NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2021 GEICO 500

Who … should you be talking about after the race?

Brad Keselowski led exactly one of 191 laps on Sunday (April 25), but it was the only one that mattered. Keselowski passed Matt DiBenedetto as the white flag flew, leading the field to the checkers for his sixth Talladega Superspeedway victory, tying Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for second on the all-time Talladega win list.

Keselowski’s day was not uneventful.  He was involved in a frightening lap 60 crash that saw teammate Joey Logano flip through the air, but Keselowski suffered minimal damage. He worked with his other teammate Ryan Blaney and pseudo-teammate DiBenedetto to keep the trio at the front in the closing laps. He made his move on the frontstretch to secure the 35th win of his career and first of 2021. He’s the ninth driver to score a win in 10 races this year and joins both Logano and Blaney who already had victories this season.

It’s harder to flat-out buy speed at Talladega, where horsepower is limited and handling is secondary to track position and making the right moves. There were several different faces up front on Sunday as the race wore on, including a pair of drivers making their Talladega debuts. Harrison Burton, piloting the No. 96 Gaunt Brothers entry, finished 10th in stage two and ran inside the top 10 late in the race before finishing 20th. Meanwhile, in just his third Cup start, Kaz Grala, also in a part-time entry from Kaulig Racing, ran a smart, solid race to bring home a sixth-place finish. The two youngsters made the race look easier than it was.

What … is the buzz about?

A story that got some attention this week was NASCAR’s decision not to approve Camping World Truck Series driver Jennifer Jo Cobb to run Sunday’s Cup race. The decision to approve a driver (or not) for Cup competition falls to a panel that includes NASCAR’S Steve O’Donnell, Scott Miller and former driver Elton Sawyer. NASCAR President Steve Phelps addressed the question before the race Sunday.

“I understand it may seem ambiguous to those outside, but I think that they have their finger on the pulse, and in their opinion, Jennifer wasn’t ready to race in this race.”

Which clears up … exactly nothing. Cobb has over 200 Truck starts to her credit and a handful of Xfinity races. And while her results have been underwhelming, she runs a self-owned, vastly underfunded team. Of course the results aren’t there.

See also
NASCAR President Steve Phelps on Jennifer Jo Cobb, COVID-19 Vaccines & State Voting Laws

But why, then, are some drivers approved for Cup competition while others with seemingly equal qualifications are not? Quin Houff, for example, who was involved in a pair of incidents Sunday, had just 10 Xfinity starts and five ARCA races prior to landing a Cup ride. Houff didn’t run a superspeedway race until his 10th Cup start, but his approval seems as arbitrary as Cobb’s exclusion.

It makes sense to look at a previous incarnation of the approval process, where a driver was first approved for short tracks, then milers if they proved worthy on the short tracks, and so on. If that was still the case, then not letting a driver debut at Talladega would be cut and dried, but it wasn’t about a debut as Burton made his Cup debut Sunday.

Where … did the other key players wind up?

Polesitter Denny Hamlin has become one of NASCAR’s most formidable superspeedway racers in recent years. He won the fall race at Talladega, but this time around he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got turned into the wall in stage two. And that was following speeding penalties after an earlier incident had Hamlin trapped a lap down. He limped home to a 32nd-place finish, three laps down to Keselowski.

Last week’s winner Alex Bowman looked strong in the first half of the race, finishing seventh in stage one and running near the front much of the day. Then Talladega happened and he was caught in the same lap 119 incident as Hamlin.  His team could not get his car repaired and Bowman wound up a disappointed 38th.

Defending Cup champ Chase Elliott was one of three Hendrick Motorsports cars caught in the same incident as teammates Bowman and William Byron (Kyle Larson had already dropped out after an engine failure), though his damage was minimal. While Byron went on to finish second on the day, Elliott, who finished third in stage one and led three laps under caution, found himself shuffled to 24th as the laps ran out.

First-time stage winners DiBenedetto and Bubba Wallace both had solid outings at Talladega. DiBenedetto led five times for 28 laps, second-most of the day, and held the lead coming to the white flag, but when he moved to block a charge on the outside, Keselowski got by for the win. DiBenedetto finished fifth, his second top five in a row on superspeedways.

See also
Matt DiBenedetto Takes 5th After Near Win at Talladega

Wallace had a scare early when a flipping Joey Logano bounced off the hood of his car. But the damage was minimal. Wallace jokingly told his crew that his car was in better shape than his underwear after the incident. But despite the near miss, the No. 23 was strong, leading three times for a total of 16 laps. A decision not to pit on a late caution put Wallace in an unenviable position. He faded on old tires, and came to pit road before an overtime finish but didn’t have time to climb through the field, finishing 19th.

When … was the moment of truth?

When Martin Truex Jr. felt his right rear tire going down with just a handful of laps left, he appeared to do the responsible thing, pulling down toward pit road. But for some reason, Truex stayed on track, limping around the apron until the tire came apart, triggering a caution as the tread rolled onto the racing surface.

The move, which forced an overtime restart, drew criticism from many sides, with speculation that he purposely stayed on track to cause the caution. Deliberately causing a caution is an infraction that NASCAR takes seriously, and some wondered about the no-call on Truex, who could have pitted but chose not to.

