Brad Keselowski wins NASCAR Cup Series Geico 500 series at Talladega
The tenth race of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season took place on Sunday at the fastest track on the circuit. The action is always fast and furious at Talladega Superspeedway, with the 51st annual Geico 500 being no exception. The fact that eventual race winner Brad Keselowski only led one lap of the day speaks volumes about the hectic action. This NASCAR recap article looks back on an epic day of draft pack racing in Alabama.
NASCAR Cup Series Recap | Brad Keselowski wins at Talladega
Geico 500 Step 1
Denny Hamlin was the poleman in Sunday’s Geico 500 thanks to the NASCAR competitive formula. That’s until he’s not. In fact, all the Toyotas in the peloton minus No.18 Kyle Busch were forced to fall back and start at the back of the pack. Although they all passed the pre-race inspection, NASCAR noticed unapproved post-inspection adjustments that resulted in the penalty.
That left Joey Logano and last week’s Richmond winner Alex Bowman as the two cars that started the race in first place. Right away, there was a drama when Bowman Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson completed a few laps before the end of his day thanks to a failed setup.
Despite Toyota’s penalties, none of them wasted much time getting back to the top of the field. In fact, Bubba Wallace started last and managed to work all the way to the front before the competition’s warning on Lap 25. The pit stops that followed provided some drama as well. There were a handful of pit-road penalties, including one against Harrison Burton making his NASCAR Cup Series debut. It’s always worth a laugh anytime you see gas can make its way down the pit lane.
Joey Logano rolls over in spectacular crash
Following the warning, things remained fairly calm until the end of the stage. Towards the end of the stage, Matt DiBenedetto made his way to the front of the pitch and had the support of his pseudo-teammates Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano. Right behind them was Denny Hamlin’s No.11. He had a big bump from behind and the run forced him to lean in slightly to avoid hitting Logano who was directly in front of him. But when Hamlin tried to pull him together and get back in formation, he nailed Logano’s left-back quarterback panel and spun No.22.
Now, if you thought the crash looked crazy in the video above, try checking it out from Bubba Wallace’s perspective.
Only at ‘Dega! Stage 1 ended under caution following the wreckage with DiBenedetto taking the win.
Geico 500 Stage 2
The NASCAR Cup Series drivers climbed back to 200 mph when the green flag fell in stage 2. Things went pretty well until the green flag pit stops started to pass. Like February’s Daytona 500, it immediately became evident that the cars of the three manufacturers would stick together when they went under the green.
Chevrolet troops arrived first and were able to gain traction doing so despite having a smaller draft group than the established Ford and Toyotas train. The Chevy unit lost three cars in the process as Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez had speeding penalties. Chase Elliott also had a slower pit stop for an adjustment and fell back from the main group of cars coming out.
The Fords were next to come, ditching the Toyotas in the process. When the Camrys finally made their way to the pit road, Denny Hamlin was nailed for entering too quickly. When he went to serve his driving penalty, he entered the pit lane too quickly again. The result was that betting favorite Geico 500 fell by one lap.
Kurt Busch’s mechanical failure sets up a wild scene finish
As the cars all came together, Kurt Busch started to smoke and spill some liquid to bring out a yellow. The underside of his car caught fire in the pit lane as the team attempted to fix what was undoubtedly a broken oil line.
William Byron turned the field back to green after the caution, but Bubba Wallace quickly pushed him back. He did well to block all the lines behind him, including 23XI Racing co-owner Hamlin, who was running hard to try to clear himself before the end of the stage. Brad Keselowski blocked a hard charge run on the outside and Hamlin sank into the wall. The wreckage gathered the three remaining Hendrick cars, but only Alex Bowman failed to get back on track. The second leg ended under the yellow, as did the first, with Wallace collecting the points of the playoffs.
Geico 500 Final step
Ryan Blaney managed to take the lead in the pitstops of the stage break and brought the peloton back to green. Aric Almirola also climbed 10 places on the pit lane taking only fuel. He would find himself in the lead shortly after the restart as debris on the grille of the No.12 car forced Blaney to back up.
As Almirola continued to lead, the patented Talladega Superspeedway train made an appearance of its own. The entire peloton ran in one line for several laps at the start of the stage. It got to the point where fuel was becoming a legitimate concern for the No. 10 team running the throttle up front. The train was finally broken as Kurt Busch, running six laps behind but still running, gave Chip Ganassi’s teammate Ross Chastain a boost.
At the Green Flag stops, the Toyotas made sure to come with the large group of Chevrolets to avoid being at a drafting disadvantage. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s No.47 car hit the bottom wall on its way into the pits, but no warning was issued. Christopher Bell inherited the lead, but quickly abandoned it due to concerns about fuel consumption. He was not alone as several teams failed to fill Sunoco’s cars.
End-of-race tire strategy
Quin Houff hit the wall to give a warning with just under 20 laps to go. Several cars took to the pit route to refuel and take tires for extra grip on the stretch. However, a handful of teams have chosen to stay out. Erik Jones was among them and the No. 43 car from Richard Petty Motorsports led the field in the restart. Matt DiBenedetto pushed his way forward again as the cars surrounding him and not in the pits slowly fell back.
🔊 Listen to Burnt Rubber Racing wherever you get your podcasts!
Then Martin Truex Jr. had a tire cut, forcing him out of the draft and down onto the apron. In a rather inexplicable move, the No.19 didn’t enter the pits the next time around. The tire shell popped out shortly after to bring out another yellow just three laps from the end.
Geico 500 heads at overtime
Given the timing of Truex’s caution, the race was held in a green-white checkered overtime format to decide the finish. DiBenedetto controlled the restart and held on for the first of two overtime laps. But the No 21 Wood Brothers Racing Mustang couldn’t block everyone out forever. When he slid down the track to crush a Blaney run, Brad Keselowski had a clear sail at the bottom. He leapt forward with a push from Micahel McDowell. As several cars wrecked behind them, Keselowski managed to hold back both the winner of the Dayton 500 and a heavily loaded William Byron to secure the victory.
The victory marks Keselowski’s sixth at Talladega Superspeedway, which ties Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for most all-time drivers. This is the first victory of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season for Team Penske # 2 Mustang. Keselowski is now the eighth different driver to win a race this year. Byron, McDowell, Kevin Harvick and DiBenedetto round out the top five of the Geico 500.
Final thoughts of the Geico 500
As usual, Talladega Superspeedway delivered on Sunday. Many considered this year’s Geico 500 to be the fourth crown jewel race, with the Brickyard 400 not being raced on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Oval. Well, this one looked like a jewel in the NASCAR Cup Series crown. From favorites crashing, burning and returning to a thrilling finish, Talladega gave racing fans another treat.
With ten races now complete, NASCAR will head to the Midwest next week for the first of two visits to Kansas Speedway this season. Overcoming Sunday’s thrilling action is nearly impossible, but don’t sleep on Kansas as a track that can provide its own highlights.
Follow us on all our social channels! Discover our Twitter, Facebook and Youtube for more FlurrySports content.