Brad Keselowski rallied from being involved in an accident following the first stage involving his teammate Joey Logano to add his name as a NASCAR Cup Series winner in 2021 after overtaking Matt DiBenedetto on the final lap before holding off Michael McDowell and William Byron to win the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, April 25.
Keselowski’s first victory of the season, which occurred in his 423rd career start, came with a bonus as he became the third competitor in the Cup Series history to win at Talladega six times.
The starting lineup was based on a performance metric formula, weighing the driver’s and owner’s results from a previous Cup event, the owner points position and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Cup race. Denny Hamlin, the regular-season points leader, was scheduled to start on pole position, but he dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments. With that, Joey Logano and Alex Bowman, winner of last weekend’s Cup event at Richmond Raceway, started on the front row.
Along with Hamlin, teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell along with Bubba Wallace, B.J. McLeod and Harrison Burton, making his Cup Series debut with Gaunt Brothers Racing, dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments. Cody Ware also started at the rear of the field due to his car failing pre-race inspection twice.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Logano moved from the bottom lane to the outside lane and in front of William Byron to retain the lead. Byron, however, drew himself alongside Logano as he led the first lap by a narrow margin as the field fanned out to two lanes in a pack.
While Logano and Byron battled for the lead in front of a bevy of cars in a pack, Kyle Larson pitted after reporting temperature and engine issues to his No. 5 Chevrolet. Despite trying to continue while multiple laps down, the engine issues on Larson’s car was enough to terminate his run early.
By the fifth lap and with the lead group running in a single-file line, Logano was leading followed by teammate Brad Keselowski, Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick and rookie Chase Briscoe. Cole Custer and Chris Buescher were in sixth and seventh followed by Ryan Preece, Bubba Wallace and Ross Chastain.
By the 10th lap, Logano remained out in front of a three-wide pack battling for positions at the front.
Two laps later, Wallace moved his No. 23 Door Dash Toyota Camry to the lead followed by Kevin Harvick. Another three laps later, though, Harvick moved to the outside lane and received a push from Brad Keselowski to lead a lap for himself.
Entering Turn 1, Harvick moved in front of Wallace for the lead followed by Keselowski while Wallace remained as the first car leading the inside lane. By then, names like Ross Chastain, Michael McDowell, Tyler Reddick and teammate Austin Dillon were in the top 10 along with Kyle Busch, Logano, Kurt Busch and Christopher Bell.
When the competition caution flew on Lap 25, Kyle Busch, who took over the top spot on Lap 22, was the leader followed by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Logano, Chase Elliott and others.
Under the competition caution, most of the leaders pitted and Hamlin exited in first followed by teammate Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Bell, Byron and Kurt Busch. During the pit stops, Harrison Burton was assessed a pit road penalty for removing the gas can out of his pit stall. Truex was also penalized for speeding on pit road along with Ryan Preece due to a crew member jumping over the wall too soon.
Back on the track, a handful of competitors that include rookie Chase Briscoe, Corey LaJoie, Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman, rookie Anthony Alfredo, Justin Haley, B.J. McLeod, Timmy Hill and J.J. Yeley remained on the track. They all, though, pitted prior to the restart.
When the race restarted on Lap 30, Hamlin retained the lead over teammate Kyle Busch while the field quickly fanned out to three lanes.
By Lap 35 and with the field still fanned out to three lanes, Hamlin remained in the lead on the outside lane followed by Keselowski while Kyle Busch mounted a challenge in the inside lane with drafting help from Byron. Wallace, meanwhile, was in the middle lane in front of Elliott, but shuffled out of the lead draft after challenging for the top spot earlier.
The caution returned on Lap 39 due to Joey Gase spinning in Turn 4. Under caution, some like Harvick, Wallace, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Tyler Reddick, Matt DiBenedetto, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez pitted while the rest led by Hamlin remained on the track.
When the field restarted on Lap 43, the No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry piloted by Hamlin retained the lead followed by Blaney and the pack.
By Lap 50, Blaney was leading followed by teammate Logano, Cole Custer, Matt DiBenedetto and Harvick while Hamlin, Chris Buescher, Byron, Preece and Bubba Wallace were in the top 10. A lap later, though, DiBenedetto stormed to the lead. Another two laps later, Preece moved his No. 37 Chevrolet to the lead.
