TALLADEGA, Ala. — On a day of survival and attrition, Brad Keselowski was the last man standing at Talladega Superspeedway, powering through a crash-filled Alabama 500 to notch his fifth-career win at NASCAR’s longest race track.
Keselowski pulled off the 21st last lap pass in Talladega history with an assist from his battered Penske teammate Joey Logano, soaring around the outside of leader Ryan Newman entering Turn 3 and then holding back all comers over the final half-mile en route to victory in his 300th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start.
Following in the footsteps of Ned Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Logano, Keselowski becomes the seventh driver to celebrate the milestone with a victory, as well as the second (following Hamlin in May of 2014) to do so at Talladega.
The win was Keselowski’s third of the season and the 24th of his Cup career.
Even more importantly, Keselowski also advances to the third round of the playoffs with his win, after a day where accidents collected 10 of the 12 playoff contenders and three big crashes in the final 17 laps left only eight cars in the lead pack at the checkered flag.
“I survived (laughter). What a special day. It’s still sinking in,” Keselowski said of getting through the carnage and scoring another win at Talladega. “This is a special place to get to race and a special place when you win here, but man, I’m glad I don’t have to do that again!”
Keselowski also came back from radio issues that forced him to pit road with 31 laps to go for a new antenna on top of his No. 2 Miller Lite Ford.
“It was really a collaborative effort with the team and getting a real fast car and making the right moves as a driver and a lot of help from up above with staying out of those wrecks. It really takes all three (factors) and we had them all today.”
The first big crash came with 17 to go, moments after a restart that saw rookie Daniel Suarez soar to the lead around Logano before calamity broke out behind him.
Martin Truex Jr., who won at Charlotte to lock himself into the third round of the playoffs and was in the third lane on the far outside, got into the back of David Ragan and sent Ragan spinning down into the right-rear quarter of Kurt Busch’s Ford on the backstretch.
The contact tipped Busch around and up the track from the bottom lane, sparking a 17-car melee at the entrance to Turn 3 that collected playoff contenders Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Busch in its wake.
That crash drew a red flag period of 12 minutes and 31 seconds, leaving a 12-lap sprint in front of the field when the green flag waved once more.
A second, minor ‘Big One’ struck a lap after the restart, with contact between Logano and Trevor Bayne spinning Bayne in the middle of the pack and collecting Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick and Brendan Gaughan at the base of Turn 3.
That led to a second red flag period of five minutes and 45 seconds, before Suarez and Chase Elliott led the field back to green for an eight-lap sprint to the checkered flag.
However, the carnage still wasn’t done.
The front of the field saw a furious scramble for position once the green flag flew, with Suarez and Kyle Larson battling side-by-side for the race lead when Elliott tried to squeeze up the middle heading towards Turn 3 with six laps left.
All three cars got together, crashing in front of the field while Keselowski slipped through to assume the lead.
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