Talladega Superspeedway has always been a unique challenge, dating back to the first ever visit that NASCAR made to the 2.66-mile behemoth. The reasons that make it so have changed over the 52 years it’s been part of the sport’s racing schedule, but the hurdles between each competitor and victory still loom just as large.
That’s what makes it all the more remarkable when a driver establishes a stretch of dominance here. If winning a single race at Talladega is a crapshoot, how can one explain a driver winning six of them? Luck, skill, or perhaps a bizarre combination of both? Whatever the right combination is to succeed here, Brad Keselowski has it. A sixth Talladega victory on Sunday (April 25) put Keselowski in elite company, as he joined Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in second place among the all-time winningest drivers at the facility.
Keselowski may have six wins at the monstrous Alabama tri-oval, but he still has a few more high-speed chess matches to conquer to be the all-time winningest driver at Talladega. The undisputed ruler of that kingdom is, of course, the Intimidator himself, Dale Earnhardt.
Earnhardt didn’t always run well at Talladega. In fact, he only won two of his first 22 starts at the track. Then, after Bobby Allison dismantled the frontstretch catchfence in 1987, NASCAR unveiled the restrictor plate, and no driver’s trophy case benefited from the new addition more than Earnhardt’s. His final 22 starts generated a whopping eight wins, including three of his final four visits to the speedway.
Earnhardt’s fall 2000 victory, his last career Cup win, showcased his strength here as the No. 3 charged from 18th to 1st in the final five laps of the race.
Kaz Grala made his third career Cup Series start on Sunday and has proven himself to be a quick study. He scored his second top-10 finish, thundering across the line in sixth spot.
Grala has one Camping World Truck Series win to his credit, at Daytona International Speedway, and clearly has a knack for navigating his way through the field. He also led 10 laps in this year’s Daytona 500 before he was caught up in a crash that relegated him to a 28th-place finish.
In his six Talladega victories, Keselowski has led a total of just 89 laps. By comparison, Gordon led 288 laps en route to his wins while Earnhardt Jr. paced the field for 435 laps in the races that he won. In both his first career win as well as this past Sunday’s race, Keselowski led only the final lap. It appears the No. 2 team has figured out how to get to the front when it counts.
In 30 previous NASCAR Xfinity Series races at Talladega, every one had gone the full scheduled distance (or beyond). So when the rain came with 23 laps remaining this past weekend, it drenched the asphalt and cut the race short for the first time in series history. Oddly enough, only one Cup Series race at the track has been abbreviated due to adverse weather. The DieHard 500 in July 1996 was stopped twice for rain, causing it to run later than expected. As darkness crept closer, NASCAR announced they would fly the checkered flag early. On lap 129, the race came to an end, resulting in the first win at the speedway for none other than Jeff Gordon.
William Byron finished second this weekend, extending his streak of consecutive top-10 finishes to eight. Prior to this run, Byron had never finished inside the top 10 for more than three races in a row.
This finish wasn’t without a few bumps in the road. Byron got swept up in an accident that ended the day for one teammate, last week’s winner Alex Bowman. It also significantly damaged another Hendrick Motorsports car, that of defending series champion Chase Elliott. However, the No. 24 crew patched the car up and got Byron back into the fray, allowing him to keep his hot hand going.
Six drivers marked their best results of the year in Sunday’s race. Kevin Harvick (fourth), Matt DiBenedetto (fifth), Grala (sixth), Cole Custer (10th), Chase Briscoe (11th) and Anthony Alfredo (12th) all posted their best finishes of the 2021 season. While the goals for each driver vary, there’s no denying they all could use a solid boost in performance. Talladega gave it to them.