Brad Keselowski has won the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. The win secures Brad a spot in the next round of the playoffs, with many of his rivals now heading to Kansas next weekend at major risk of being eliminated from the hunt.
In the lead up to the race, many speculated that the ever-present risk of a wreck at Talladega could lead to massive championship implications should any of the playoff drivers be involved. In the final stage of the race, three wrecks occurred which eliminated all but four of the twelve playoff drivers from the running.
The first of these wrecks was the biggest. On lap 171, Martin Truex Jr tried to go to the outside of David Ragan as the pack entered turn three, but the pair made contact, sending Ragan shooting down the track. Ragan then tagged Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson, with the pair having heavy hits with the wall whilst also collecting Kyle Busch. Truex, Johnson and Kyle Busch weren’t the only playoff drivers involved too, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth also received some damage, but the latter two were able to continue.
The race was red flagged to clear up the debris left from the sixteen car wreck, but moments after the race restarted, Ryan Blaney was sent spinning down the race track after contact with Joey Logano from behind. Blaney collected Trevor Bayne, with Bayne somehow able to gather the car up and continue without too much damage. Blaney, however, rejoined the race track right into the path of Harvick and the #75 of Brendon Gaughan; who had led laps earlier in the race. Harvick, Blaney and Gaughan were forced to join the long list of retirees.
The final race defining wreck, again, not too long after the restart. With six laps to go, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson were running side by side in turn three, but Suarez opened the door for Chase Elliott to go in the middle of them. The #24 Chevrolet’s nose started to fill the gap, but then Suarez moved down a little just as Larson was moving up. The three met in the middle, Suarez was pitched into a slide and Elliott was unable to avoid. That would add another few drivers to the retirements list, taking the total to twenty-six cars out of forty that would not finish the race.
With just fourteen drivers still running after the three big wrecks, a three-lap shoot-out would determine who would get to victory lane. Keselowski had the lead when the green flag flew for the final time, but he had the pole-sitter Dale Jr right behind him hoping to challenge. With so little cars left in the running, tactics changed. It became all about which drivers could get hooked up the best to get them into the lead. This initially went the way of Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin, with Hamlin pushing Newman to the lead for the start of the final lap of the race.
By this time, however, the two Team Penske Ford drivers had gotten together, with Joey Logano able to help Brad Keselowski get back into contention. Brad had enough momentum going into turn three to be able to go to the outside of Newman through the final two turns. The pair were neck and neck off of the corner and into the tri-oval, but another big push from Logano behind was enough to put Brad clear of his pursuers as they came to the line.
Keselowski would cross the line about a car length clear of Newman to take his third win of the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series season, a win that could come in his three-hundredth start in the championship; a feat also accomplished by team-mate Joey Logano back in Richmond earlier this year. Five other drivers have also managed to win their three-hundredth race. Ned Jarrett was the first to do so in 1965, with Rusty Wallace, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin joining him.
The win seals Keselowski a spot in the round of eight of the playoffs, and what a drive it was for the #2 team. Even though many of his rivals fell by the wayside, both Brad and Team Penske can be happy that their car looked to be one of the fastest in the race; after having also taken the win in the first stage and second place in the second stage.
The last lap pass for the lead would deny Ryan Newman his second win of 2017. He would instead have to settle for second place in his #31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, just ahead of the #6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Trevor Bayne. Joey Logano and Aric Almirola would complete the top five, with Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Kasey Kahne completing the eight driver pack that crossed the line virtually together at the end of the race.
Only six other drivers were running when the chequered flag fell. Gray Gaulding would take his best finish of his Cup series career so far in ninth place, just ahead of David Ragan and Ty Dillon in tenth and eleventh respectively. Paul Menard and Kyle Larson were the final finishers on the lead lap, with Matt Kenseth limping home in his #20 JGR Camry to be the last car running, one lap down in fourteenth place.
Of the fourteen finishers, only Keselowski, Hamlin, Larson and Kenseth were playoff contenders, with the remaining eight all being caught up in the wrecks. Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney were the next two classified finishers after both being taken out in the final wreck. They were listed in sixteenth and eighteenth.
Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr and Jimmie Johnson were next in positions twenty, twenty-three and twenty-four. Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Kyle Busch were classified together in twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh, with Jamie McMurray the final classified playoff contender in thirty-seventh after wrecking in stage one whilst trying to make it off the track and onto pit-road.
Next week, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Kansas Speedway for the Hollywood Casino 400, the elimination race of this current round of the playoffs. After today’s calamitous result for many of the contenders, all but Truex Jr and Keselowski have confirmed spots in the next round.
Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Jamie McMurray are the four drivers below the cutline heading into next weekend’s race, but Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Blaney aren’t too far ahead on points. All will have to fight for their right next Sunday to continue in the championship hunt.
2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – Alabama 500 – Race results:
[table id=2597 /]
(P) – Playoff driver