The toughest track in the NASCAR playoff picture didn’t disappoint in living up to its reputation this weekend as the stars of the Camping World Truck Series and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series roared into Talladega Superspeedway.
The weekend at the famed Superspeedway began with a battle of the fittest in round five of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ Playoff. The start of Saturday’s Fred’s 250 began with the No. 4 of Christopher Bell leading the way to the wave of the green flag. That is, until the defending series champion took point to lead the first 40 laps and take both the Stage 1 and Stage 2 wins.
Although Sauter and pole-sitter Bell seemed to have things figured out at this track as the laps of this 94-lap race wound down, it was a Camping World Truck Series part-timer who left the entire field in shock during the final stage of this race.
The No. 75 of Parker Kligerman charged to the front past pole winner, series leader and race runner-up Christopher Bell during the final restart and had the lead in Saturday’s Fred’s 250 when trucks started bouncing off each other in Turn 1 on the final lap. That wreck caused a caution that froze the running order and gave Kligerman his first victory since he won at Talladega in 2012.
“It’s all a blur,” said Kligerman. “Each corner you’re making so many decisions. Those last 10 laps, if I went high and separated the back, or if I tried to get the bump and the run, every move just worked out and it all just went our way there at the end. I am still psyched!”
Although this was the driver and his low-budget team’s first Series win, both became a contender for the final spot in the round of six of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ Playoff. Austin Cindric ran fifth behind Grant Neffenger and secured a spot in the round of six, joining pole-sitter Bell, Sauter, Nemechek, Rhodes and Matt Crafton.
While this track gave a part-time driver his first victory in the Camping World Truck Series, the picture would be entirely different in Sunday’s Alabama 500 race.
Round seven of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series began with a dream come true for many race fans, after the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. picked up the pole at one of his favorite restrictor plate tracks.
While Earnhardt, Jr. led the first seven laps of this race and restarted third after the 11th and final caution, he was unable to push his way to the front of the field and had to settle for a seventh-place finish.
Despite this driver’s final run at Talladega not being the success that he had intended, Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowski found a way to disrupt the Cup Series playoffs after powering to the lead shortly after this race began to take the Stage 1 win. Although the No. 21 of Ryan Blaney charged ahead of Keselowski as the laps wound down in the second stage of this race, the No. 2 would find his way back to the front two laps after the final restart on Lap 186 of 188 to bring home the win in a race that required three red flags and left 14 cars running at the finish.
In winning for the fifth time at Talladega, the third time this season and the 24th time in his career, Keselowski claimed the important prize — a ticket into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ round eight of the championship playoffs.
“This is still sinking in,” said Keselowski. “This track is a special place to get to race and a special place when you win here. It really was a collaborative effort with the team and getting a real fast car and making the right moves as a driver and a lot of help from up above with staying out of those wrecks. It really takes all three and we had them all this weekend.”
Any of the 10 playoff contenders whose cars were heavily damaged in wrecks throughout the race would have gladly settled for second. Jamie McMurray was out of the race after 25 laps, his car destroyed in a six-car collision off Turn 4. Playoff drivers Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick all suffered varying degrees of damage in a 16-car accident triggered by series leader Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 172.
This race set up a scramble for the final six Playoff positions entering next Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway. Kyle Busch, Kenseth, Stenhouse and McMurray are below the current cut line, but only 29 points separate Harvick in fourth place from Busch in ninth.
Stay tuned to RacingJunk.com as the Countdown to the NASCAR Championship continues.