Brad Keselowski outran Kyle Busch over the final two laps and won the wild Aaron’s 499 Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway Sunday.
Fans complaining about what they termed a lack of aggressive racing in recent events perhaps got their fill Sunday as a series of crashes clogged the race’s final laps, produced overtime and opened the door to Keselowski’s second win of the season.
There were four major crashes in the final 50 laps, and the last one set up a four-way, green-white-checkered dash for the win between Keselowski, Busch, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle.
Roush Fenway Racing teammates Kenseth and Biffle led the front pack taking the green for the last time, but Keselowski and Busch roared past them in a two-car draft on the outside on the first lap of green, and Keselowski took the race lead for the first time.
Speculation was that Busch then would try to break the draft and sweep around Keselowski, but Keselowski broke up the pairing himself in turn three, and Busch couldn’t keep pace.
Keselowski won by .304 of a second, giving Dodge its first Sprint Cup victory at Talladega since Dave Marcis scored in August 1976.
Busch was not able to hang with Keselowski on the final lap to get a shot at trying to pass him, and Keselowski rolled under the checkered flag first.
“If I got into a situation where if I was leading I thought about what I wanted to try to do,” Keselowski said. “Going into three it was just me and Kyle. I knew the move I wanted to pull, and it worked. The guy running second has the advantage. I went into turn three high and pulled down off Kyle and broke the tandem up. That allowed me to drive untouched to the checkered flag.”
Drivers at the front were preparing for final-laps strategy when the day’s third caution appeared with 13 laps to go as Casey Mears and Marcos Ambrose tangled, sending Mears into the outside wall.
That bunched the field for the run for the money with nine to go, but more chaos was ahead.
Kurt Busch and Keselowski touched in the front pack, sending Busch into a long slide to the inside of the track and causing the fourth caution.
The field got the green again with four to go, but that open run ended quickly in a big crash in turn one as Denny Hamlin and AJ Allmendinger bumped in the heart of the lead pack, sparking a multi-car crash that littered the track. Also involved were Joey Logano, Tony Stewart, Paul Menard, Kevin Harvick, Michael Waltrip and Robert Richardson Jr.
That set up the green-white-checkered finish.
It was a nerve-wracking day along pit road at NASCAR’s biggest track as teams wrestled with increasing ambient temperatures and water temperatures that threatened to explode engines and also had to address varying fuel-mileage numbers. The fact that a few cars apparently ran out of fuel in the middle of a pack of racers caused a big crash late in the race.
Before the race’s halfway point, the cars of Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Regan Smith were in the garage with engine-related problems.
The Sunday trouble completed a restrictor-plate double-whammy for Johnson. He completed only one lap in the season-opening Daytona 500 before parking after an accident.
The race’s first big crash occurred on lap 142 in a pack of traffic when one or more cars apparently ran out of fuel. Aric Almirola and Dave Blaney touched to start the chaos, and Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. became involved before the incident was over.
After the crash, Gordon said NASCAR should address water-temperature issues at Talladega and Daytona to allow teams more free rein to race, calling “this temp thing a joke.” Edwards, however, said he likes the current Daytona-Talladega rules package.
Among the drivers very involved at the front most of the day was Kurt Busch, driving for Phoenix Racing in a car carrying a paint scheme celebrating the racing movie “Talladega Nights”. Busch pretended he was the movie’s lead character, NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby, much of the race as he used lines from the film as he communicated with his crew via radio.
Following Keselowski and Busch at the finish were Kenseth, Kasey Kahne and Biffle. In the second five were Clint Bowyer, David Ragan, Trevor Bayne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton.
Biffle remained atop the point standings and leads teammate Kenseth by seven entering next weekend’s race at Darlington, SC. Earnhardt Jr. is third.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.