The closing laps of the GEICO 500 at Talladega on Sunday produced another first time winner in Brad Keselowski and threatened to produce not only a first time winner for this season but give a driver his first ever win in the series.
Racing on the high banked turns of Talladega is all about surviving to the end of the race and then make the right decision both on pit road and on the track to have the opportunity to capture the checkered flag.
The closing laps on Sunday looked like any other race at Talladega as you had some very familiar names up near the front as well as some no so familiar drivers flirting with the opportunity to win the first race of their careers.
There is still something to be said about experience at the Cup level and Keselowski came into the race as a former five-time winner at the Alabama track and he and his crew chief Jeremy Bullins made the right call late in the race to take on four tires during a pit stop that put him in a position to win. Keselowski had put his Penske Racing Ford in position to win after the last round of pit stops but a late race caution forced the race to go into overtime and at that point the veteran became the benefactor of a mistake by another driver.
Matt DiBenedetto looking for his first ever win was in the lead when the green flag waved to begin the overtime and soon found himself having to make a choice which lane to try and block. Some will argue that leading is not where you want to be in the final laps at either Talladega or Daytona and on Sunday that was the case as DiBenedetto was blocking the inside lane when he made the move to go up the track and throw a block on the outside lane that was gaining momentum.
Keselowski with the inside lane open and the momentum from a line of cars behind him took the lead to lead his only lap of the race but it was the one lap that had a checkered flag waving at the end of it.
The win put Keselowski in some exclusive company as he tied Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jeff Gordon as the all-time winners at the track with six wins each. Racing at Talladega or Daytona can become a “team” event as teammates from the same organizations or racing for the same manufactures become glued to the bumpers of each other.
It’s an advantage to have as many teammates as possible around you in order to get the push you need to make a pass or not have to come down on pit road by yourself only to have to return to the track without a partner to help you draft your way back to the pack.
The results on Sunday had Ford and Chevrolet dominating the race as they claimed the top-16 finishing positions. Ford had ten of those spots but the domination may have been more about the number of Toyotas to start the race as only seven Toyotas took the green flag to begin the race. Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch, Bubba Wallace and Harrison Burton were the only Toyota drivers to finish on the lead lap with Bell leading the way in seventeenth.
PIT NOTES: Could the arrival of the NextGen race car next year have something to do with there being nine different winners in the first ten races of this season? Teams no longer are spending the money and time to improve the present car as it now has a very short shelf life, so it is hard to imagine that some team may “find” something as the season wears on that will separate them from the rest of the pack. This may be the most even playing field in the history of the sport and it could be why the number of winners this season may be more than there are spots in the playoff field at the end of the regular season.