What a difference a week makes.
Last Saturday night, Brad Keselowski was at the center of controversy after being part of multiple incidents following the race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The $50,000 fine for his actions just added more pressure to a situation that required him to win today’s elimination race at Talladega Superspeedway in order to advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase.
But on this Sunday, on NASCAR’s most chaotic track, Keselowski came through by charging from 39th on the starting grid, overcoming damage to his car from an early incident, and then surviving two green-white-checkered attempts to win the GEICO 500.
Upon reaching Victory Lane, Keselowski appeared to show remorse for what occurred in Charlotte.
“I know there are some people out there that probably aren’t happy that I won. I can understand that,” he said to ESPN. “But I’m a man like everyone else that does things they aren’t always proud of. I’m not real proud of last week. But I’m real proud about today.
“…I think it was very easy to write ourselves off after the last two weeks. We had one job to do: Come to Talladega and win it. And we did. We treated this weekend like Homestead. If these guys can keep it up at this level, we’ve got a shot at it. And I’m really, really thankful for that.”
A debris caution with four laps remaining set the stage for G-W-C, with Keselowski taking the restart in second alongside Ryan Newman. But he was able to take the lead from Newman before a multi-car incident broke out on the backstretch that involved Dale Earnhardt Jr. and several others.
That set up the second G-W-C attempt, and Newman mounted a charge on the outside as the white flag waved. He pulled side-by-side with Keselowski all the way to Turn 3 on the final lap.
But Keselowski and the inside line were able to pull ahead in the final corner, and the 2012 Cup champion went on to take, arguably, his greatest win yet at NASCAR’s top level.
“My first win in my [Cup] career was here and that was really big,” Keselowski said in reference to his inaugural Cup win in 2009. “This is at least the equal. It’s special.”
Newman went on to finish fifth at the stripe, but it was more than enough to get him into the Eliminator Round as the top Chaser without a win in the Contender Round.
Following him in on points were Denny Hamlin (18th place), race runner-up Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards (21st place), and Jeff Gordon (26th place), who earned the final Chase advance position by three points over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne.
On the other side of the cutoff with Kahne are Kyle Busch (-7 points), who finished 40th after being caught in a crash on Lap 102; Jimmie Johnson (24th place, -40 points); and Earnhardt, who was relegated to a 31st-place result due to the GWC1 accident. Their hopes of earning this year’s championship have come to a close earlier than they hoped for.
Clint Bowyer picked up a third-place finish behind Keselowski and Kenseth in the race. Landon Cassill surprised with a fourth place finish, then Newman in fifth, Travis Kvapil in sixth, Kurt Busch in seventh, Marcos Ambrose in eighth, Kevin Harvick in ninth and Casey Mears in 10th.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT TALLADEGA – GEICO 500
1. 2-Brad Keselowski, led 12 laps
2. 20-Matt Kenseth, led 1 lap
3. 15-Clint Bowyer
4. 40-Landon Cassill, led 1 lap
5. 31-Ryan Newman, led 10 laps
6. 33-Travis Kvapil
7. 41-Kurt Busch
8. 9-Marcos Ambrose
9. 4-Kevin Harvick, led 2 laps
10. 13-Casey Mears
11. 22-Joey Logano
12. 5-Kasey Kahne, led 12 laps
13. 3-Austin Dillon
14. 36-Reed Sorenson
15. 26-Cole Whitt, led 1 lap
16. 66-Michael Waltrip
17. 42-Kyle Larson
18. 11-Denny Hamlin, led 1 lap
19. 10-Danica Patrick, led 7 laps
20. 55-Brian Vickers
21. 99-Carl Edwards
22. 12-Ryan Blaney, led 15 laps
23. 47-A.J. Allmendinger
24. 48-Jimmie Johnson, led 84 laps
25. 16-Greg Biffle, led 1 lap
26. 24-Jeff Gordon, led 3 laps
27. 78-Martin Truex Jr., led 1 lap
28. 98-Josh Wise
29. 38-David Gilliland, led 2 laps
30. 34-David Ragan, led 2 laps
31. 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr., led 31 laps
32. 21-Trevor Bayne
33. 32-Terry Labonte
34. 14-Tony Stewart, led 5 laps
35. 1-Jamie McMurray, led 3 laps
36. 27-Paul Menard
37. 7-Michael Annett
38. 49-Mike Wallace
39. 43-Aric Almirola
40. 18-Kyle Busch
41. 95-Michael McDowell
42. 83-J.J. Yeley
43. 23-Alex Bowman