In a day that was filled with hard racing, big crashes and barrel rolls, Brad Keselowski came out victorious in Talladega.
Arguably, Keselowski had the strongest racecar on Sunday leading a race-high 46 laps. After a mid-race pit stop that forced his hand and go toward the rear of the top 10 the last 20 laps, the No. 2 car established itself as the one to beat.
“This Fusion was hauling,” Keselowski said. “That’s one of the tickets of staying out of the wrecks at Talladega is if you can stay up front, you have a great shot of not getting in a wreck. Daytona didn’t go the way we wanted it to go. We just didn’t have the speed, but the guys went to work and brought me a really strong car here for Talladega.”
This is Keselowski’s fourth-career win at NASCAR’s biggest track, the most he has at any one track.
After leading 12 laps early on, Kyle Busch came home second. He was getting a huge shove coming to the white flag, but Keselowski blocked, settling the No. 18 car for the runner-up position.
Austin Dillon posted a career best third-place finish after making 15 pit stops throughout the day. Just passed halfway, David Gilliland got into the rear of the No. 3 machine turning him into the outside causing the first big crash of the day that saw rookie Chris Buescher flip multiple times.
“What we’ve really been focused on going forward is trying not to panic,” Dillon said of his day. “They fixed the car and what a run to the finish. Our car probably wasn’t good enough to really win the race, but it was good enough for the No. 1 to push me all the way through [Turns] 3 and 4.”
Jamie McMurray notched his best finish of 2016 with a fourth-place result. The former winner at Talladega never led, but pushed several cars to the lead throughout the 500 miles.
Pole-sitter Chase Elliott led 27 laps and notched his third top-five finish of the young season. After leading much of the opening stint of the event, the No. 24 car fell back throughout the day, but came on strong in the final three laps.
“You can’t have a good day unless you finish,” Elliott said. “I think it was just focusing in on that and obviously it got really wild and for us we tried to keep that in mind to try and make it to the end.”
Tony Stewart was credited with a sixth-place finish, though Ty Dillon drove the No. 14 Chevrolet to the checkered flag. After the first caution on Lap 50, the XFINITY Series regular replaced the three-time Cup Series champion behind the wheel.
The Cup veteran admitted that “it sucked” having to get out of the racecar, but it was part of the deal to get him back in the car last weekend in Richmond.
Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill, Michael Waltrip, Cole Whitt, Bobby Labonte and the aforementioned Gilliland all posted season best finishes on Sunday.
The biggest incident of the afternoon came with 28 laps to go when Kurt Busch got into the rear of Jimmie Johnson spinning him into the wall, causing a 17 car crash. Daytona 500 winner, Denny Hamlin was one of the drivers involved in the accident.
With eight laps to go Michael McDowell, spun Danica Patrick, clipping the side of Matt Kenseth’s machine and causing him to flip into the inside fence. The No. 20 car was one of the strongest racecars throughout the day leading 39 laps, finishing a disappointing 23rd.
Coming to the checkered flag was the last crash that saw 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick get airborne, hitting the outside retaining wall. Eight cars came across the checkered flag with damage due to this incident.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne all finished toward the rear with each driver had multiple problems at the 2.66-mile track.
In all, 33 out of the 40 cars received some kind of damage throughout the wildest race of the season to date.
The Cup Series will head to the Midwest for some night racing next Saturday in Kansas, with Johnson the defending winner. It was the controversy in the fall that led to the Kenseth and Joey Logano drama that saw its latest chapter on Sunday when the No. 22 car forced the No. 20 Toyota below the yellow line.
After the event had concluded Kenseth pointed his finger out of displeasure at Logano, where the 25-year-old shrugged his shoulders and chuckled.
Practice hardly matters at Talladega unless a team crashes due to the unpredictability of the event. Fortunately, there were no incidents in either of the two sessions on Friday.
In opening practice, Jamie McMurray paced the field at 199.737 mph. The No. 1 Chevrolet was on track for 16 laps, most of them coming in the draft, where he set his quick time.
Daytona 500 pole-sitter, Chase Elliott slated the No. 24 just behind McMurray at 199.729 mph. Kurt Busch, at 199.409 mph was third, with Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Danica Patrick in fourth at 199.384 mph and Trevor Bayne rounded out the top five at 199.317 mph.
