NASCAR Drivers Fortunate to Leave Crash-Filled Talladega Without Catastrophe

Monte Dutton@@monteduttonFeatured ColumnistMay 2, 2016

The key for Brad Keselowski (2) was staying ahead of the madness.
The key for Brad Keselowski (2) was staying ahead of the madness.Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Most NASCAR fans sternly insist they do not enjoy crashes, and they earnestly wring their hands as they pore over one replay of one cataclysmic melee after another.

Somewhere up there, there must be lucky stars.
Somewhere up there, there must be lucky stars.John Locher/Associated Press

Brad Keselowski, 32, escaped the mayhem to win Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. The key was running at or near the front all day long. He has won four of his 15 Sprint Cup races at the 2.66-mile ring of horrors. By comparison, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won six out of 33.

"It did seem like somewhat of a survival race," the winning crew chief, Paul Wolfe, said, "as we saw a lot of what I would consider some of the top or faster cars get caught up in wrecks."

Mayhem by the Numbers
Lead ChangesCaution FlagsCrashesCars InvolvedCars in Field
371083740
racing-reference.info

Wolfe's analysis was a bit on the understated side. According to NASCAR's post-race results, 37 of the 40 cars that started were involved in at least one crash. The exceptions were those piloted by Keselowski, fifth-place finisher Chase Elliott and Trevor Bayne in 10th. The race was marred by seven multi-car crashes. One listed 21 cars, another 12 and a third, on the final lap, collected seven.

Frontwards, backwards, sideways...
Frontwards, backwards, sideways...Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Everyone either walked away or staggered into the waiting arms of emergency workers dispatched quickly to the scene of the havoc. The report listed Kevin Harvick as being in three of the crashes. Seventeen drivers were in two, and one of that number, Austin Dillon, finished third. Two others finished in the top 10.

Joining his crew chief in thoughtful elaboration of the obvious, Keselowski called it "a crazy day," adding, "Somehow, we managed to stay ahead of or out of all the chaos. A couple asked me about it. I didn't see it, thankfully, because I was in front of it, but that's how Talladega goes.

"As far as not being in any of those accidents, we ran up front. None of the accidents were at the front. That's your highest percentage shot, if you can run up front. It sounds real easy. It's not. Otherwise, everybody would do it."

Even by Talladega's rigorous standards, this race took an extreme toll on machinery. Why? Probably because, though the race was never stopped or delayed by rain, the threat hung in the air, mingling with all the smoke and fire. Drivers ran every lap past the halfway point, i.e., the point at which the race could have been declared official, as if it were the last.

Kasey Kahne said, "Guys were being aggressive, and it felt like it was late in the race the whole race."

As if unoccupied by the demands of driving in the midst of a parking lot going 200 miles an hour, drivers were also processing the latest weather reports from their crew chiefs, spotters and would-be staff meteorologists.

Though many fans take offense at the notion that they enjoy all the mayhem, most drivers aren't buying it. Theirs is a grim resignation.

Austin Dillon was not unscathed, but he finished third.
Austin Dillon was not unscathed, but he finished third.Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

"I try not to think of it that way," Dillon said "I've grown up in racing, watched a lot of bad crashes. I don't think they're true fans if they like the excitement (of crashes). I think it's more of, you know, a person who doesn't really know what goes on.

"If they're cheering for crashes, man, it's not a good thing."

Fans do not come to the track to see death. Many come to see death defied, and automobile racing isn't alone in that phenomenon. NFL fans do not deny enjoying hard hits. Baseball fans admire the batter who ducks to avoid a fastball aimed at his head, gets up, dusts himself off and belts a home run.

Racing has gotten safer. Cars flew through the air, flipped and barrel-rolled. No one got seriously hurt. It's not going to change. It's good for business.

"I'm a capitalist," Keselowski said. "I love capitalism. There are still people paying to sit in the stands, sponsors still on the cars, drivers still willing to get in them. Sounds self-policing and enough interest to keep going, so we'll keep going."

One winner was Keselowski. Another was Tony Stewart, who, on doctor's orders and in deference to his ailing back, turned his Chevrolet over to Ty Dillon, Austin's younger brother, who brought it home sixth. Stewart started the race and drove it up to the first caution flag so that he would get the allotted points under NASCAR rules.

"It sucks, to be honest," Stewart, who seldom isn't, said to Fox Sports. "I know why we've got to do it, but it sucks. It still sucks that you have to  do it."

Stewart is retiring at season's end and added, "Good news is this is he last time we have to do it and I am back in (the car for the entire race) next week."

After his bitter rival, Matt Kenseth, complained about the tactics used by Joey Logano, the response by Logano to Fox Sports was matter of fact.

"OK," Logano said. "He can get in line with the rest of them."

It's scary in there.
It's scary in there.Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Busch exhibited little pleasure in finishing second. Only relief.

"When you leave here and you're OK, yeah, I think having three cars on their lids (roofs) is a little high for a quota," he told Fox Sports. "What are you going to do? We're just going to have to keep going. That's it. It's been that way for 30 years, so keep digging."

Later, in his media conference, Busch said, "I hate it. I'd much rather sit at home. I've got a win (two, actually, clinching a spot in the Chase and a shot at a second straight title). I don't need to be here."

But he will. NASCAR sets a high attendance standard.

Follow @montedutton on Twitter.

All quotes are taken from NASCAR media, team and manufacturer sources unless otherwise noted.

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