With the laps in the first stage dwindling, a majority of competitors within the lead pack started to establish their run for the top spot held by DiBenedetto. Entering the backstretch and on the final lap of the first stage, however, contact from Stenhouse turned Hamlin into third-place Logano, which sent Logano’s No. 22 AutoTrader Ford Mustang sideways and airborne after being hit by Stenhouse as Logano flipped over and spun in a circle on his roof before flipping back on all four wheels and coming to rest below the apron near Turn 3. Logano emerged uninjured following his accident, though his race concluded after leading 10 laps. In the midst of Logano’s wild ride, teammate Keselowski, Wallace and Stenhouse sustained damage.
The caution for the wreck concluded the first stage of the race, with DiBenedetto scored as the leader and calming his maiden stage victory in the Cup Series followed by Blaney, Elliott, Hamlin and Byron. Buescher, Bowman, McDowell, Harvick and Bell were running in the top 10.
Under the stage break, a majority of the leaders pitted while some like Ryan Newman, Suarez, Kaz Grala, Quin Houff, Yeley, Justin Haley, McLeod and Timmy Hill remained on the track. They all, though, pitted prior to the restart.
The second stage started on Lap 66 with Chase Elliott and Hamlin on the front row. When the field returned to the tri-oval and the start/finish line, Hamlin was back in the lead.
By Lap 75 and with the field fanning out to three lanes in a tight pack for the lead, Hamlin was scored as the leader followed by DiBenedetto, Byron, Preece and Chastain while Harvick, Truex, Kurt Busch, Elliott and Bell were in the top 10.
Nearly 10 laps later, a majority of Chevrolet competitors pitted under green. During the process, Suarez and Chastain were penalized for speeding on pit road.
By Lap 90, Hamlin was still out in front followed by DiBenedetto, Truex, Bell and Custer while Blaney, Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Harvick and Buescher were in the top 10. With the field spread out around the superspeedway, names like Elliott, Chastain and Suarez were pinned a lap behind the leaders.
A few laps later, a majority of the Ford competitors pitted under green. Not long after, the Toyota competitors pitted. Following the stops, Harvick and Buescher were nabbed with pit road speeding penalties. Hamlin, who overshot his pit stall during his stop, was also penalized for speeding on pit road. While serving his penalty, things went from bad to worse for Hamlin, who was busted with another pit road speeding penalty.
At the halfway mark on Lap 94, Preece emerged as the leader followed by Chevrolet competitors Byron, Kurt Busch, Bowman, Austin Dillon and Erik Jones.
By Lap 100, Preece continued to lead followed by Byron, Kurt Busch, DiBenedetto and Keselowski while Custer, McDowell, Kyle Busch, Wallace and Bell were in the top 10. Hamlin, following his pair of pit road speeding penalties, was mired back in 36th place and scored a lap behind the leaders.
Four laps later, the caution returned due to fluid on the track that came from Kurt Busch’s No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE with smoke steaming out from Busch’s car. While nursing his car back to pit road, a fire broke out underneath Busch’s car and the 2004 Cup champion took his car to the garage to address an oil cooler issue.
Under caution, some like Bowman, Truex, Blaney, Reddick, Harvick, Buescher and Elliott pitted while the rest led by Byron remained on the track. During the pit stops, Harvick was penalized due to a crew member jumping over the wall too soon.
When the race restarted on Lap 109, Byron and DiBenedetto battled dead even for the lead, though Byron retained the top spot.
Prior to Lap 112, DiBenedetto and Kyle Busch made contact while battling for the lead exiting Turn 3, where DiBenedetto was trying to block Kyle Busch. Though both competitors dipped below the apron and lost the lead, both prevented their cars from spinning. At the front, Bubba Wallace returned to the lead.
With five laps remaining in the second stage, Wallace continued to lead followed by Keselowski, McDowell, Byron and Blaney as the field continued to battle in two lanes.
With two laps remaining in the stage, however, a multi-car wreck erupted entering the tri-oval when a bump from teammate Truex sent Hamlin, who was a lap down, bouncing off the outside wall and a chain reaction ensued behind with Truex, Bowman, Elliott and Byron wrecking on the frontstretch.
The wreck was enough to end the second stage under caution as Bubba Wallace claimed his first stage victory in the Cup circuit. Keselowski charged his way to second place followed by McDowell, Kyle Busch, Preece, Blaney, Buescher, Stenhouse Bell and Harrison Burton.
Under the stage break, the majority of the leaders returned to pit road except for Newman, Grala, Yeley, McLeod and Custer. The first competitor to exit pit road in first was Blaney followed by Almirola, Wallace, McDowell, Kyle Busch and Keselowski. Shortly after, Newman, Grala, Yeley, McLeod and Custer pitted.
Prior to the restart, a majority of competitors returned to pit road to top off on fuel for the final stage.