30 teams posted a 10 consecutive lap run and Kyle Larson topped that list at 195.541 mph. On single lap speeds the No. 42 car was ninth overall.
Teams such as the Wood Brothers, Front Row Motorsports, Premium Motorsports and The Motorsports Group were all racing the weather with drivers Ryan Blaney, David Gilliland, Cole Whitt, Michael Waltrip and Josh Wise.
With the new charter system, none of those five drivers have a guaranteed spot in the main event on Sunday. Prior to the 2016 season, 36 teams were granted a charter giving them a position in each of the races this season and with qualifying being questionable for Saturday, each team needed to lay down a quick lap.
The slowest was Wise in 35th at 194.551 mph and if qualifying were to get cancelled he would miss the show.
The fall winner at Talladega, Joey Logano led final practice at 196.290 mph. Slated just behind him was Blaney at 196.239 mph.
Both Elliott and Patrick were in the top five in each session as the No. 24 car had a lap at 196.185 mph and the No. 10 machine was fourth at 195.094. Brian Scott completed the top five at 195.003.
Patrick also held the point on best 10 lap averages, though only a handful of drivers made a run of at least 10 laps. Three of the other four drivers were from the Hendrick Motorsports stable, with Jimmie Johnson as the odd man out.
Tony Stewart climbed into the No. 14 Chevrolet with roughly 15 minutes remaining to make his first laps of the day. The team worked on swapping Ty Dillon and he out of the car as the three-time Cup champion will only participate in the race until the first caution due to his lingering back injury.
Qualifying is set to begin on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. There will be a new pole-sitter from last year as Jeff Gordon won the pole for Sunday.
The 2014 season was a year of new beginnings for BK Racing as it signed two rookie drivers in Alex Bowman and Ryan Truex. With two new faces on the team, both were eligible for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors, in what was a rather larger rookie class in recent seasons.
Although the season officially kicked off with the Daytona 500, both drivers didn’t get the opportunity to begin their year with the Great American race. Bowman managed to qualify for his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut. Meanwhile, Truex missed to make the field during the Budweiser Duel 150 race. He didn’t get to start his first race with the No. 83 team until the following week at Phoenix.
As the season progressed, both Truex and Bowman received a new teammate in Cole Whitt, who joined the team after the closure of Swan Racing. With the addition of a third full-time Toyota Camry, BK Racing increased its opportunity to compete for Rookie of the Year honors as Whitt was also eligible.
All together, the three rookies had minimal highlights to their season. Truex made his debut at tracks such as Pocono Raceway – a track he had never raced before—and finished inside the top 20. Bowman captured his best results in the superspeedway races.
The team also saw some results that hurt them as well. At the end of the year, Bowman finished with six DNFs, Whitt had four DNFs and Truex had eight DNFs.
The year for Truex featured a lot of inconsistency, as his results throughout the season didn’t had him inside of the top 30 just twice at Martinsville and the August Pocono race. Along with the Daytona 500, he also failed to qualify for the races at Texas and Michigan. For the second race at Michigan, BK Racing replaced him with J.J. Yeley after a wreck in practice, where Truex suffered a concussion.
In September, following the race at Chicagoland Speedway, Truex was once again replaced in the No. 83 car – this time by Travis Kvapil. The race at Chicago was the last time Truex was drove the No. 83 after a 42nd-place finish. Although no explanation had been given at the time, it was later confirmed that Truex was no longer with BK Racing.
Despite the short year, Truex did manage to improve some of his results from his few starts in 2013. He captured a career-best finish of 20th at Pocono. His best qualifying effort was at the Richmond spring race, where he qualified eighth.
In 2014, Truex averaged a 35.6 finish and a 35.3 start.
Meanwhile, Bowman, one of the two original drivers in the BK racing line-up did finish out the year with the team. By the year’s end, he went on to finish in 35th-place within the standings. He captured a career-best finish at the Coke Zero 400 with a 13th-place finish.
Bowman also found some consistency during the races at Darlington, RIchmond and Talladega in the spring, finishing inside the top 30. In qualifying, Bowman's best starting effort came in the second Talladega race of the year, where he qualified in 14th.
As for his year end results, Bowman averaged a 32.5 finish and a 32.9 start in his rookie season in the Cup Series.
Whitt, the third BK Racing driver, fared a bit better than his teammates. Along with Bowman, he made all 36 starts (eight with Swan Racing) and averaged a 33.4 start and a 29.3 finish. He did, however, improve his average finish, as he averaged a 33.9 result in seven starts during the 2013 season.
