Big Crash at Talladega on Final Lap Determines Winner

Talladega Superspeedway, Talladega, AL – April 21, 2024

With six different winners in the first nine races of the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season, this weekend’s GEICO 500 offers a plethora of opportunities for a seventh different winner to pull into Victory Lane and secure their spot in the Playoffs.

Talladega Superspeedway has seen seven different winners in the last seven races; including this Sunday’s defending winner, Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch, who is still looking for his first win of 2024. The streak began with Denny Hamlin’s win in October 2020, followed by Brad Keselowski (April 2021), Bubba Wallace (Oct. 2021), Ross Chastain (April 2022), Chase Elliott (Oct. 2022), Kyle Busch (April 2023), and Ryan Blaney (Oct. 2023).

Thus far, six drives have earned a spot in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs by virtue of the wins this season – William Byron, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell, and Daniel Suarez.

Winningest Drivers at Talladega

The 109 NASCAR Cup Series races at Talladega Superspeedway have produced a total of 51 different race winners; 27 of the 51 have won multiple times at the 2.66-mile track.

This weekend nine of the 51 NASCAR Cup Series Talladega race winners are entered into the event.

Active Race Winners (9) Wins Seasons
Brad Keselowski 6 2021, 2017, 2016. 2014, 2012, 2009
Ryan Blaney 3 2023, 2020, 2019
Joey Logano 3 2018, 2016, 2015
Kyle Busch 2 2023, 2008
Chase Elliott 2 2022, 2019
Denny Hamlin 2 2020, 2014
Ross Chastain 1 2022
Bubba Wallace 1 2021
Ricky Stenhouse Jr 1 2017

NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt leads the NASCAR Cup Series in wins at Talladega Superspeedway with 10 victories (1983, 1984, 1990 sweep, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1999 sweep, 2000).

Today’s Race

Stages for the GEICO 500 are 60/60/68 laps, a stop for fuel will be required in each Stage of the Race. Ford Performance starts on the front row with Michael McDowell on the pole and Austin Cindric lining up next to McDowell on the front row.

Big news from qualifying. Kyle Larson was stopped from making a qualifying run after inspectors found irregularities in the roof rails of his car. Following suspensions this week from the lost wheel incident in Texas, the Hendrick Motorsports team was already two crewmen short heading to Alabama. Things got worse when pre-race inspections found the non-compliant parts.

Larson will have to start at the rear of the field, and on the first lap of the race, he will serve a penalty by driving through pit road at the reduced speed mandated by NASCAR.

Stage One

The Ford Mustang Darkhorse race cars of Michael McDowell(34) and Austin Cindric(2) led the field to the green flag and drove side by side for four laps. Three wide racing began at the back of the pack, and drivers joined the fast-moving train in the outside lane as it crept forward.

Five laps in Martin Truex Jr.(19) had pulled the group of drivers even with the leaders. Huge position changes were the norm. BJ McLeod(78) started in the 37th position; by lap ten, he was the leader. Last week’s winner, Chase Elliott(9), started ninth. He drifted to the rear of the pack early.

Kyle Larson(5) started at the rear of the field after he was denied the chance to qualify after his team made unauthorized changes to the roof rails of his car. He then served a drive-through penalty down the pit road on lap one. After returning to the track, the field caught him on lap 14, putting him a lap down.

The entire field ran three-wide, with drivers swapping the lead almost every lap. In addition to McDowell, Cindric, and Truex, and McLeod(78), three other drivers put at least the nose of their car out front at the start/finish line. Chase Briscoe(14), Justin Haley(51), Daniel Henric(31), all led during the first half of Stage One.

The fuel window was expected to be 40-45 laps. BJ McLeod ran out of gas on lap 39 and was the first to come to the pit road to refuel. Over the next few laps, the remainder of the field made gas-only stops. By lap 46, everyone had visited their pit to at least take on a full tank of Sunoco racing fuel.

Denny Hamlin(11) spun, entering the pits. He avoided contact with other drivers pitting at the same time. Hamlin blamed the issue on water seeping out of the track after heavy overnight rains.

Once all pit stops were completed, Cindric, Elliott, Harrison Burton(21), William Byron(24), and Ryan Blaney(12) were the top five at 50 laps.

The ten-lap sprint to the green and white checkered at the end of Stage One ended with Cindric nosing out Elliott by inches for the Stage Win.

Stage One Results

1 2 Austin Cindric* 10
2 9 Chase Elliott 9
3 24 William Byron 8
4 12 Ryan Blaney* 7
5 8 Kyle Busch 6
6 21 Harrison Burton* 5
7 20 Christopher Bell 4
8 6 Brad Keselowski* 3
9 48 Alex Bowman 2
10 10 Noah Gragson* 1

*Ford Mustang DarkHorse Drivers

Kyle Larson got his lap back, running in the “Lucky Dog” position at the end of the Stage.