With 62 laps remaining, the final stage commenced. At the start, Blaney received a push from his friend Wallace to retain the top spot over Almirola and McDowell. With Wallace remaining on the inside lane, he was shuffled out of the battle for the lead due to a lack of competitors running on his lane. Meanwhile, Blaney retained the top spot on the outside line and with a bevy of cars behind him.
Shortly after, Blaney reported debris on his front grille despite leading the race. With Almirola moving his No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang to the lead on Lap 131, Blaney was able to tuck behind Almirola’s car and remove the debris from his car.
With 50 laps remaining, Almirola continued to lead followed by Blaney, McDowell, Keselowski, Chris Buescher, DiBenedetto, Austin Dillon, Preece, Briscoe and Erik Jones, all of whom were among several competitors running in a single-file lane on the outside lane led by Blaney. Bubba Wallace was in 12th behind Ross Chastain, Kyle Busch was in 14th in front of teammate Bell, Harvick was in 21st followed by Newman and Truex, Elliott was in 25th and Byron was in 27th in front of Harrison Burton. Hamlin was in 34th, two laps behind, while Kurt Busch was in 36th, six laps behind.
Down to the final 40 laps of the event, Ross Chastain muscled his No. 42 Caregility Chevrolet into the lead with drafting help from teammate Kurt Busch, who was multiple laps behind. Kyle Busch moved into second place followed by teammate Bell while Almirola was shuffled back in fourth place despite leading the outside lane ahead of Blaney and McDowell.
With 35 laps remaining, the top-30 competitors were separated by less than two seconds. At the front, Chastain continued to lead followed by Kyle Busch and teammate Bell while Harvick mounted a challenge for the top spot on the outside lane.
Not long after, a wave of competitors led by Chastain reduced their speed on the bottom lane to pit under green. During the process, Stenhouse spun following a bump from Quin Houff and made light contact with the inside wall near the pit road entrance. Despite the incident, the race remained under green. Following the pit stops, Newman was penalized for speeding on pit road.
Back on the track and with 30 laps remaining, the top-10 positions were filled by Ford competitors led by Harvick. A lap later, another wave of competitors led by Harvick pitted under green. During this process, Newman was penalized a second time for speeding on pit road again.
With the field cycling through following the pit stops, Christopher Bell emerged as the leader followed by Chastain, Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick and Erik Jones. Harvick was shuffled back to sixth place followed by teammate Almirola, McDowell, Keselowski and Briscoe. With 26 laps remaining, though, Chastain reassumed the lead while Bell was shuffled back into fifth place.
Down to the final 20 laps of the event, the top-18 competitors were separated by a second, with Chastain still leading followed by Kyle Busch and Erik Jones, who moved up to the outside lane in front of McDowell as he challenged for second place and more.
With 18 laps remaining, Erik Jones muscled his No. 43 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE into the lead followed by DiBenedetto, Bubba Wallace, Chastain and Keselowski while Kyle Busch was in sixth.
A lap later, the caution flew due to a single-car incident in Turn 2 involving Quin Houff, an incident that occurred in front of the leaders as the leaders took evasive action to avoid the incident.
Under caution, some like Jones, DiBenedetto, Custer, Truex, Wallace, Kyle Busch, Reddick, Blaney and Kaz Grala remained on the track while others pitted for fuel to make it to the finish. By then, 27 of the 40-car field were scored on the lead lap.
With 12 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Jones retained the lead on the inside lane followed by Chastain and Wallace, but DiBenedetto fought back on the outside lane with drafting help from Truex. When the field returned to the start/finish line, DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang for the iconic Wood Brothers Racing team emerged with the lead.
Down to the final 10 laps of the event, DiBenedetto was leading followed by Truex, Kyle Busch, Blaney, Keselowski, Harvick and Jones. Shortly after, Penske drivers Blaney and Keselowski lined up behind DiBenedetto.
Behind, Truex, who was running towards the front in the final laps, fell out of the lead pack and pitted due to a flat tire.
With five laps remaining, DiBenedetto continued to lead followed by Blaney, Keselowski, Harvick and McDowell. Meanwhile, Byron started to mount a challenge on the inside lane with drafting help from Jones, Kyle Busch and Chastain.
Two laps later and with the field starting to fan out with competitors establishing their run to the front, the caution returned due to a tire carcass spotted on the frontstretch, which came off of Truex’s car after he lost another tire.
Under caution, some like Kyle Busch and Wallace pitted while the rest led by DiBenedetto remained on the track.
