TALLADEGA, Ala. - Brad Keselowski gave Dodge its first Talladega Superspeedway victory in 36 years, holding off Kyle Busch with relative ease on the final lap of the Aaron's 499 on Sunday.
Keselowski's second Talladega victory, and sixth career Sprint Cup win, gave a bizarre race an ending that was rather tame. In an overtime finish, the draft of Keselowski's Dodge and Busch's Toyota easily roared past the Fords of Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle with over a lap to go.
Busch couldn't stick to Keselowski's Dodge but managed to hold on to second place. Kenseth finished third, followed by Kasey Kahne and Biffle.
As many predicted beforehand, overheating was a major issue. Avoiding bump drafts was expected, but a number of drivers experienced issues while racing in packs. One result was that, for most of the race, the draft transpired with gaps of a car length or so between the cars.
Though Jeff Gordon began the race out front, Tony Stewart grabbed the lead on the opening lap and maintained it for quite some time. The first overheating casualty was Regan Smith, whose engine expired on the 16th lap and caused the afternoon's first caution period. Nine drivers didn't pit, most notably Paul Menard, who inherited the lead only briefly. In fact, by the time the green flag waved again on lap 20, Kenseth, who was fastest out of the pits, was in front because all nine pitted late.
Michael Waltrip, who has evolved into something of a plate-racing specialist at age 49, took the lead on lap 25 and remained there just as had Stewart earlier. The early stages were notable for a paucity of lead changes, particularly by Talladega standards. Waltrip relinquished the lead to Jimmie Johnson on the 46th circuit.
Johnson was the next to fall by the wayside, apparently as a result of a failed oil pump, at about the 60-lap mark. Dale Earnhardt Jr. thus inherited the lead from his drafting partner.
The shuffle at the front most often included Kenseth and Greg Biffle in Roush Fenway Fords, Kurt Busch in his unsponsored Chevy, Waltrip and Stewart. The race's first half had only 11 lead changes and only four drivers - Kenseth (30), Waltrip (21), Stewart (16) and Earnhardt (10) - were in double figures in laps led.
When the wreck finally occurred, it was ... weird. On the 143rd lap - in the midst of a strange series of cars running out of gas for no apparent reason - a huge crash began in turn three apparently as a result of another car, Dave Blaney's, losing power. Among the cars ensnarled in the chain reaction were those of Carl Edwards, Juan Pablo Montoya, Gordon, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano. Terry Labonte's Ford topped it off by slamming into several cars wedged against the outside wall.
The incident was positively bizarre. Via radio, Kevin Harvick, who had recently run out of fuel, said, "It was bad luck that we ran out of gas, but it was good luck that running out of gas kept us from wrecking."
A smaller crash occurred on the 174th lap. It began with contact between cars driven by Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears. Trevor Bayne and Logano also left the scene with crumpled metal.
As expected, the pace accelerated at the end. Kurt Busch's Chevy took skid-inducing shot from Keselowski's Dodge on lap 182. On the first lap back at speed, A.J. Allmendinger, trying to block Denny Hamlin, touched off yet another pileup that collected Biffle, Menard, Stewart, Harvick, Robert Richardson Jr., Logano again and Waltrip.