TALLADEGA, Ala. — Perfect execution on a one-lap dash to the first stage break saw Brad Keselowski edge out his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano for the win in the opening stage of Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
After a blown tire on Paul Menard’s machine set up the final lap scramble, Keselowski stayed tucked to the inside lane and led only the final lap of the 55-lap opening stint, taking the green-checkered flag first by .026 of a second.
The stage win was Keselowski’s sixth of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
“We’re real good right now,” Keselowski said. “We’ve just had to get the track position and make the right moves, but so far, so good. All three of the Penske-affiliated cars have worked well together so far.”
The 2012 Cup champion added that handling may come into play as the race goes on into the afternoon.
“My car hasn’t been driving so bad; it’s been good enough to where I can make the moves I’ve needed to make,” Keselowski explained. “I’ve been able to hold lane (position) and make passes, so that’s been really nice. I think it’s going to be put to the test in the next stage, having to come from the back (after pit stops).”
Though Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the field to the green flag from the pole, it was Logano who jumped to Earnhardt’s outside and ultimately to the front of the field for the first 13 laps of Sunday’s race.
But the Ford teams had a plan and stuck to it, with Logano, Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and others diving onto pit road on the 14th round as the Chevrolet and Toyota fleets remained on-track and up to full speed.
Earnhardt paced the way until being overhauled by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott on lap 21, but the first chaos of the day came five circuits later, when a myriad of leaders tried to dive to pit road from both lanes of the lead pack.
That left Jamie McMurray slowing as Kyle Busch and Erik Jones were coming through with full momentum, with Jones turning McMurray up the track and leaving Jeffrey Earnhardt with nowhere to go as the No. 33 Hulu Chevrolet plowed into the side of McMurray’s machine.
Mark Thompson was also collected in the four-car incident, but despite the heavy damage to all cars involved, the respective drivers were all evaluated and released from the infield care center.
When the green flag returned on lap 37, it was the Penske teammates of Logano and Brad Keselowski back in front, while Elliott, Earnhardt and the leaders who were trying to pit before the caution were relegated to the rear of the field under penalty, due to pitting just after the pits had closed for the accident in the tri-oval.
From there, a five-car Ford freight train led the proceedings out front, with Logano, Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch ahead of a pair of Toyotas in rookie Daniel Suarez and championship leader Martin Truex Jr.
The order remained until Jimmie Johnson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. began working the high groove in an effort to break up the single-file line up front, but a caution with five laps to go slowed the pace again when Menard blew a tire and got into the outside wall in Turn 3.
That set up the final lap dash for the first round of bonus points, with Logano and Blaney following Keselowski home in second and third, respectively.
Defending Talladega winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson filled out the top-five.
Clint Bowyer, Michael McDowell, Kurt Busch, Trevor Bayne and Kasey Kahne were the remaining drivers in the top 10 who scored points at the first stage break.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
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