The year didn't feature any of the BK Racing drivers finishing among the top-30 in the points. Whitt finished the highest of the three drivers. Truex’s season ended earlier than Bowman’s, but only finished four spots behind him in the final standings, in 39th.
As for the race for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors, Whitt finished ahead of both Bowman and Truex, as he finished in fourth. Bowman finished in sixth and Truex finished seventh.
Heading into 2015, BK Racing has not made any announcements on what their driver line-up will look like, but one thing is for sure – Truex will not be returning. Truex’s future plans have yet to be announced, but he still has a developmental contract with Richard Petty Motorsports.
BK Racing team owner Ron Devine clarified with Speedway Digest that Bowman will be returning to the organization as they look to resign Dr. Pepper.
As for Whitt, his name has been connected with Front Row Motorsports in some off season rumors. In an e-mail to Speedway Digest several weeks ago, the Ford organization denied rumors that they have signed Whitt. However, Devine and co-owner Anthony Marlowe have confirmed that he will not return to the Toyota team.
With the off-season coming to a close soon, the organization is looking to continue fielding two-three full-time cars, with one part-time car. In the rumor mill to replace Truex include Kvapil, Yeley and Clay Rogers, who missed a race for Beard Motorsports after being out-run in qualifying by BK Racing’s start-and-park car, and eventually ran two events for BKR.
Parker Kligerman and Cole Whitt, two of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders, might be searching for a new job after the eighth event of the year.
Swan Racing released a statement on Thursday afternoon that they are unsure whether or not their two Toyota teams will be racing at Richmond next weekend.
“Swan Racing is in the process of reviewing its current situation and the ability to continue to compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The team has been unable to secure the kind of sponsorship required to effectively operate the team. As a result, the team management is exploring every available option. We hope to be in position to provide a detailed update in the near future," the team said in an official release.
The team is owned by Brandon Davis, and co-owned by former NFL player, Bill Romanowski as well as entrepreneur, Anthony Marlowe. Marlowe is the listed owner for Whitt's No. 26 vehicle on a weekly basis. Prior to investing in Swan Racing, Marlowe sponsored multiple Sprint Cup Series teams with his company, TMone.
Kligerman joined Swan Racing towards the end of the 2013 season as he prepared to leave Kyle Busch Motorsports' Nationwide Series team which was closing due to a lack of funding. He finished ninth in points with three top-five finishes and 13 top-10s. However, he made the move to compete in the Sprint Cup Series on a full-time basis rather than returning to the Camping World Truck Series or racing for another Nationwide Series organization.
During the off-season, Kligerman stated that his goal was to be a top-25 team on a weekly basis. However, he has started out the season with either accidents or mechanical issues in all but one event (Darlington). He was able to race his way into the Daytona 500 after a stunning practice wreck in which his No. 30 Toyota was sent into the midst of the air, flipping multiple times - landing on his roof.
“I think any rookie campaign will have some struggles. It’s a gruesome and long schedule. The Sprint Cup Series is no walk in the talk. It is the best 43 drivers and teams in the world. There is no doubt in my mind that the most competitive racing series in the world is the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, I don’t think anyone can argue that when looking at the lap times and stuff like that. There will be times that a rookie will struggle, but the ability to have a consistency and having the average finish you want for the entire season is the key. As long as we can always go out there, always improving and always looking forward, never taking a step back, we will show the people that we’re here to stay, we’re a force to be reckoned with and we’ll keep making that next step towards victory lane," Kligerman said over the off-season when asked what will happen if he will struggle.
Though he has struggled, he has shown improvements, as had Whitt. Whitt finished a career-best 18th at Fontana, but has four finishes of 31st or worse.
The news comes after the team signed Speed Stick to sponsor Whitt's car for the first four races of the year. However, he has been sponsorless since Fontana. Kligerman, however, brought two companies to the team this year - Lending Tree (Daytona) and Aria Hotels (Las Vegas). He also had SMS Audio on his Toyota Camry at Texas and Darlington, but that company has a minority stake in Swan Racing as it is owned by rapper, 50 Cent.
Possibly, the team might not race at Richmond. If that is the case, this could harm the future of both young drivers. They have each experienced sponsorship woes in the past, but not so early in the year at NASCAR's highest tier.