Sunday, May 6, 2012

Keselowski Tames Talladega

When Brad Keselowski won at Talladega, he played the villain when he flipped Carl Edwards into the catchfence.  That race saw Carl Edwards get out of the car and run across the start/finish line, just like Ricky Bobby in the movie "Talladega Nights."  In a race that saw Kurt Busch drive Ricky Bobby's "ME" car, Brad Keselowski returned to victory lane after out-smarting the competition.

Brad Keselowski celebrates his sixth career Sprint Cup race (Courtesy Getty Images)
After early-morning rain, the race started about 30 minutes later than scheduled.  But when the race went green, Jeff Gordon led the field from the pole.  The pole was Gordon's 71st of his career, and he has now won at least one pole in all 20 of his Sprint Cup seasons.  Gordon got a huge push from Marcos Ambrose to start the race, but Gordon quickly lost the lead.  Tony Stewart, with drafting help from Matt Kenseth, was able to lead the first lap.  Stewart was able to hold off all the cars behind him, until a caution came out on lap 16 for Regan Smith.  Smith's engine expired, and many believed that it was due to overheating in the engine.  But Smith came on the radio and said, "Zero heads-up.  No heads-up whatsoever."  The leaders came in to pit, and most cars only took fuel.  Matt Kenseth's team was able to get him out in front of Tony Stewart, and Kenseth led the field to the green flag on lap 21.

When the race went green, Matt Kenseth was able to grab the lead with a bump from teammate Greg Biffle.  Tony Stewart had other plans however, and worked his way in between the 17 and 16.  Kenseth was able to lead until lap 25, when Michael Waltrip got a huge push from Denny Hamlin to take the lead.  Waltrip was running in the 55 car, which was vacated by Mark Martin for this race.

At around lap 44, Ryan Newman began to overheat, and his Chevrolet soon began to push water out of the engine.  Newman took his car to the garage, and his crew went to work on getting him back out.  On lap 58, Denny Hamlin pulled off the track to begin a round of green flag pit stops.  By lap 62, everyone pitted and Jimmie Johnson inherited the lead.  Johnson's lead only lasted two laps, when his car began to smoke and his engine let go.  Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus said that it was a broken belt.  Johnson's crew took the car to the garage, while Dale Earnhardt. Jr. inherited the lead from his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.

Johnson's day ended early with engine problems (Courtesy Getty Images)
On lap 72, Matt Kenseth was able to get around Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the lead, and Earnhardt's teammate Jeff Gordon left him hung out to dry and Junior fell all the way to 19th place.  Eventually, Kasey Kahne and Michael Waltrip led laps as well.  Juan Pablo Montoya was the leader when another round of green flag pit stops began on lap 99.  Following the round of pit stops, Greg Biffle found himself out front.  On lap 120, Kurt Busch got a push from former teammate Matt Kenseth to take the lead away from Biffle.  Busch was driving a Talladega Nights-inspired "ME" paint scheme, and when he took the lead I'm sure someone said, "Look Mama! I'm going fast!"

"Shake and Bake" (Courtesy Getty Images)
Just two laps later, Greg Biffle pushed Matt Kenseth around Ricky Bobby, aka Kurt Busch, to take the lead once again.  Busch regained the lead on lap 132, but then, one lap later, the Roush duo drove by Busch again.  This time, however, Kenseth couldn't keep Biffle on his bumper, and Biffle was shuffled back to eighth place while Kenseth took the lead.

With about 50 laps to go, many drivers began to run out of fuel.  This problem caused the Big One.  On lap 141, Aric Almirola got into Dave Blaney who shot across the track into Juan Pablo Montoya and Carl Edwards.  The wreck also collected Landon Cassil, Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr., Terry Labonte, and Joey Logano.  Paul Menard led the field to the green flag.  Menard was on pit road when the caution came out, and he inherited the lead when everyone else pitted under the caution.

The first "Big One" (Courtesy Getty Images)
Menard couldn't hold off a hard-charging Brad Keselowski who restarted second, and he fell to third when Keselowski's Penske teammate AJ Allmendinger got around him for second.  With 25 laps to go, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, and Matt Kenseth all got their cars out front to lead at least one lap.  Kenseth was finally able to take the lead and hold onto it in front of Brad Keselowski and Hamlin with 20 laps to go.

On lap 176, Casey Mears spun around after contact from Marcos Ambrose.  As he was trying to save it, he clipped Trevor Bayne and turned him around.  The restart came with 9 laps to go, and Matt Kenseth led the field to the green flag.  On lap 181, Kurt Busch got turned by Brad Keselowski going through the trioval.  Then, in a move that had shades of Ricky Bobby, he drove up pit road the wrong way to get to his pit stall.

The restart came with four laps to go, with Kenseth and Keselowski the leaders.  The race didn't go green for long, as AJ Allmendinger tried to block Denny Hamlin and started a melee at the front of the field.  Also involved were the cars of Paul Menard, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart, Michael Waltrip, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, and Robert Richardson.  Under the caution, Denny Hamlin's left rear tire erupted and tore the rear window out of the car, as well as spreading foam and everything else inside the car all over the track.

The caution set up a green-white-checker finish, and it put some stress on Brad Keselowski, who was going to be close on fuel.  Matt Kenseth led Keselowski to the green flag with two laps to go.  When the field took the green, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle blew away from the field, and it may have cost them the race.  The field caught up to them and sped by, with the tandem of Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch pulling away from everyone else.  Kyle Busch pushed Keselowski into Turn 3, and got off the back bumper of the 2 car.  It seemed like Busch was going to use the draft to slingshot around him, but he couldn't get close enough.  Keselowski was able to hold off the field to win the second Talladega race of his career.

Brad Keselowski pulls away from Kyle Busch (Courtesy Getty Images)
Kyle Busch followed Keselowski across the line to finish second.  Matt Kenseth, who led a race-high 78 laps, finished third, and Kasey Kahne had some good luck and finished fourth.  Greg Biffle finished fifth.  Clint Bowyer, David Ragan, Trevor Bayne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jeff Burton rounded out the top 10.  Michael Waltrip finished 19th, and Ricky Bobby, I mean, Kurt Busch finished 20th.  Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, and Joey Logano finished 23rd-26th respectively.  Martin Truex Jr. finished 28th, Carl Edwards 31st, Jeff Gordon 33rd, and Jimmie Johnson 35th.

After a month-long stretch of races without wrecks, Talladega did not disappoint, delivering two Big Ones.  Next week, the Sprint Cup Series races on Saturday night under the lights at "The Track Too Tough to Tame," Darlington Raceway.  The Bojangles' Southern 500 will be run next Saturday, and can be seen at 6:30 on FOX. 

Courtesy Getty Images

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