With the race sent into overtime, the race restarted with DiBenedetto and Blaney on the front row. At the start, DiBenedetto retained the lead through Turns 1 and 2. Through the backstretch, however, Harvick drafted Blaney to the front, but DiBenedetto retained the lead through Turn 3 and the tri-oval as he started the final lap of the race.
With the field bunched up and fanned out to two lanes entering Turns 1 and 2, Keselowski drew his No. 2 MoneyLion Ford Mustang alongside DiBenedetto and received a push from McDowell and Harvick to take the lead while DiBenedetto had no drafting help on the outside lane.
Through Turn 3, Keselowski continued to lead followed by McDowell and Harvick while DiBenedetto was split in a three-wide battle with Erik Jones and Byron as the field fanned out to three lanes.
Entering the tri-oval, Jones spun following contact with Kaz Grala and made contact with the outside wall as the field scattered to avoid him. With Chastain also spinning coming to the start/finish line, McDowell made a move to the outside of Keselowski, but it was not enough as Keselowski managed to fend off McDowell and a hard-charging Byron to cross the finish line with the lead and the victory, having led only the final lap of the race.
With his first victory of the 2021 season and the 35th of his Cup career, Keselowski tied Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon for the second-most victories at Talladega (six). In addition, he became the third Team Penske competitor and the ninth different competitor to record a win through the first 10 Cup races of this season.
“Man, 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…That’s pretty cool.”
Behind Keselowski, William Byron edged Michael McDowell by 0.001 seconds to claim the runner-up spot. Harvick finished fourth followed by Matt DiBenedetto, who led 28 laps and was in position to claim his first Cup career victory. While he did not leave Talladega as a winner, DiBenedetto was still smiling as he recorded his first top-five result of the season.
“It’s tough, but it’s just all so circumstantial,” DiBenedetto said. “We talked about it a lot before the race and it’s tough. Our day will come. I’m just lucky to drive this thing and have the support from everybody. The fans, they are so awesome. Driving for the Wood Brothers is really a dream come true. Gosh, it’s hard to come so close to so many of these things. The Fords are so fast. They believe in me, the whole Ford camp. They do an excellent job. The Mustangs are great…Our day will come. We’ll get there. I just appreciate the support from everybody.
Kaz Grala recorded an impressive sixth-place result in his third Cup career start while Reddick, teammate Austin Dillon, Blaney and Custer finished in the top 10.
Rookies Chase Briscoe and Anthony Alfredo finished 11th and 12th, Chastain finished 16th after pounding the inside wall head-on while sliding across the finish line, Wallace finished 19th behind JGR’s Bell and Kyle Busch and Harrison Burton finished 20th in his Cup debut. Erik Jones settled in 27th following his wreck on the final lap.
There were 35 lead changes for 17 different leaders. The race featured seven cautions for 34 laps.
Despite his issues at Talladega, Denny Hamlin continues to lead the regular-season standings by 87 points over teammate Truex, 93 over Logano, 95 over Byron and 100 over Blaney.
1. Brad Keselowski, one lap led
2. William Byron, 12 laps led
3. Michael McDowell
4. Kevin Harvick, 12 laps led
5. Matt DiBenedetto, 28 laps led, Stage 1 winner
6. Kaz Grala
7. Tyler Reddick
8. Austin Dillon
9. Ryan Blaney, 11 laps led
10. Cole Custer
11. Chase Briscoe, one lap led
12. Anthony Alfredo
13. Ryan Newman, two laps led
14. Ryan Preece, nine laps led
15. Aric Almirola, 16 laps led
16. Ross Chastain, 12 laps led
17. Christopher Bell, two laps led
18. Kyle Busch, six laps led
19. Bubba Wallace, 16 laps led, Stage 2 winner
20. Harrison Burton
21. Chris Buescher
22. Corey LaJoie
23. Daniel Suarez
24. Chase Elliott, three laps led
25. B.J. McLeod
26. J.J. Yeley
27. Erik Jones – OUT, Accident, seven laps led
28. Cody Ware, one lap down
29. Timmy Hill, one lap down
30. Justin Haley, one lap down
31. Martin Truex Jr., two laps down
32. Denny Hamlin, three laps down, 43 laps led
33. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., five laps down
34. Joey Gase, five laps down
35. Kurt Busch, six laps down
36. Josh Bilicki, 11 laps down
37. Quin Houff – OUT, Accident
38. Alex Bowman – OUT, Dvp
39. Joey Logano – OUT, Accident, 10 laps led
40. Kyle Larson – OUT, Engine
Next on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule is a trip to the midwest at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, May 2, with the event to occur at 3 p.m. ET on FS1.