Brad Keselowski didn’t get the dramatic victory he did last year at Talladega Superspeedway, but he still did more than enough to advance to the Eliminator Round for the second straight year.
BK battled throughout the day and put himself in position to win late. He climbed as high as second in the closing stages but settled for a fourth-place finish, which left him 16 points ahead of the Contender Round cutline and sent him forward to the Round of 8 in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“We did exactly what we needed to do,” Brad said after the race. “We stayed up front when it counted and took care of our race car. The guys gave me a good car. We worked together well with our teammates, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney, and at the end we just finished it up strong. That’s exactly what we needed to do and I’m really proud of everybody.”
Kes finished ninth both Charlotte and Kansas to put himself in a favorable position going into the final race of the Round of 12. Last year, a wreck at Kansas put him in a must-win position at Talladega, but this time around, he knew that all he had to do was avoid miscues and grab a solid finish to advance.
He did just that after starting 11th for the CampingWorld.com 500. Within 10 laps, Brad had picked his way into the Top 5 at Dega, where the restrictor plate racing was surprisingly clean throughout much of the afternoon. The race stayed green for the first 132 laps, and the first wrecks didn’t occur until the unusual and controversial green-white-checkered finish.
BK fell back briefly over the first run before the first green-flag pit stop at lap 37. The 2 Crew, which turned in a flawless performance throughout the day, fitted him with four new tires and sent him back on the track in 19th. The field was single file when the pit stops cycled through, and it wasn’t until around lap 60 where another line formed.
Brad was mired the middle of the pack for much of this run, but he eventually found a working line and roared into sixth place at lap 66. Three laps later, he joined the bottom line and rode it to second place. As this run came to a close, BK settled into fourth place and pitted from there under green at lap 78.
After cycling out to the fifth position, Kes was shuffled back and spent much of the following stage of the race around or outside of the Top 15. The race’s first caution finally came at lap 132 when Justin Allgaier had engine troubles. Brad restarted 12th at lap 139 and he jumped from the outside down to the bottom line to take second place by lap 149. He remained in the front of the pack until he took his final fuel-only pit stop at lap 170.
He cycled out to third place behind his teammate Joey Logano, but the Team Penske pair was still trailing Greg Biffle, who had not pitted. Brad was battling with Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. when Jamie McMurray’s engine troubles brought out another yellow flag with just five laps left and Brad scored in fourth place.
Biffle was the only one of the leaders to pit, sending Brad to third for the green-white-checkered finish. For this race, NASCAR had instituted a new rule that there would only be one attempted at a GWC finish, and that a caution during the two-lap finale would end the race. On the restart, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson wrecked—but it came before the green flag waved, which set the stage for another restart.
On what was the final restart, Logano and Earnhardt Jr. started side-by-side with Brad and Jeff Gordon behind them. Meanwhile, in the rear, defending champion Kevin Harvick had an engine issue and couldn’t get up to speed. The slow No. 4 caused a wreck back in the field, bringing out a caution that ended the race. NASCAR took several minutes to sort out which car held which position when the yellow flag flew and the final order was determined: Logano in first, Junior in second, Gordon in third and Brad in fourth.
“I’m here to win,” Brad said. “I never got an opportunity today, obviously, with the way the restarts played out, but I’m glad if I didn’t win, my teammate did.”
Logano swept all three races of the Contender Round, while the fan-favorite Earnhardt Jr. was left out of the Eliminator Round despite his second-place finish. BK garnered 40 points on the day, which easily sent him forward to the next round. The biggest change from Kansas to Talladega involved Denny Hamlin. Hamlin was second in points going into the day but finished 37th and was left out of the next round.
POST-TALLADEGA CHASE STANDINGS
- Joey Logano – 3,142 (3x Winner)
- Carl Edwards – 3,115
- Jeff Gordon – 3,113
- Kurt Busch – 3,112
- Brad Keselowski – 3,111
- Martin Truex Jr. – 3,107
- Kevin Harvick – 3,101
- Kyle Busch – 3,098
— ELIMINATOR ROUND CUTOFF —
- Ryan Newman – 3,095
- Denny Hamlin – 3,090
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 3,083
- Matt Kenseth – 3,054
The Eliminator Round now begins, where eight drivers will enter and only four will move on to compete for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The next round of three races will begin next week with some short-track racing at Martinsville Speedway before concluding at Texas and Phoenix. On paper that bodes very well for Brad, though each Chase race brings an incredible amount of uncertainty and pressure. BK finished second at Martinsville, sixth at Phoenix and fifth at Texas earlier in the year.
“This is, to me, the toughest bracket to get through,” BK said at Talladega. ” I feel like we tested Phoenix and were awesome. I’m looking for a lot of good things there. We finished second at Martinsville in the spring and probably had a shot to win it. We just need to capitalize.”
Last year, Brad was third at Texas and fourth at Phoenix in the Chase, but a 31st-place finish at Martinsville left him on the outside looking in for the championship round. He’ll look to avoid the same fate when the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 goes green at 1:15 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC Sports Network.