TALLADEGA, ALABAMA– The last hour of Sunday’s Alabama 500 had great racing until around 40 laps to go, when chaos broke loose, and multiple wrecks thinned the field out.
All the race needed was a foot-race to the finish line between Ricky Bobby and Jean Girard of Talladega Nights fame.
Okay, that didn’t happen, but there was a last-lap pass for the win, when Brad Keselowski made a final-lap pass on Ryan Newman to win the Alabama 500. It was his third win of the season, and advanced him to the Round of 8. The win came in Keselowski’s 300th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start.
The chaos started early when Jamie McMurray made contact with Erik Jones when attempting to make a pit stop at lap 34. Jeffrey Earnhardt and Mark Thompson were also involved in the crash.
Brad Keselowski held off his teammate, Joey Logano to win stage one, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Blaney and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top five.
During stage two, Ty Dillon made contact with playoff contender Jimmie Johnson during green-flag pit stops, but both drivers continued, and Matt DiBenedetto of Go-Fas Racing managed to lead 12 laps.
Ryan Blaney held off Brad Keselowski to win stage two, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kurt Busch, and points leader Martin Truex Jr. rounding out the top five.
Late in the final stage of the race was where all the chaos started. It is said that cautions breed cautions, and that was never more true.
First, Cole Whitt, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, and AJ Allmendinger got involved in an accident with less than 40 to go. Bowyer came to pit road and parked his car out of frustration. Next, Joey Gase and DJ Kennington made contact in the back of the field to bring out another caution.
The racing at the front got exciting when Daniel Suarez took the lead from Joey Logano with 18 to go. On the following lap, the Big One took place, taking out three chase contenders in Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Martin Truex Jr., as well as Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick, David Ragan, Austin Dillon, and others.
The action picked up on the ensuing restart following the red flag, but Joey Logano and Trevor Bayne made contact, also collecting playoff contenders in Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney. This brought out the red flag for the second time.
Kyle Larson managed to avoid the chaos for the most part, and was at the front, battling for the win, but he too, was not immune to the misfortune that felled his fellow playoff contenders, getting caught up in a wreck during a battle for the lead between Chase Elliott and Daniel Suarez. This brought out the red flag for the third time, tying the chaotic Indianapolis race in July.
The stage was then set for the final restart of the race. Ryan Newman took the lead, looking to pick up his second win of the season, despite being eliminated from the playoffs two weeks earlier. But on the final lap, Brad Keselowski, with some help from Logano, made the race-winning pass for the win.
Ryan Newman finished 2nd. Trevor Bayne and Joey Logano, despite getting caught up in a late-race wreck, finished 3rd and 4th, respectively. Aric Almirola rounded out the top five despite being involved in a wreck with less than 40 to go, and once again coming to the checkered flag.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., making the final Talladega start of his career, 17 years to the day where his father, Dale Sr., picked up his 76th and final career win, and was given his own day of dedication from Governor of Alabama Kay Ivey, came home in seventh place.
Gray Gaulding: Despite getting caught up in one of the big wrecks late, the 20-year-old managed to come home in 9th place, picking up his first career top ten, and the second career top-ten in BK Racing’s history.
David Ragan: Won at Talladega in May 2013, and despite getting involved in the big one with 17 to go, still managed to bring home a top-ten finish, his third of the year, and matching a similar finish at this track in May.
Ty Dillon: Despite making contact with Jimmie Johnson early in the race, he avoided the chaos that took out his fellow contenders, and restarted in the top five, but faded late and came home 11th, still picking up the best career finish of his rookie year.
Paul Menard: Despite losing 4th gear during the race, still managed to bring the 27 car home in 12th place, picking up his ninth top-20 finish in the past 11 races.
As far as points go, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Chase Elliott round out the top six, with Ryan Blaney and Jimmie Johnson in seventh and eight place, nine and seven points ahead of Kyle Busch, who sits in ninth. Matt Kenseth rounds out the top ten, eight points behind Johnson.
Stenhouse Jr. and McMurray bring up the rear of the playoff field, and will need either a win or more chaos at Kansas next week in order to advance to the Round of 8.