Brad Keselowski’s victory in Sunday’s Geico 500 came at a cost to many of his fellow drivers that only Talladega Superspeedway can exact.
As Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford approached the finish line, yet another violent, grinding multi-car accident was unfolding behind him. It was the third such wreck over the race’s final 36 laps.
And it again brought questions about how safe it is to race at Talladega, NASCAR’s biggest and fastest track.
“I hate it,” said runner-up Kyle Busch, who, like Keselowski, finished the race relatively unscathed. “I’d much rather sit at home. I don’t need to be here.”
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Said Austin Dillon, who finished a career-high third: “We all have to do it. I don’t know how many really love it.”
While Keselowski was winning for a second time this season and a fourth time on Talladega’s 2.66-mile layout, 35 of the field’s 40 cars were involved in accidents.
Included was a seven-car wreck on the backstretch of Lap 97, which saw rookie Chris Buescher’s Ford roll three times after Dillon and Jamie McMurray made contact behind him.
Another scary moment came on Lap 161, when 21 cars – more than half the field – were caught up in a wreck in Turn 1.
Then, 20 laps later, Clint Bowyer bumped Danica Patrick from behind on the backstretch, sending Patrick into Matt Kenseth. That caused Kenseth’s Toyota to flip as Patrick smashed into the inside wall – lined with a SAFER barrier – in what she later called the hardest hit of her career. Finally, there was a seven-car wreck on the backstretch of the final lap, which included Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Chevy tipping over and sliding on its side.
Thanks to NASCAR’s safety improvements in the cars and the SAFER barriers, none of the involved drivers was seriously injured. In fact, it appeared that a few bumps and bruises were the worst of it.
But the high-speed, high-risk, high-reward nature of restrictor-plate racing at Talladega – as well as at sister-track Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway – continues to produce sometimes horrifying accidents.
And that causes some drivers – like Busch and Dillon – consternation. Others accept it as just another challenging aspect of a risky occupation.
“Racing has always been that balance of daredevils and chess players,” said Keselowski, who led a race-high 46 laps. “Some weekends we’re chess players, some weekends we’re daredevils. (Talladega) has always been the more daredevil-style of track, which probably offsets some of the tracks that we go to where we’re the chess player.”
Dillon, who is in only his third full-time year as a Cup driver, has a unique perspective. At the end of last July’s summer race at Daytona, he lost control of his car as the race ended, slamming into the catch fence near the start-finish line. He walked away from the accident.
“I’ve been on the wild side, if you remember my wreck last year,” said Dillon. “I know what it is. (Sunday) it didn’t happen to me. I don’t know personally how to fix it. If we need to put something on the back of the car to keep them on the ground, I’m all for it. I’m all for keeping all four tires on the ground.
“Hopefully we can have a solution by July. I think a lot of drivers will be, I guess, feeling better about it when we get there, if we can do something to keep the tires on the ground.”
Keselowski was able to stay out of trouble Sunday and added to the victory he already had earlier this season at Las Vegas.
“As far as not being in any of those accidents, none of (them) were at the front,” said Keselowski. “That’s your highest percentage shot, if you can run up front. It sounds real easy; it’s not, otherwise everybody would do it. We were fortunate to be second, third or better in every one of those accidents.
“I hated to hear about cars flipping and doing all those things. Nobody wants that. But I think some accidents here and there, we might not like to cheer about it, but it is part of our sport and always has been part of automobile racing.”
Dillon, perhaps, said it best, especially on the week before Mother’s Day.
“I know our moms and wives and girlfriends, they don’t like it,” he said. “Because they’ve got to watch their loved ones put themselves in situations they don’t like.”
1. Kevin Harvick
2. Kyle Busch
3. Carl Edwards
4. Jimmie Johnson
5. Joey Logano
6. Kurt Busch
7. Brad Keselowski
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
9. Martin Truex Jr.
10. Austin Dillon
11. Chase Elliott
12. Denny Hamlin
13. Jamie McMurray
14. AJ Allmendinger
15. Matt Kenseth
16. Trevor Bayne