TALLADEGA, ALA. — Carl Edwards was heading for Victory Lane when a nudge from rookie Brad Keselowski sent him careening into the frontstretch retaining fence to end a wild and wooly Aaron’s 499 Nascar Sprint Cup race here Sunday. Edwards ended up finishing 24th.
The last-lap wreck also took veteran Ryan Newman out of the race as well. Newman had tucked in behind Edwards and pushed him towards what appeared to be a sure-fire Edwards win before the bumping incident.
Keselowski went on down the track to win his first-ever Sprint Cup race with smoke and parts from Edwards’ Ford filled the air.
It was a day of costly wrecks for many of NASCAR’s biggest stars but Dale Earnhardt, Jr., brought his Hendrick Chevrolet home second behind the rookie winner.
The race had restarted after a previous wreck that knocked Two-time champion Jimmie Johnson and other race leaders from contention, including Martin Truex, Jr., and Juan Pablo Montoya, both of whom had shown great speed all afternoon. Denny Hamlin, another frontrunner all day, also was involved, as was Michael Waltrip, Bobby Labonte, David Stremme and Jeremy Mayfield.
Kyle Busch took himself out of contention while leading the race in the late stages. He tried to block a line of charging cars behind him and was spun out in the process when Jeff Burton tagged his rear bumper.
The action-packed race had a total of nine cautions and will go down in Talladega history as one of its best races.
Edwards thrilled the huge crowd after his spectacular wreck within sight of the finish line by climbing out of his smoldering, torn-up Ford and jogging down the track to finish the race on foot. The crowd roared its approval but the crowd was roaring most of the splendid, sun-splashed Alabama afternoon.
Finishing behind Keselowski, Earnhardt and Newman was Australian Marcos Ambrose, who ran with the leaders most of the day.
Another rookie, Scott Speed, was fifth, followed by Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Brian, a third top 10 rookie, Joey Logano, and Burton. Montoya, who was running at the finish in a beat-up Chevy, was 20th.
The weather was perfect for a race and, as usual at Talladega Superspeedway, there was no lack of celebrities on hand to watch, including Alabama Crimson Tide football coach Nick Saban, as well as TV personalities Connie Chung and Maury Povich.
This monster track draws a crowd every time with its hub to hub, three and four abreast action.
NASCAR’s best drivers gave the crowd of well more than 100,000 exactly what they came for right from the gitgo.
Pole winner Montoya took off like a gazelle with a fast group of pursuers locked on his rear bumper and another row of cars formed up in the middle lane, plus another string of 200 mph dominoes in the outside lane.
The cars were dancing and diving all over the place before Alabama favorite Earnhardt brought the house to its feet by charging to the front on the fifth of the 188 laps.
Just two laps later, cars were spinning everywhere behind the leaders in a demolition derby of high-speed destruction. The dreaded Talladega “Big One” came early.
It started on lap seven when AJ Allmindinger was forced up from the middle lane in the middle of turn two and made contact with Sam Hornish, creating a chain-reaction crash involving 13 cars, including points leader Jeff Gordon and three other top 12 drivers — Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahn. Others involved included fan favorite Mark Martin, last week’s winner at Phoenix, Jamie McMurray, Elliott Sadler, David Gilliland and Scott Riggs.
Sadler and Hornish were able to continue. In fact, Sadler had moved into eighth place by lap 27 after the restart.
At the end of 28 laps, Burton was the only Richard Childress Chevy left running and he was mired in 34th spot after pitting one lap before another caution flag fell for debris on the track.
When the race restarted this time on lap 34, it was young Busch up front with positions changing like wildfire behind them. Five laps into the green flag, Busch still led with Ragan second, Speed third and rookie Keselowski fourth. Earnhardt was fifth at the time.
Waltrip brought out another caution on lap 43 when he spun off the track at the entrance of the pits but slid down the track without hitting anything.
The race restarted on lap 46 and Earnhardt stormed into the lead a lap later, followed by Johnson, Ambrose and Truex but they were swapping positions so fast, it was hard to keep up with who was running where.
On the restart at lap 65, Truex, Sadler and Earnhardt were 1-2-3 and Ambrose was fourth. Gordon, Allmindinger, Harvick and Kahn had rejoined the fray but many, many laps behind. They were racing to try and get as many points as they could on a bad, bad day.
The racing continued to be unbelievable with lead changes quicker than the public address announcer could say who was leading… Montoya, Earnhardt, Truex, Hamlin….. all of them led part or all of a lap during this portion of the race.
The fifth caution of the day slowed the field at lap 88 and Paul Menard was the new leader when the race restarted. Hamlin was second but took the lead a lap later.
At the halfway point of 94 laps, it was Hamlin, Reutimann, Stremme, Vickers, Sorensen, Truex, Montoya, Menard, Johnson and Mears.