On the surface, it doesn’t look like Truex had a reason to draw the caution.  He had already been lapped, so the only reason would have been to help his struggling Toyota teammates, but that seems weak. So did he or didn’t he? NASCAR said no, but whether that was the right call is something only Truex knows.

Why … should you be paying attention this week?

NASCAR heads to the intermediate track at Kansas Speedway for the questionably named Buschy McBusch Race 400. After three short-track races and Talladega, the mile-and-a-half is most likely going to be a tame one as the summer grind gets underway. May also features the Darlington Raceway throwback weekend, Dover International Speedway’s concrete mile, the inaugural race at Circuit of the Americas and the grueling Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

See also
Here Are the 2021 Darlington Throwback Schemes

There’s something for just about everyone in the weeks ahead, and the next couple of months is when we’ll really start getting an idea of what the title picture really might look like.

How … many times will we see this song and dance?

NASCAR maintains it does not glorify crashes.

Fans maintain that they don’t like wrecks, or at least that they don’t watch racing to see them.

And yet, time after time, both NASCAR and fans love the superspeedways. While the close pack racing can be compelling, it’s hard to deny that keeping the cars bunched up produces some massive crashes, often collecting multiple cars. While the car counts in crashes Sunday were relatively low, with the largest collecting six cars, there were a couple of scary moments.

It’s especially scary when a car gets airborne, like Logano on lap 60 after contact from Hamlin. Logano had some strong words after his wild ride.

“I’m happy I’m alive. But when are we going to stop doing what we’re doing?,” Logano told FOX reporter Jamie Little. “This is dangerous. I got a roll bar in my head. That’s not OK. I’m one hit away from the same situation as Ryan Newman (who was hospitalized for a brain bleed after a crash in the 2020 Daytona 500). I don’t think that’s acceptable.”

See also
Joey Logano Flips In Wild Crash at Talladega

Logano is absolutely right. But dollars to doughnuts that his flip will be featured in the next NASCAR (“We don’t glorify wrecks”) Talladega highlight reel. And there are fans who will eat it right up.

And until that changes, rules that keep cars in huge packs at Daytona and Talladega won’t.

Share this article

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

14 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bill B

Truex should be suspended for one race for not pitting. There should be no tolerance for one driver putting the entire field at risk and affecting the outcome of the race. And, for the record, Truex is one of the drivers I like.

John Dawg Chapman

I’m curious to know how Truex would defend his decision to stay on track. It definitely impacted the outcome. If this had have been one of the rookies, or a driver of one of the underfunded “field filler” class cars. There would be loud cries from fans, & probably some pundits to have them punished.

Mike

How many times is jesus joes cars going to have to start in the back bc they are trying to cheat. Plain and simple almost every race they get caught doing something questionable. Evidently the penalty they receive is not working what a joke.

DoninAjax

What happened to minimum speed? When Truex had the flat tire I was surprised the caution didn’t come out. When he continued I thought he was going to pit. When the carcass came off I wondered why he was allowed to keep going for so long after the flat. Then I remembered who he was driving for.

DoninAjax

How many times did the broadcast show Logano’s flip? I counted at least a dozen times and I cut away so I wouldn’t have to see it over and over. Guess what they’ll be showing during their ad campaign. Why can’t they show Ron Bouchard coming from around ninth coming out of turn four and winning at Talladega? I guess they don’t want to show real race cars at the track.

janice

they need to show “the big one”, since later in the race there wasn’t really a big one. you know how tv is, need that wrecking factor cause that’s the only reason fans of nascar attend races or tune in.

Jo

If everybody is so concerned about rules, why was Matt DiBenedetto not penalized for forcing Kyle Busch below the yellow line and nearly wrecking? I guess when you declare yourself everyone’s favorite underdog, the rules don’t apply.

It’s easy to call out MTJ, but I guess Matty D is off limits.

Bill B

Come on, you really think the two acts are comparable? Or did you just see a chance to kick DiBenedetto when you had the chance.
In MD’s case he made a bad decision in a split second that resulted in Busch below the line. In MT’s case he had time to rationalize and make a decision and he chose to selfishly stay on the track.
Geez, I like both MD and MT but I can clearly make the distinction when something is blatantly stupid and selfish vs. a product of the stupidity that is RP racing.

Jo

Where does the rule book say that an action must be “intentional”? Mistake or not, I thought you NASCAR folks were all “by the rules” folks? We’re not talking about the difference between first degree murder and manslaughter here. We’re talking about breaking a rule in sports. You break the rule, you should serve the penalty.

Bill B

So you can’t make the distinction. Fair enough.

Both were intentional but one was premeditated.

Jo

I can certainly make the distinction. However, the rule book does NOT. Don’t put words in my mouth.

Bill B

Well didn’t you kind of do the same thing?
Show me anywhere above where anyone said DiBennedetto shouldn’t have been penalized.

Bill B

…and the rule book may not make a distinction but the penalty does. One is a trip down pit road the other is…. see Michael Waltrip Racing, Richmond fall race 2013. So yes you could say murder vs. manslaughter is a good example.

Shayne Flaherty

Truex brought out the caution to help the #18 and #20. How many caution laps does it take remove a tire from the track? Amazing how fast those Toyotas are: with and without damage. Hamlin is a bull in the China shop, wrecking his way through the field.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com

Frontstretch