What do you expect from a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series restrictor plate race, particularly now that the series closed radiator openings and coolant capacities?
The Aaron's 499 held at Talladega Superspeedway on a steamy, hot sunny day featured the usual "big ones" but also had cars that overheated, cars that had oil pump concerns and tempers that flared out of control.
In other words, it was a typical 'Dega race.
Driving the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge, Brad Keselowski used a push from Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) to win his second Sprint Cup Series race of the 2012 season, leading Busch to the checkered flags by 0.304 seconds.
This duo beat Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Best Buy Ford) who led the most laps, 73, and had been working with teammate and points leader Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) in an attempt to steal another restrictor plate race. Kasey Kahne's No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevy managed to get between that pair of Fords for fourth at the close.
The balance of the top 10 survivors included Clint Bowyer's No. 15 Aaron's Toyota in sixth, David Ragan in the No. 34 Furniture Row Ford, Trevor Bayne's No. 21 Motorcraft Ford, Dale Earnhardt Jr in the No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevy and Jeff Burton's No. 31 Caterpillar Chevy.
"At Talladega," Keselowski said, "patience is a bit of an oxymoron 'cause you know you've got to go hard to win this race. I think it was a perfect combination of the tandem and the pack racing; it just fit our Miller Lite Dodge perfectly. It was just really strong with that combo and my guys did a great job all weekend." At the end of the race, "I knew the move I wanted to pull. It worked because the guy running second should have the advantage, but I had this move all worked up in my mind. Now everybody has seen it and they know it, but I'm glad I was able to get a win with it."
Busch didn't think he and Keselowski "connected soon enough and they (the Ford drivers) got away from us. Then we did get connected to the 2 and I drove by them. Then it was just a race between him and I and somehow, getting into turn three I just got disconnected from him. Once that happened," he said, "the race was over, it was all his. I think our stuff just came unplugged."
On the final restart Kenseth and Biffle got together "like we did at Daytona and of all the cars I raced around all day, Greg was really pushing me fast" Kenseth said. "We got in front of the 2 and Kyle and as soon as we became clear, it wasn't long after that that I looked back and we were separated and those guys were outside of him. With nobody behind him he lost his speed and with me not paying enough attention during that to keep us hooked up it cost us a shot at the win."
Incredibly, this was Dodge's first win at the 2.66-mile Talladega track since Dave Marcis took the checkers in 1976! This victory--Keselowski's second at this track after winning in 2009 with Phoenix Racing--is the first for Penske Racing at Talladega: "We've been coming here since 1972, so it's a long time to get a race win," said Roger Penske, team owner.
There were 33 lead changes among 17 drivers and the five cautions came early (lap 17-20 for debris) and late through to the green-white-checker results. In the 188-lap contest, most of the action, as expected, came in the waning laps--as did the yellow lights. The second caution flew on the 144th lap and lasted six laps when nine cars--including polesitter Jeff Gordon--got together in the third turn. The third came on the 177th lap for a three-car tussle and the fourth happened on lap 182, proving that cautions breed cautions. That dust-up involved the winner and Kurt Busch.
Finally there was an overtime yellow as the green flew after the fourth yellow when everyone got bunched up in the first turn involving nine cars and clean-up time from lap 186-192. The green-white-checker finish that followed had the crowd on their feet but the cautions sure left quite a few drivers ticked off. The most vocal of those was 24th finisher Tony Stewart, who let his sarcasm do the talking: “I thought it was a pretty good race. I made it further than I thought I would before I got crashed."
Anyone that's been complaining about the lack of crashes in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition this year had their wishes delivered as fully 10 of the 43 cars were knocked out of competition by accidents in the final 50 laps. Now it's all up to the teams to get ready for a Saturday night rumble at Darlington--the track "too tough to tame."