TALLADEGA, Ala. — Is it time to recognize Brad Keselowski as one of the best restrictor-plate drivers in recent years?
Sunday’s victory at Talladega Superspeedway was Keselowski’s fourth restrictor-plate win since his last-lap victory against Carl Edwards in the track’s spring 2009 race.
No driver has won as many Sprint Cup restrictor-plate races since. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has three wins during that time. So does Jimmie Johnson. And Matt Kenseth. And Jamie McMurray. With two wins each during that time are Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, David Ragan, Joey Logano and Tony Stewart.
Of course, some of those drivers have more overall restrictor-plate wins than Keselowski because they’ve been competing longer, but Keselowski is becoming a driver one can’t ignore when discussing favorites at plate races.
“I’d rather be the guy that nobody talks about who has won here 10 times than the guy that everybody talks about who won here twice,’’ Keselowski said after his 19th career Sprint Cup victory, which tied him with Buddy Baker, Davey Allison, Fonty Flock and Greg Biffle in career series victories.
“I never got into racing just to have somebody say my name real loud or the billboards or lights or anything like that. I got into it because I love it, I love the challenge. I love the reward of success, the reward internally.
“Look, I’m not out here trying to toot my own horn or showcase my own press clippings. I just want to win. Winning four times means a lot here. It doesn’t mean as much as winning another championship would be. That’s my main goal at the end of the day.’’
Keselowski was in contention after avoiding the numerous incidents Sunday. He led a race-high 46 laps and stayed near the front much of the race with strong moves.
“We had good enough speed where we could make those moves,’’ Keselowski said. “Today was a day where my spotter and I worked together very well and we were able to do just that.’’
— Thirty-five of the 40 cars in Sunday’s race were involved in accidents, according to NASCAR.
That isn’t even the most number of Cup cars in accidents in restrictor-plate races since 2014.
Six times in the last 10 plate races there have been at least 20 cars involved in accidents, according to NASCAR statistics.
The most during that time came in the rain-shortened Daytona race in July 2014 when 37 of the 43 cars were listed as in accidents.
Sunday’s race was run under the threat of the rain but went the full distance. While that contributed to the race’s intensity it wasn’t the only factor in the accidents.
“I think guys get a little bit aggressive when you get toward the end,’’ said Jamie McMurray, who finished fourth and was listed as being a part of two incidents. “It’s like slamming like we used to do. With the little amount of downforce that we have, it’s so easy for the car to get up on you.
“When we got down to the end there, I was like death-gripping the wheel and trying to hold it straight because every time you get hit, it gets turned a little bit in a different direction and you have to be a little bit lucky there. It’s not all ability.’’
Said Kyle Busch: “It’s just Talladega. These cars, you try to get a little bit aggressive, start bumping people and pushing people, they’re real easy to get out of control.’’
Of the 35 cars involved in accidents Sunday, 16 were listed as being part of one or both accidents within the last 10 laps.
“We all kind of raced to halfway, then all raced to the rain that was coming and all raced to the end,’’ said Danica Patrick, who was eliminated in a crash that included Matt Kenseth’s car getting airborne.
“The whole race we were racing like we were racing to the end. There were no moments to relax. I’m sure that expanded peoples’ comfort zone at the end of the race because we were used to running close. Then some people just took it to the edge.”
— Let’s review Hendrick Motorsports’ restrictor-plate performance this season:
At the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr., crashed and finished 36th. Chase Elliott spun and damaged his car when it dug into the grass. He finished 37th. Jimmie Johnson placed 16th and Kasey Kahne was 13th.
Sunday, Earnhardt was involved in two accidents and finished last in the 40-car field. Kahne was collected by Earnhardt and then spun in another incident before placing 39th. Johnson was involved in a wreck after contact from behind from Kurt Busch and finished 22nd. Elliott was fifth.
That’s one top-10 finish and four finishes of 35th or worse in two restrictor-plate races this season.
Last year, Hendrick Motorsports placed two cars in the top five in each plate race with Earnhardt winning the spring Talladega race and the July Daytona race and Johnson second both times.
— Only three drivers have finished in the top 10 in both restrictor-plate races this season.
Kyle Busch was third in the Daytona 500 and second at Talladega. Austin Dillon was ninth in the Daytona 500 and third at Talladega. Kurt Busch was 10th in the Daytona 500 and eighth at Talladega.
— The 37 lead changes in Sunday’s race were the most in a restrictor-plate race since there were 38 at Talladega in Oct. 2014.
— After NASCAR met with the Sprint Cup Drivers Council on Friday, series officials are scheduled to meet with team owners/representatives Wednesday in their quarterly meeting.
— Brennan Poole parked his car at the start/finish line and waited. He waited to see if he had won his first NASCAR Xfinity race. The 25-year-old who had never finished better than ninth in a series race waited to see if his dreams would come true.
After waiting about five minutes, Poole was told that Elliott Sadler was declared the winner by NASCAR and that Poole had finished third.
It would have been easy to have argued about NASCAR’s decision, confront officials or something else. As a series regular, had Poole won, he would have all but qualified for playoffs.
Instead, he handled the disappointment with a grace and class not all athletes show in such situations.
“I’m happy that NASCAR was able to get it right,’’ Poole said, standing by his car on pit road.
“I really wanted to take a picture this afternoon in victory lane at Talladega. What an awesome track. So much history. A lot of my heroes have been to victory lane there.’’
Poole admits a win would have been “really awesome for my career, but we were just short. We’ll get one. We’ve been in the hunt the last two weeks.’’