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Keselowski Wins Talladega; Field Set For ‘Eliminator Round’

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 19 2014

Brad Keselowski needed to win and did at Talladega on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Brad Keselowski basically had one chance to continue his bid to win a second Sprint Cup championship when Sunday’s cutdown race at Talladega began. The 2012 champ had to win. And win he did and on goes the Team Penske driver’s comeback season.

The victory was sixth of the season and, obviously, his biggest.

“So special,” he said in Victory Lane.

Special for sure for its significance. Perhap special as well as it came a week after he became widely vilified for aggressive actions late – and after – the Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I can’t believe it,” Keselowski, who was penalized by NASCAR after the Charlotte incidents, said. “Talladega is such a wild card and to be able to win here you have to catch breaks and make your own breaks, a little of both. I can’t believe we won at Talladega. This race is the scariest of the three in the bracket. To be able to win here is really a privilege, it really is.”

Also needing to win Sunday to advance to the “Eliminator Round” were established Cup stars Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Despite leading 115 laps beteween them, they didn’t and they were eliminated.

The eight drivers advancing are Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick, winners of the first two second-round races, Keselowski, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, and Denny Hamlin.

Being bumped from the Chase as a result of Sunday’s race were Earnhardt, Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne.

“Yeah,” Johnson said, “this year for sure there is disappointment. But to be honest with you, the disappointment has been the weeks leading up to right now. We just had a very competitive race and had a shot to win. So we have dealt with that. You are not going to win every championship battle you enter. We would like to. I’ve raced for 30-something years and I’ve really only won six big championships, so the numbers show that you don’t win a lot of championships. We will be back next year. The rules will change; we will start thinking about ’15 now moving forward and hopefully have our Lowe’s Chevy where we need to next year.”

“There have probably been worse things,” Earnhardt said. “I’m not retiring or anything, so we’ll try next year. We’ve had a good season and have a lot to be looking forward to. We’re definitely not going to get too tore up about; we didn’t run well.”

Star drivers Johnson, Earnhardt Jr. and Keselowski opted to surge to the front early.

Johnson, who started P2, moved to the lead on the first lap and stayed at, or near, the front of the pack. He led 22 of the 37 laps in the first green-flag run. When the first series of pit stops cycled through at about Lap 45, Johnson was in the top 10 while Earnhardt Jr. was in the top five.

On Lap 62, Keselowski, also running near the front, took a hit to the right side of his Team Penske Ford when he found himself too close to a spinning Jamie McMurray. That forced a long spit stop for Keselowski as he team worked on the damage. He was also assessed a penalty for having too many crew members over the wall. But, Keselowski stayed on the lead lap and was quickly moving forward from the rear of the lead-lap field.

“We just persevered,” he would say after the race. “We didn’t give up.”

When the race restarted on Lap 66, Johnson had the lead.

On Lap 75, Earnhardt moved past Johnson and took his first lead of the day.

A couple laps later, the 10 cars at the front of the field – those of Earnhardt, Martin Truex Jr., Danica Patrick, Casey Mears, Johnson, Kurt Busch, Paul Menard, Kevin Harvick, Keselowski and Ryan Blaney – went single file.

By Lap 90, the single file lead pack has joined and pack racing again became the order of the day.

On Lap 100, Earnhardt still had the lead while Johnson was on his rear bumper. Behind Johnson the was a single-file group running the low line. Kasey Kahne, Earnhardt and Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, led the outside line.

On Lap 202, green flag stops began. But just as they did, a big crash occurred on the back stretch. Involved was Chaser Kyle Busch, who was running at the back in the field in an effort to stay out of trouble. Busch, who was rammed from behind by Austin Dillon, headed to the garages.

When the race restarted, Ryan Blaney, driving the No. 12 Team Penske Ford, had the lead. Keselowski was third, Johnson seventh and Earnhardt eighth.

On Lap 100, Earnhardt blew through a hole in the middle of the pack from his fourth-place position and took the lead.

Harvick however, cruised past Earnhardt on Lap 113 and into the lead. A lap latter, Johnson took the lead. Earnhardt fell in behind Johnson and the two Hendrick drivers were again running first and second.

On Lap 122 of the 188-lap race, Earnhardt jumped into the outside line in an attempt to move past Johnson. But, the outside line then began falling backwards and Earnhardt slid back out of the top 10. Moving in behind Johnson was Keselowski.

On Lap 132, Michael McDowell hit the wall to bring out a caution.

With 50 laps to go, Keselowski moved to the lead past Johnson. A lap later, Johnson came back and took the lead from the high line.

Johnson led until there were 22 laps to go. At that point, Danica Patrick passed him for the lead.

With 16 to go, green flag pit stops began. On the next lap, the leaders pitted. When Patrick checked up entering the pits, several cars behind her made contact. Harvick’s car spun but the race continued

A lap after that, Kyle Larson spun and the caution flag did wave before all cars had completed their stops. That shook up the lineup and when the race restarted with nine laps to go, Ryan Newman was the leader.

Johnson restarted sixth, Earnhardt 13th and Keselowski 16th.

Johnson, racing on the outside line, moved even with Newman for the lead with seven to go, briefly grabbed the lead but bell back to third.

With four laps to go a caution was called for debris. On the green/white/checkered restart the top four were Newman, Keselowski, Logano and Johnson.

Keselowski moved to the lead from the middle lane while Johnson fell back in the outside line.

Before the white flag could fall, a big wreck occurred back in the pack. Caught up was Earnhardt.

On the final restart, Keselowski kept the lead, survived a charge and was pushed to victory by Kenseth, the person who tackled him in the garages following last weekend’s race in North Carolina.

“Well, you know who is driving every car,” Kenseth said when asked if he realized he was helping the guy whom he has spent a week being angry with. “You know who is leading the race. I saw Kevin get a run on him. I was planning on pushing Kevin the whole time.

“But my car, the way I was, I needed to be either in the middle or the bottom was my second choice, the third groove was my last choice. I just didn’t have enough speed to get around there, I was going to get freight trained. It’s not like I am going to go help that guy and shaft that guy. I was planning on staying with Kevin the whole time till he made a move three-wide for the lead. I saw Brad do a very aggressive block. If I went up there, I was just going to lose spots. That’s where I made the decision to get back on the bottom.

“It doesn’t really necessarily work out like that. Everything happens really, really fast. You know who everybody is and where they’re at, but you’re trying to do everything you can to get your best finish. It opened up there, I thought we were going to have a shot to win the race. I didn’t get around the bottom groove to get back under Brad.

“There’s a lot that happens in two laps. I couldn’t even tell you everything that happened in those two laps. There’s so much that happened so fast. You’re trying to manage your momentum, listen to your car, watch everybody around you, try to make the best moves you can.”

For the eight drivers advancing to the Eliminator Round, their point totals will be reset to 4,000. For the four drivers that are eliminated from the Chase field, they will see their point totals reset to the Chase-start base of 2,000 plus any bonus points for regular-season wins and the additional points they have earned in the Chase.

The Eliminator Round consists of three races: Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway. A Chase driver who wins one of those three races will automatically clinch a spot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 16. The rest of the four-driver field to compete for the title in the season finale will be determined by the points scored in the three Eliminator Round races.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 19 2014
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