The tenth race of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season took place on Sunday at the fastest track on the circuit. The action is always fast and furious at Talladega Superspeedway, with the 51st annual Geico 500 being no exception. The fact that eventual race winner Brad Keselowski only led one lap the entire day says a lot about the hectic action. This NASCAR recap article looks back at an epic day of draft pack racing in Alabama.
NASCAR Cup Series Recap | Brad Keselowski Wins at Talladega
Geico 500 Stage 1
Denny Hamlin was the pole-sitter for Sunday’s Geico 500 courtesy of NASCAR’s competition formula. That is until he wasn’t. In fact, every Toyota in the field minus the No. 18 of Kyle Busch was forced to drop back and start at the rear of the field. While they all passed pre-race inspection, NASCAR noticed unapproved post-inspection adjustments that resulted in the penalty.
That left Joey Logano and last week’s Richmond winner Alex Bowman as the two cars who started the race on the front row. Right away there was drama as Bowman’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Kyle Larson, turned all of a couple of laps before his day was done thanks to a failed setup.
Despite the Toyota penalties, none of them wasted much time in working their way back to the front of the pack. In fact, Bubba Wallace started dead last and managed to work all the way up to the front before the competition caution at Lap 25. The ensuing pit stops also provided some drama. There were a handful of pit road penalties, including one on Harrison Burton who was making his NASCAR Cup Series debut. It’s always worthy of a chuckle anytime you see a gas can make its way down pit road.
Joey Logano Flips In Spectacular Crash
Following the caution, things stayed pretty calm until the tail end of the stage. Toward the end of the stage, Matt DiBenedetto made his way to the front of the field and had the support of his pseudo-teammates in Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano. Running just behind them was the No. 11 of Denny Hamlin. He got a major bump from behind and the run forced him to duck inside slightly to avoid hitting Logano who was directly in front of him. But when Hamlin tried to gather it and get back into formation, he nailed Logano’s left rear quarter panel and spun the No. 22 around.
Now, if you thought that crash looked insane in the video above, try checking it out from Bubba Wallace’s point of view.
Only at ‘Dega! Stage 1 ended under caution as a result of the wreck with DiBenedetto taking the win.
Geico 500 Stage 2
The NASCAR Cup Series drivers got back up to 200 mph when the green flag dropped on Stage 2. Things went pretty smoothly until green flag pit stops began to cycle through. Like February’s Daytona 500, it became apparent immediately that cars from the three manufacturers would be sticking together when pitting under green.
The Chevrolet troops came first and were able to make up some ground by doing so despite having a smaller draft pack than the established train of Fords and Toyotas. The Chevy unit lost three cars in the process as both Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez had speeding penalties. Chase Elliott also had a slower pit stop for an adjustment and fell back from the main group of cars coming out.
The Fords were next to come, abandoning the Toyotas in the process. When the Camrys finally did make their way to pit road, Denny Hamlin got nailed for entering too fast. When he went to serve his drive-through penalty, he entered pit road too fast yet again. The result was the Geico 500 betting favorite falling a lap down.
Kurt Busch Mechanical Failure Sets Up Wild Stage Finish
As the cars all joined back together, Kurt Busch started smoking and leaking fluid to bring out a yellow. The underside of his car erupted into flames on pit road as the team tried to fix what was undoubtedly a broken oil line.
William Byron led the field back to green following the caution, but Bubba Wallace quickly wrestled it away. He did well to block all lines behind him, including 23XI Racing co-owner Hamlin, who was racing hard to try and un-lap himself before the end of the stage. Brad Keselowski blocked a hard-charging run on the outside and Hamlin went around into the wall. The wreck collected all three remaining Hendrick cars, but only Alex Bowman failed to get back out on track. Stage 2 ended under yellow just like the first, with Wallace picking up the playoff points.
Geico 500 Final Stage
Ryan Blaney managed to nab the lead during the stage break pit stops and led the field back to green. Aric Almirola also jumped up 10 spots on pit road by only taking on fuel. He would find himself the leader shortly after the restart as debris on the grill of the No. 12 car forced Blaney to shuffle back.
As Almirola continued to lead, the patented Talladega Superspeedway train made a full-fledged appearance. The entire field ran single file up high for several laps early in the stage. It got to the point where fuel was becoming a legitimate concern for the No. 10 team running open throttle out front. The train was eventually broken up as Kurt Busch, running six laps down but running, all the same, gave his Chip Ganassi teammate Ross Chastain a boost to the front.
On the green flag stops, the Toyotas made sure to come with the large group of Chevrolets to avoid being at a drafting disadvantage. The No. 47 car of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got run into the lower wall coming into the pits but no caution was thrown. Christopher Bell inherited the lead but quickly surrendered it over concerns about fuel mileage. He wasn’t alone as several teams failed to get the cars full of Sunoco.
Late-Race Tire Strategy
Quin Houff hit the wall to bring out a caution with just under 20 laps to go. Several cars hit pit road to top off on fuel and take tires for extra grip down the stretch. However, a handful of teams opted to stay out. Erik Jones was among them and the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 car led the field to the restart. Matt DiBenedetto once again worked his way to the front as the cars around him who did not pit slowly fell back.
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Then, Martin Truex Jr. had a tire cut down forcing him out of the draft and down to the apron. In a rather inexplicable move, the No. 19 did not come into the pits his next time by. The tire shell popped right off shortly after to bring out another yellow with just three laps to go.
Geico 500 Heads to Overtime
Given the timing of Truex’s caution, the race went into a green-white-checkered overtime format to decide the finish. DiBenedetto controlled the restart and held his ground for the first of two overtime laps. But the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Mustang couldn’t block everyone forever. When he slid up the track to squash a run by Blaney, Brad Keselowski had clear sailing down low. He surged to the front with a push from Micahel McDowell. As several cars wrecked behind them, Keselowski managed to hold off both the Dayton 500 winner and a hard-charging William Byron to take home the victory.
This win marks Keselowski’s sixth at Talladega Superspeedway, which ties Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the most by any driver all-time. It is the first win of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season for the Team Penske No. 2 Mustang. Keselowski is now the eighth different driver to win a race this year. Byron, McDowell, Kevin Harvick and DiBenedetto rounded out the Geico 500 top five.
Final Geico 500 Thoughts
As per usual, Talladega Superspeedway delivered on Sunday. Many viewed this year’s Geico 500 as the fourth crown jewel race with the Brickyard 400 not being run on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. Well, this one looked every bit the part of a NASCAR Cup Series crown jewel. From favorites crashing, burning and flipping to a thrilling finish, Talladega provided race fans with yet another treat.
With ten races now complete, NASCAR heads to the midwest next week for the first of two visits to Kansas Speedway this season. Topping Sunday’s thrill-a-lap action is next to impossible, but don’t sleep on Kansas as a track that can provide some highlights of its own.