Brad Keselowski led only one lap of the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, but it was the biggest one. Keselowski was fourth among a group of Fords up front for an overtime restart with Matt DiBenedetto in the lead. But when that Ford draft fell apart, Keselowski took the lead on the final lap to claim his first win of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. The win was the sixth of his career at Talladega, though, most among active drivers.
“Merry Christmas. What an awesome day today to bring the MoneyLion Ford Mustang into victory lane,” Keselowski said. ”The whole race, I had a couple opportunities to take the lead, but I just kept thinking, ‘Man, keep your car in one piece.’ We’ve been so close here, and it just didn’t seem to want to come together here the last few years, and I’ve been on kind of a four-year drought here, but it’s nice to get number six. I would have never dreamed I’d tie Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. here. That’s something. Those guys are really legends. I’m just really proud of my team. We had an accident, there, early and they recovered and got it fixed up to where I could keep running. My crew chief, Jeremy Bullins, had a lot of confidence. I told him him, ‘I want to come in and put four tires on this thing,’ and he said, ‘Yep, go ahead.’ And that really helped a bunch at the end. Other than that, I’m just so excited. My daughters and my wife are here. They’re in the motorhome lot. I don’t know if they’ll get to come to victory lane, but if not, they got to see daddy win, so that’s pretty cool.”
Keselowski was propelled to the front by a push from Michael McDowell, but William Byron got by McDowell just before the checkered flag to take runner-up honors. McDowell finished third, Kevin Harvick was fourth, and DiBenedetto rounded out the top-five.
“Finished second here at Talladega in the #24 Liberty University Chevrolet,” Byron said. “It was a good race for us. I felt like we had a shot, there, at the end, just not quite enough race car to lead the race, I felt like. But it was a really good day. We had some damage, but the guys did a great job fixing it. We’ll go to Kansas and, hopefully, have a really fast car there.”
DiBenedetto wound up just outside the top-five in the sixth position at the finish. He was the winner of the first 60-lap stage of the race that was scheduled for 188 laps but extended by the overtime to 191 laps.
The stage ended under caution because of a multi-car crash that included Joey Logano’s car getting airborne and flipping. The car landed right-side up and Logano was not injured.
“I guess I don’t know exactly what to think,” Logano said. “It is a product of this [superspeedway] racing. On one hand, I am so proud to drive a Cup car that is safe, and that I can go through a crash like that and get out and speak about it. On one hand, I am mad about being in the crash and on the other, I am happy to be alive. On another hand, I am wondering when we are going to stop, because this is dangerous doing what we are doing. I got a roll bar in my head. That is not okay. I am one hit away from the same situation Ryan Newman just went through [in the 2020 Daytona 500]. I just don’t feel like that is acceptable. A lot of it is the big spoiler and the big runs and all the pushing. It is nobody’s fault. Denny [Hamlin] is trying to go and the 47 [Ricky Stenhouse Jr.] is trying to go. It is a product of this racing. We have to fix it though. Someone already got hurt, and we are still doing it, so that’s not real smart. At the same time, I am appreciative of driving a car that is this safe and what Team Penske has done for the safety of these cars so that I can live to talk about it and go again. I got lucky that I didn’t get hit while I was in the air. It is unfortunate for our Autotrader Mustang but we will go on but it won’t be a good starting spot next week.”
Hamlin led 21 laps of the opening stage. He was the official pole sitter but had to drop to the back for the initial green flag along with most of the Toyotas because of unapproved changes to their cars. They passed pre-race inspecteion, but on the starting grid, NASCAR officials had an issue with something on the bodies of most of the Toyotas. Those teams were told to fix what officials didn’t like before the race and were assessed the typical “unapproved adjustment” penalty.
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. had his Toyota up front by lap 12, and a few laps later, the other Toyotas, including Hamlin’s, was up front with him. Hamlin took his first lead of the race by getting off pit road first during a lap-25 competition caution.
Eventual stage-one winner DiBenedetto led eight of the final 10 laps of the stage.
Logano’s airborne car flew over Wallace’s car, making some contact. The damage to Wallace’s car was minimal, though, and Wallace won the second stage of the race on lap 120.
Like in the first stage, Hamlin also led more than a third of the second 60-lap stage. He led 22 laps of stage two before two pit-road speeding penalties during a cycle of green-flag pit stops before lap 90. He was nabbed speeding on his initial trip down pit road and, again, on his return to serve the initial penalty. Then, he was involved in a multi-caar crash on lap 119 that resulted in the second stage also ending under caution.
While the yellow flag waved seven times in the race, only the two at the end of each of the 60-lap stages were results of multi-car crashes. The final caution that sent the race into overtime was the result of debris from a Martin Truex Jr. flat tire.
Other top-10 finishers included Kaz Grala in sixth, Tyler Reddick in seventh, Austin Dillon in eighth, Ryan Blaney in ninth and Cole Custer in 10th.
GEICO 500 RESULTS