For longtime NASCAR fans, the starting line-up for the Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway felt like a bit of deja vu. Ironically, 30 years to the day prior, the starting up for the same race was held by drivers Dale Earnhardt Sr on the pole and Bill Elliott in P2. October 15, 2017, saw their offspring in the very same positions with Dale Earnhardt Jr on the pole and Chase Elliott in P2. Though Earnhardt has not observed a regular season that has made part of the playoffs, teammate Elliott was, in fact, one of 12 drivers striving to advance to the next round.
The event that ensued was a HOT MESS and a day much longer day than anyone had envisioned with ongoing wrecks, 11 caution flags, 3 red flags, and a rapidly dwindling list of playoff drivers that were able to keep running. To better clarify the length of the event, it lasted 3 hours and 53 minutes, plus 35 minutes worth of red flags. Calling the race a demolition derby was perhaps putting it mildly considering the sheer number of collected cars in each and every wreck. In the end, only 14 cars were running at the finish.
The action started on Lap 25, halfway through Stage 1, when a handful of Chevrolet drivers were coming to pit road. Playoff contender Jamie MacMurray tried to pull down to join his manufacturer teammates but was blocked by Kyle Busch who was on his left side. Busch swerved to avoid any contact, but Erik Jones, who was behind Busch, swerved as well. When Jones pulled up, he made contact with the back of MacMurray, who went nose-first into the SAFER barrier and collected Mark Tompson and Jeffrey Earnhardt. All drivers were then immediately out of the race with the exception of Busch.
With 5 laps to go in Stage 1, Paul Menard scraped the wall which created a ton of smoke and brought out the caution. Brad Keselowski won that stage after an intense 1-lap shootout with his teammate Joey Logano.
Stage 2 only saw one caution for debris on the backstretch, but that doesn’t mean that stretch of the race tiresome. Far from it. The second stage had the young guns up front and battling hard for the lead. Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney didn’t let up on each other and proved that they can run just as well as any veteran driver on the track. When the stage came to an end, it was Ryan Blaney who took the extra playoff point.
As of the final stage, it was ‘dega as usual. The intensity and desperation ramped up throughout the field, including the drivers not in the playoffs, and fans were treated to 6 cautions, 3 of which turned into red flags as track personnel tried to clear the carnage. The chaos started when Trevor Bayne’s tire went down and the #19 of Daniel Suarez slowed to avoid hitting him. Unfortunately, Dale Earnhardt Jr didn’t slow enough for Suarez in front of him and ran into the back of the #19 car. Not even half of a lap after the race resumed, another caution came out for a multi-car pile up at the back of the field. This included the cars of Clint Bowyer, Brendan Gaughan, Aric Almirola, AJ Allmendinger, and Michael McDowell. With 24 laps to go, the caution came out AGAIN for Joey Gase who got turned by DJ Kennington and slammed the wall hard.
With 16 laps to go, drivers hit the Speedy-Dry on the backstretch. It was used to dry up oil from a previous wreck but ended up causing the anticipated “Big One”. Martin Truex Jr‘s #78 Toyota got loose when he hit the powder and turned the #38 of David Ragan, the latter of whom was sent hard into the SAFER barrier and subsequently collected 16 drivers including Danica Patrick, Landon Cassill, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Michael McDowell, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, and more. The race was red flagged for 12 and a half minutes as the crushed cars were towed off the track.
Five laps later, Joey Logano, who had led a race-high of 59 laps, was running second when he lost his air between Ryan Blaney and Trevor Bayne. The three cars collided and collected Kevin Harvick and Brendon Gaughan, who was back on the track despite the previous wreck. This brought out the 3rd red flag. All cars, with the exception of Logano, were out of the race.
The final caution on Lap 183—followed by the third red flag—wiped out the #24 Chase Elliott as he squeezed between the #19 of Daniel Suarez and the #42 of Kyle Larson. Suarez had drifted up the track, which created the gap for Elliott to sneak through. Suarez quickly tried to defend the position when he noticed Elliott trying to overtake him and he abruptly turned down in an attempt to block Elliott. Suarez turned himself over the nose of the #24 and ignited a six-car melee that raised the crash-toll of Playoff drivers to 10.
The race resumed with a 3-lap shootout in which Brad Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano ganged up on race-leader Ryan Newman, who held the runner-up position after Keselowski shot past him. Trevor Bayne ran third in a damaged No. 6 Ford, with Logano and Aric Almirola finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.
This was Keselowski’s 5th win at Talladega and his 3rd of the 2017 season. With it, he claimed a ticket into the Round of 8. He pulled off this victory despite running much of the final stage with a broken radio antenna and intermittent communication with his spotter and crew chief.
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