for the temporary solution of restrictor plates.

    • Avatar

      When the cars were rolling off of pit road for the pace laps, I told my daughter, “look at all the beautiful race cars, too bad most will end up in the dumpster over the next few hours.” Thank God for the safety advancements since DE Sr. died, but NASCAR can only spin the chamber so many times and just hear a click.

  6. Avatar

    Like I said elsewhere on this site, a complete shit-show. Just glad it’s done.

  7. Avatar

    Best race of the year by 2.6 miles!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Went to Chicagoland and fell asleep.
    This is by far the best racing in the history of the world!!!!
    Dega baby!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Avatar

    I tuned in after the Green Bay game thinking it should be just about over. Saw Rodgers get hurt and thought “Tony Romo, collarbone, done for season.” The NFL has to stop the quarterbacks getting driven into the ground when tackled. Finally heard my favorite penalty call again”Illegal use of hands.” Sounds like the guy is on a date. It reminds of something in an Ann Landers column a LONG time ago.. Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

    Watching the huge pack of drivers head into turn one on the last lap I couldn’t help but think what if they wrecked and no one came around for the checkers? Or better yet Gaulding was the only one?

    Brian got the wrecks that he wants. Maybe the teams should send him the bills for the repairs and we’ll see who he gets to pay.

    Listening to the incessant talk about points made my mind wander a bit. What if Roger Goodell went Brian Z France (insane) and decided that the NFL standings would be based on points instead of wins. Team A loses its first two games 45-40 and 35-31. Team B wins its games 27-14 and 21-10. Team A has 71 points and 2 losses in first place. Team B has two wins and 48 points. How is that different than a driver with no wins ahead of a driver with two wins?

    Why were the only highlights they show from previous “events” the big wrecks? Guess what we’ll be seeing for the next few years leading up to RP events? They won’t show Ron Bouchard winning by a layer of paint but they’ll show cars on their roofs scraping off the paint as they slide down the track. It’s too bad the networks base their advertising on what the Neanderthals want.

  9. Avatar

    I’m glad they had the red flags instead of running around under yellow waiting for a GWC finish. In the old days before GWC this would of been so anti climatic. Although not a fan of the GWC, race back to the yellow and let the chips fall where they may.