The Sprint Cup Series is more like a marathon than a sprint when you look at the long season that begins in February and doesn’t see its final checkered flag until November. The 36-race schedule tests both man and machine at every stop, but nothing compares to what both are subjected to when the schedule makes a stop at Talladega Superspeedway.
No other track on the schedule compares to the Alabama track. There are those that say Daytona and Talladega are sister tracks because they both mandate the use of the horsepower-robbing restrictor plates, but that may be all the two have in common. Talladega’s 2.66-mile tri-oval with its 33 degrees of banking in the turns is all about speed and when you combine it with the restrictor plate that keeps the cars bunched together, what you have is a blueprint for flag-toflag excitement.
Sunday’s running of the Aaron’s 499 was no different as it only took seven laps for the first ‘big one’ to take place that involved a total of 17 cars including Jeff Gordon, who entered the race on top of the point standings. The multi-car crash didn’t slow down the excitement as the racing continued three wide around the track with some single-cars spins eventually giving away to the next ‘big one’ on lap 180, which involved another nine drivers.
By the time the track was cleared for racing there were only eight laps of racing remaining and those drivers still on the track had no memory of what had just taken place. The racing returned to its three-wide format with front-end bumpers glued to the rear of the car in front. The stage was being set for another one of those famous Talladega finishes which seem to always feature a last lap where the lead may change several times with the favorite being disappointed when the checkered flag finally waves.
This finish was no different as Ryan Newman took the white flag with his rearview mirror full of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was stuck to his rear bumper. It looked like these two would battle for the win but on the outside Carl Edwards was being pushed to the front by Brad Keselowski. The two made an easy pass on the duo of Newman and Earnhardt Jr., and it came down to a personal duel between them with the checkered flag in sight.
As often is the case when leading coming out of turn four at Talladega, the leader has to do some blocking if he wants to make it to victory lane. This was the case as Edwards was trying to hold off Keselowski, who was making only his fifth-ever Sprint Cup start.
Keselowski looked as if he was going to go high around Edwards, who moved up the track to slow down his momentum, and when he did he opened up the inside just enough to allow Keselowski to get his nose inside. When Edwards came back down he got into Keselowski’s right front bumper, which was enough to get him sideways. The car starting sliding up to the outside wall and began to go airborne when he was hit by Newman, forcing the car high into the catch fence.
While all of this was taking place, Keselowski beat Earnhardt Jr. to the finish line for his first-ever Sprint Cup win. It was also the first-ever win for owner James Finch, who runs a part-time schedule in the Sprint Cup Series. Making the win even more remarkable was that Finch’s Phoenix Racing is a one-car operation.
The win was not only huge for Keselowski and Finch but for the entire series, as it turned out to be one of those David and Goliath stories that don’t come around too often in this sport. There is nothing like an underdog winning when he shouldn’t and for a sport that is being totally dominated by a few multi-car operations, it was the kind of finish that will give the sport some positive national attention.
The next race for Keselowski and Finch will be the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in three weeks. Race winners gain an automatic berth in the field for that event with the chance to race for a million dollars. The guaranteed added exposure of racing in the All-Star race also may help attract a few sponsors to Finch’s operation.
Race Preview — Event: Crown Royal Presents The Russ Friedman 400. Track: Richmond International Raceway (.750-mile oval, 14 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: May 2, 7:30 p.m. TV: Fox. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Clint Bowyer.