NASCAR's annual trip to Talladega Superspeedway for the 2016 GEICO 500 turned out to be fruitful for Brad Keselowski, as he took home the checkered flag on Sunday.
Leading a race-high 46 laps, Keselowski had to make a late move back into the top spot to earn his second win of the season. It was an ugly race for everyone, marred by multiple crashes that took away virtually any momentum or pace on the track.
NASCAR tweeted out confirmation that Keselowski crossed the finish line before a crash nearly caused another caution:
CONFIRMED: @keselowski takes the win! #GEICO500 https://t.co/mZfYYFVyEu2016-5-1 20:42:06
Here are the results from Sunday's race at Talladega and the updated points standings:
|2016 GEICO 500 Results—Top 10|
|Position||Driver||Time Behind Leader|
|2016 NASCAR Chase for the Cup Points Standings|
|8||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||279|
|9||Martin Truex Jr.||274|
This was one of the most competitive races of the season, as there were 25 drivers within one second of the lead with less than 50 laps to go.
One name seemingly destined to be in the mix for a win coming into Sunday was Dale Earnhardt Jr. He qualified third and has six career wins on this track, but his chances ended because of a crash on the 50th lap, via NASCAR:
Heavy damage to @DaleJr's 88! https://t.co/V1Z5gJGTKH2016-5-1 17:50:45
Earnhardt was able to get back on the track during Lap 96, but there was no hope for him factoring into the outcome. Speaking on the Fox telecast about the accident, the 41-year-old described what happened that caused him to crash (via Daniel McFadin of NBC Sports' NASCAR Talk):
I think trying to put the nose between the 19 (Carl Edwards) and 14 (Tony Stewart), there’s a lot of air coming off those cars and it just pinned the nose. We were really tight, the splitter was on the ground real bad the whole first run. We took some rounds out of the back and that made the car really too loose off the corner. Same thing we did in Daytona, we just got look at our adjustments a little bit different.
There was a scary incident for Earnhardt after he got back in the race, via Xfinity Racing:
XFINITY Racing @XFINITYRacing
.@DaleJr lost his steering wheel and amazingly drove with his hand. #Geico500 https://t.co/YfWt8wdLMm2016-5-1 19:17:18
The Texas Motor Speedway had the appropriate response when it heard about Earnhardt's car losing the steering wheel:
Texas Motor Speedway @TXMotorSpeedway
.@DaleJr casually says his steering wheel came off earlier during the race. 😳 #Geico500 https://t.co/iedlDVfl2q2016-5-1 19:14:13
Per ESPN's Marty Smith, Earnhardt also said he "tore his hand all up" trying to steer the column without a wheel.
This continues a frustrating season for Earnhardt, who is still in search of his first win in 2016. He hasn't been bad—currently in seventh place in the points standings with four top-five finishes. He's just waiting on that one breakthrough race to build momentum.
Another driver frustrated with the way things played out was Tony Stewart, though it wasn't an unplanned problem for the crew of the No. 14 car. He started the race, his second of the season, before switching out with Ty Dillon during the caution following Earnhardt's crash.
It was a clean transition, as the NASCAR on Fox Twitter showed, which kept the No. 14 car in the mix:
FOX SPORTS: NASCAR @NASCARONFOX
.@TonyStewart climbs out. @tydillon climbs in. #NASCAR @TalladegaSuperS https://t.co/LwneJLZJUh2016-5-1 18:03:41
There wasn't a lot that was clean about the race, as there were crashes virtually from the start. The big one occurred late with 17 drivers involved, via NASCAR:
17 cars with damage in this one. #GEICO500 https://t.co/tBuA3LwZqG2016-5-1 20:02:22
Chaos continued shortly after that crash, with Danica Patrick slamming into the wall and Matt Kenseth going airborne, via Josh Richter of Fox Sports 1:
Josh Richter @JoshRichter
The craziness continues. Matt Kenseth flips. Danica Patrick slams the wall. #NASCARonFOX https://t.co/KM6HM6LIz82016-5-1 20:29:56
Chase Elliott, who won pole position with a speed of 192.661 mph, had a particularly rough day. He did lead 27 laps, trailing Keselowski (46) and Kenseth (39), but he couldn't find an opening to make a move on the track in a crowded field.
Points leader Carl Edwards came into Sunday's race with two straight wins and tied for the most top-10 finishes this season (10), but he had a bad day. He finished in 35th place thanks to his crash with Earnhardt on the 110th lap, via Fox Sports:
FOX Sports @FOXSports
Caution! #CarlEdwards and @DaleJr crash hard at @TalladegaSuperS. #NASCAR @FOXTV https://t.co/FaUbvCFGqZ2016-5-1 19:01:05
Keselowski made his move back into the top spot, climbing past Joey Logano with 16 laps to go. He had been in the hunt virtually all race and came out of a restart with 22 laps remaining ready to pounce.
The race was under caution until the final four laps following that crash with Patrick and Kenseth. Keselowski held off a late charge from Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon to take home the title. There was another crash as the leaders were crossing the finish line, putting an appropriate bow on a bad day for most drivers.
While the rest of the drivers will put Sunday behind them quickly, Keselowski can use the momentum from this race to show more consistency. He had finished outside the top 10 in each of the previous three races but is now back in seventh place in the points standings and tied for the season high with two wins.
Even though Keselowski was thrilled to earn the victory, the big topic of conversation after the race ended was the litany of crashes that never seemed to stop.
Keselowski told reporters, via the Associated Press (via ESPN.com), the track at Talladega is geared more toward adventurous driver: "Racing has always been that balance of daredevils and chess players; this has always been more of a daredevil-type track."
Upon seeing so many crashes, Kyle Busch was quoted in the same report that he hated seeing what happened: "I'd much rather be at home. I've got a win. I don't need to be here."
Patrick, who was involved in the crash in which Kenseth's car went airborne, said that particular incident was "probably the most scared, trying to hop out of a car with the fire on the inside." She also noted bruises on her arm and foot stemming from the accident.
Per Bob Pockrass of ESPN.com, Earnhardt described his early finish as being "a terrible day" and talked about the scary moment in which his wheel came off the steering column:
The steering wheel came off and I was trying to get it back on and the car was headed toward the wall. Well, I wasn't going to let it hit the wall, so I grabbed the column and steered it with that -- tore my hands all up, but didn't hit the wall. We have to look at something to keep that from happening anymore.
Moving back to Keselowski's positive run, he told Fox Sports (via NBC Sports' Jerry Bonkowski) there is a trick to winning at Talladega: "This Fusion was hauling and one of the tickets to staying out of wrecks at Talladega is if you can stay up front, you have a great shot at not getting wrecked."
Keselowski added the win has his team "looking for more and (we) are really growing as a team. This feels really good, really good.”
On a bad day for most of the field, Keselowski earned his moment in the spotlight.