Talladega Sunday Notebook: Bad day goes worse for Keselowski
By Chris Knight
Former Talladega Superspeedway winner Brad Keselowski appeared to have a good car in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499, but an incident just 14 laps into the second restrictor plate race of the season set the tone for what would be one of his longest days of the season.
After pushing Stewart Haas Racing’s Danica Patrick to the front and into the lead, Keselowski switched to the middle lane to try and pass Patrick for the top-spot. However, when he attempted to move back down into the inside lane in front of Patrick’s No. 10, contact was made, sending No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion off the track.
Brilliantly, Keselowski never spun — even after coming back onto the track in Turn 1, in front of several cars. The incident, however, brought out the first caution flag of the day and sent Keselowski to pit road for repairs. He would lose several laps as his team tried to repair the radiator on his car.
Keselowski would return to the track in 43rd, but their day only continued to spiral down from there.
With a competitive car still in his hands, Keselowski would find himself in the lead pack, but when he lost control of his car on Lap 137, it ignited a 14-car pileup that included favorites Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
With a mangled race car, Keselowski headed to the garage for repairs. He would eventually return, 28 laps down and be credited with a 38th place finish.
“I just spun out in front of the whole field,” said Keselowski. “I don’t know why, if I just busted my butt on my own or lost a tire, but I feel bad for everyone that got torn up. We had a really fast Team Penske Ford, but I just feel bad for the whole Miller Lite team.”
The 2012 champion also gave his insight on the incident with Patrick. “We took the lead there and made a really aggressive move to take the lead and then it all just kind of bottlenecked from there. I don’t know if I cut somebody off or got ran over, but just enough to get spun out and tear the car up.”
Danica finish not indicative of performance
By far Danica Patrick had her best showing of 2014 on Sunday afternoon at Talladega. Unfortunately, the performance was overshadowed by a disappointing 22nd place finish.
Patrick, in her No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, unloaded strong and exercised her strength during practice on Friday afternoon. The weekend only continued to get better for her Stewart-Haas Racing team as they accelerated themselves through “knock-out” qualifying to earn her best starting spot of the season, seventh.
When the green flag dropped on Sunday afternoon, the Roscoe, Illinois native wasted no time showing she came to contend, and with help, found herself in the lead for six of the event’s first 12 laps.
Not even contact with Brad Keselowski while racing for the lead would spoil her day. Patrick did, however, find herself drifting back in the pack as a result of overheating issues as the race progressed. Though she made a gallant charge through the field in the latter stages of the event, climbing as high as fifth, she found herself continuing to deal with overheating, which eventually left her in the traditional Talladega shuffle in the closing laps.
“It was good out front," Patrick said. "I wish I could have stayed there. I was just talking about heating issues; I was getting hot a lot. I think you saw that from a lot of cars. It was a hot day here in Talladega. When you get back a little bit in the field it gets even worse. I think I was the second lane — like second car back — real early on and it just felt like it kind of died a little bit. Then I started getting passed. So I dropped back to get some clean air. Got some track position, a couple of times and got up there a little bit, but heating was definitely an issue. It really limited me to the bottom lane. The good news is this car is going to get to go to Daytona. That is a positive. The result was not necessarily too much of a positive, but it’s going to get rolled up on the truck so that is more than a lot of people can say coming from a speedway.”
Patrick, however, did post a personal-best at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, bettering her back-to-back 33rd place finishes in 2013.
Earnhardt Jr. pits late, never recovers
After winning the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series opener at Daytona International Speedway in February, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his Hendrick Motorsports team were obviously looking forward to Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Even though the driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet started deep in the field (30th), the talented restrictor plate racer began to mount his charge in the second-half of the race.
Though execution from pit road following the third caution flag of the day would put the five-time Talladega winner in control, Earnhardt had to fight hard to remain up front. From Laps 109 to 151, he would lead 26 of them, but a gutsy call by crew chief Steve Letarte to pit backfired, and kept NASCAR’s most popular driver at the back of the field.
As the final 31 Laps ticked away, Earnhardt struggled to maneuver through the draft, at one point almost losing the draft completely, before a caution would allow him to catch-up.
Nonetheless, the break wouldn’t pay off and Earnhardt found his late-race momentum on the high side stalled by Josh Wise, which evaporated a potential comeback run, resulting in a disappointing 26th place finish, the next-to-last car on the lead lap.
“Anytime anyone jumps in front of you on the outside line, you are not going to shove them out there, especially a car like that,” said Jr. “I wanted to help him but it just killed us. You have to have that track position at the end and we just didn’t have it. I knew we were going to be sitting there in 15th at the end and get boxed in or wrecked. We missed a lot of guys that crashed and didn’t tear up our car so we will go to Daytona with this car and try to manage a strategy where we are not giving up 25 positions in the last 30 laps of the race. You have to be up front the entire race if you can.”
Season best for Allmendinger, JTG-Daugherty
A.J. Allmendinger and his JTG-Daugherty team were able to put an exclamation point next to their strong weekend after the team reeled in a fifth-place finish Sunday afternoon.
Allmendinger and his No. 47 utilized patience early, deciding to drop from their season-best third place starting position and hang at the rear of the field, hoping to miss the “big one” and put themselves in contention near the end.
As the second-half of the race wore on, Allmendinger methodically began moving forward, inching closer to the front and contending for the win, but the caution flag waived on last lap and derailed any attempt at making a defining move coming to the checkered flag.
"The previous restart the outside lane had such a run," Allmendinger said. "I kept inching, inching and then I just waited too late and I got shuffled. I really thought I had messed us up there and that last restart I’ve got to thank Paul Menard. He just kept shoving me all the way up through the inside of guys. We are slowly getting there ... day by day. I’m just proud to be on this team right now.”
For JTG-Daugherty, it was their first top five since Bobby Labonte finished fourth in the 2011 Daytona 500. It was the team’s third top-10 finish of the year. The team also finished sixth last Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.