Brad Keselowski wins at Talladega on 2nd G-W-C attempt, advances in Chase

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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
Unofficial Results

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

NHRA: Top 10 storylines of the 2019 season

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The 2019 NHRA season wound up being one where there was almost as much news and highlights made off the drag strip as on it.

That was the case in two of the top four storylines for the recently completed season, with the top story occurring even before the first pass down a drag strip in competition took place.

We’ve also included a poll for you to vote and see if you agree with our picks or not.

Here’s how our top 10 looks:

1. A Force-ful departure: Just two weeks before the 2019 season was due to open, Funny Car driver Courtney Force, daughter of 16-time champion John Force, stunned the drag racing world by announcing she was taking a hiatus from the sport – although she insisted she was not retiring. The wife of IndyCar driver Graham Rahal, Force turned over her high dollar Advance Auto Parts sponsorship to sister and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, who had previously been sponsored by Monster Energy. Courtney Force became the second high-profile female drag racer to step away from the sport in just over a year, joining fellow Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria, who went on hiatus after the 2017 season. This past October, DeJoria announced she would return to full-time NHRA competition in 2020. But as for Courtney, she remains on hiatus for at least the time being.

2. Torrence’s Texas two-step: Proud Texas native Steve Torrence won his second consecutive Top Fuel championship in 2019, winning nine races (including eight in a nine-race stretch). While Torrence enjoyed an outstanding season in 2018, winning 11 races and becoming the first driver in NHRA history to win all six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, he won just one playoff race in 2019. But he still managed to earn just enough points to hold off his closest rival, Doug Kalitta, by a mere three points for the second championship. Also of note: Steve’s father Billy finished a career-best fifth in the final standings, even though he competed in just 16 of the season’s 24 national events.

3. What happened to ‘The Sarge’? Tony Schumacher is the winningest Top Fuel driver in NHRA history, with eight championships and 84 national event wins. But he was essentially AWOL in 2019, failing to compete in even one race. The reason: sponsorship. Or more precisely, lack thereof. The U.S. Army, which had sponsored Schumacher for nearly 20 years – which prompted him to adopt the colorful nickname of “The Sarge” — pulled its funding after the 2018 season, leaving Schumacher without a fully-funded ride for 2019. Rather than try to race piecemeal from race to race with limited sponsorship, the son of team owner Don Schumacher decided to watch the season from the sidelines. How Schumacher could not attract a new big dollar sponsor, given his domination and success in the Top Fuel class, is almost unfathomable. Unfortunately, it’s looking like Schumacher – who turns 50 on Christmas Day – may remain sidelined in 2020.

John Force

4. A Force to be reckoned with once again: Even though he fell short of adding to his record 16 NHRA Funny Car championships, the 2019 season was definitely one of resurgence for John Force, the sport’s winningest and most popular driver ever. Force, who turned 70 years old in May, isn’t letting age slow him down, earning two wins during the season – including a milestone 150th Funny Car victory of his career – and finished fourth in the standings (up from ninth in 2018, seventh in 2017, and his best finish since he ended up fourth in 2016).

Robert Hight

5. At the Hight of his success: Robert Hight isn’t flashy or verbose as his boss, John Force. But when he’s not working as president of John Force Racing, the soft-spoken Hight has become one of the premier drivers in Funny Car history. In 2019, he earned his third Funny Car championship – his second in the last three seasons and third since 2009. Along the way, he captured six wins (including a milestone 50th win), was runner-up three other times, reached the semifinals five times and led all drivers as the No. 1 qualifier for eight races (a full one-third of the season). This was perhaps the most dominant championship of all for Hight, including leading the Funny Car standings for 23 of the 24-race season.

Erica Enders

6. Erica’s baaaaccckkkk: Erica Enders is back on top of her game, and on top of the Pro Stock category, earning her third championship in the last six seasons (and first since 2015). Admittedly, her championship came in the first year of a shortened Pro Stock schedule, having been cut from a full 24 races to just 18. Still, the Texas native won two races, finished runner-up three other times and reached the semifinals four other times. Also of note, Enders’ Elite Motorsports teammate, five-time Pro Stoc champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., came oh, so close to winning his sixth title, finishing just 21 points behind Enders in the final standings.

Doug Kalitta

7. What does he have to do to win first championship? Doug Kalitta came the closest he ever has to earning the first Top Fuel championship of his 20-year drag racing career, finishing just three points behind Steve Torrence in the Top Fuel rankings. It was almost heartbreaking as Kalitta seemingly did everything he needed to do to win the championship, including winning the season-ending race in Pomona, California, one of three wins he earned (as well as two runner-up finishes and six semifinal showings). Kalitta began the season with a win at Pomona, as well. But Torrence came into the season-ending event at Pomona with just enough of a lead (and reached the semifinals) to hold off Kalitta’s challenge. How close was Kalitta from winning the championship? If he had advanced one more round in any of the six playoff races, he would have bested Torrence. Unfortunately, in a sense, Kalitta – nephew of legendary NHRA team owner and racer Connie Kalitta – has become the Mark Martin of NHRA Top Fuel: always a bridesmaid but never a bride when it comes to winning a championship. But there’s still hope, Kalitta fans: he’s going to give it another try in 2020. Maybe that will be his year – finally.

Andrew Hines

8. He’s one heck of an easy rider: Andrew Hines made it look easy in 2019 – although it was far from it – when he earned his sixth career NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle championship (and first since 2015). Son of past PSM champion Byron Hines, Andrew Hines enjoyed one of the most dominating seasons ever of his career — not to mention one of the most dominating seasons in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category — winning eight of the 16 PSM events contested, along with earning two runner-up and three semifinal finishes. Hines held off 2016 PSM champ Jerry Savoie by 26 points and 2018 champ Matt Smith by 46 points.

JR Todd

9. What a difference a year makes: JR Todd had an exceptional season in 2018, with six wins, two runner-up finishes and six semifinal showings. Not surprisingly, the Indiana native went on to win the Funny Car championship that season for Kalitta Motorsports. But one year later, Todd was seemingly an afterthought when it came to challenging for the Funny Car crown once again. For as good as he was in 2018, Todd struggled through much of the 2019 season with just one win, three runner-up and two other semifinal finishes, ultimately finishing seventh in the standings, a distant 246 points behind series champ Robert Hight, who was second to Todd in 2018.

Austin Prock

10. Strong start for sport’s top rookie: When your father is renowned crew chief Jimmy Prock, it’s clear that the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree. Such is the case of Austin Prock, who finished his first season in Top Fuel by earning NHRA’s rookie of the year honors. The younger Prock finished eighth in the Top Fuel season standings, including one win and five semifinal finishes driving for John Force Racing. Ironically, he finished one spot higher than three-time Top Fuel champ Antron Brown, who had a rough season, finishing ninth in the standings, with no wins, two runner-up showings and reached the semifinals just five times.

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