TALLADEGA, Ala. – Brad Keselowski now has something in common with NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon.
Keselowski registered his sixth Talladega Superspeedway victory in NASCAR Cup Series competition on Sunday after taking the lead from Matt DiBenedetto on the final lap of the GEICO 500 at the 2.66-mile tri-oval.
The victory moves him into a tie for second on the Talladega Superspeedway all-time NASCAR Cup Series victory list with Earnhardt and Gordon. Only the late Dale Earnhardt has more Talladega victories, having registered 10 triumphs at the track during his lengthy career.
“I’ve been on kind of a four-year drought here, but it’s nice to get number six,” Keselowski said. “I would have never dreamed I’d tie Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. here. That’s something. Those guys are really legends.
“A long, long ways to ever catch Dale Earnhardt,” Keselowski added. “I don’t even know if that’s possible, but to be on the same list is pretty cool.”
DiBenedetto appeared in prime position to earn his first NASCAR Cup Series victory aboard the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford. DiBenedetto took the lead shortly after a restart with 12 laps left and held the lead until Martin Truex Jr. brought the caution flag out after dropping debris in the tri-oval after blowing out a tire.
An overtime restart followed, with DiBenedetto leading Ryan Blaney, Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Michael McDowell to the green flag. Using a push from Keselowski on the bottom, DiBenedetto was able to hold the lead until the field raced around to the white flag.
Just as the field passed the white flag, DiBenedetto made a move up the track to block a run by Blaney on the outside. That opened the bottom for Keselowski, who had a push from McDowell, to take the race lead.
Down the backstretch DiBenedetto had no help on the outside, which left Keselowski in the lead with McDowell pushing. Through turns three and four William Byron suddenly appeared on the bumper of McDowell, pushing him to a big run on Keselowski through the tri-oval.
“Michael McDowell gave me a big push, kind of like he did at Daytona and I was a little bit smarter with how I handled it,” Keselowski said, referencing the late-race push McDowell gave him at the Daytona 500 in February.
McDowell, the reigning Daytona 500 champion, moved to Keselowski’s outside but Byron didn’t stick with him. Instead, Byron stayed to the inside and got alongside McDowell on the run to the finish line.
That allowed Keselowski to get to the finish line first, with Byron nipping McDowell to finish second.
“I saw he (McDowell) was getting a run. I was just praying I’d get to the start/finish line before it was too late,” Keselowski said.
McDowell said he felt like he had the momentum to pass Keselowski on the last lap, but two factors prevented him from earning his second-straight superspeedway triumph.
“I needed to stay on his (Keselowski) right-rear longer and tighter I think to drag back his momentum,” McDowell explained. “I’m not sure if I could have got all the way alongside him with that because once the 24 (Byron) broke my plane and he got to my left-rear, he was dragging me back too.”
Kevin Harvick finished fourth, with DiBenedetto fading to fifth after leading at the white flag for the second consecutive race at Talladega.
“It’s tough. It’s just all so circumstantial,” DiBenedetto said of the final lap. “Our day will come. I’m just lucky to drive this thing and have the support from everybody.”
Kaz Grala earned his career-best finish in sixth, followed by Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon, Blaney and Cole Custer.
The biggest crash of the day came on the final lap of stage one. Joey Logano’s Ford flipped after contact from Denny Hamlin as the field raced towards turn three. Logano was uninjured in the crash.
DiBenedetto (stage one) and Bubba Wallace (stage two) earned the first stage victories of their careers earlier in the day.