Stage Two

Blaney, Kyle Busch(8), Cindric, and Elliott led the pack back to green flag racing. Shortly after the restart, the field was back to three-wide racing. New names moved to the top of the lead pack. John Hunter Nemechek(42) led, followed by Noah Gragson(10), Anthony Alfredo(62), Corey LaJoie(7), and Austin Dillon(3). Kyle Larson hung just out of the top five.

The lead changed often as pushes brought drafting partners to the front. Nemechek, with Gragson providing the shove, was the only driver who consistently held off the runs.

Chris Buescher(17) finally broke Nemecheck’s stranglehold on the top spot, leading a Ford Mustang Darkhorse contingent to the front.

Green flag pit stops began when 11 cars peeled off on lap 103, and a new leader emerged. Joey Logano(22) was out front, with several cars wanting to run longer before making stops. The Mustangs of Cindric, Blaney, and Berry all ran to lap 112 before coming to pit road.

Blaney was caught speeding at the entrance to pit road and will have to return for a drive-through penalty. Logano and Cindric were able to return to the track in front of those who chose to pit early. In the closing laps of Stage Two, Larson drove up the outside with a push from Tyler Reddick(45). Logano was able to hold off the charge and take the Stage Win.

Stage Two Results

1 22 Joey Logano* 10
2 2 Austin Cindric* 9
3 5 Kyle Larson 8
4 3 Austin Dillon 7
5 1 Ross Chastain 6
6 45 Tyler Reddick 5
7 17 Chris Buescher* 4
8 41 Ryan Preece* 3
9 9 Chase Elliott 2
10 10 Noah Gragson* 1

*Ford Mustang Darkhorse Drivers

The Final Stage

Logano and Cindric did not pit and they started on the outside lane. Ross Chastain(1) and Gragson took the inside line. Logano and Chastain swapped the lead back and forth as the field was content to run two-by-two at this point of the race.

The first incident of the race occurred when Christopher Bell(20) and Justin Haley(51) got together near the rear of the pack. The “Big One” was avoided with some skilled driving to miss both cars as they slid down the track. Bringing out the caution on lap 132, most of the field opted to pit despite not being in the fuel window to complete the race.

Eight drivers stayed on the track. Alfredo, Larson, Bubba Wallace(23), Reddick, Byron, Erik Jones(43), Elliott, and Brad Keselowski. They pitted with a lap to go, packing as much fuel into the tank as possible. The race will resume with 49 laps to go.

Josh Berry(4), Gragson, Burton, and Shane van Gisbergen(16) were the top four on the restart.

This time, three-wide racing developed quickly as drivers began to scramble to improve their positions. The pole sitter, Michael McDowell, led his first laps since early in the race.  Todd Gilliland, Keselowski, and Kyle Busch moved up into contention.

Four-Wide at Talladega / NASCAR Photo

The leaders stretched out into a single-file line as they picked up the speed, trying to force the fuel savers into burning fuel faster. Six Toyota drivers opted to pit early and force the hand of those who were thinking about trying to stretch it to the end.

That all went out the window when four cars wrecked, entering turn three. Hamlin, Wallace, Nemecheck, and Jones were involved in the incident and knocked out of the race. All the leaders came to pit road during the caution, eliminating the fuel concerns of those on different pit cycles.

Reddick and McDowell led the lines back to the green flag. As the race approached the final 25 laps, cautions breed cautions. Is the “Big One” still in the making?

The Finish

With 16 laps to go, 31 cars were on the lead lap, all separated by a mere two seconds. McDowell swapped between the top and bottom lanes, trying to mute the line with the most momentum. With 10 laps to go, a third line formed on the outside at the back of the pack.

With five laps to go, SVG and Elliott joined the top line to help the charge to the front. With three laps to go, Kyle Busch and Ty Gibbs made the same move. However, they mistimed the momentum of the line, causing the group to hit the brakes. They immediately fell to the back, stopping that charge.

As the pack exited turn four on the final lap, Keselowski pushed McDowell clear of the pack. While the duo pulled two car lengths ahead, Keselowski moved high with a bid to pass for the lead. McDowell moved up to block. Expecting that, Keselowski dove to the low side of the track and got inside McDowell’s left rear quarter.

McDowell tried to follow and make the block low. His rear bumper scrubbed across the front of Keselowski’s, and the contact sent Michael spinning. Keselowski kept his car pointed in the right direction but Reddick kept his foot to the floor and passed Brad coming to the line.

McDowell’s spin triggered the Big One just yards from the finish line. Reddick’s first win of the year put him into the playoffs, and team owner Michael Jordan was on hand to enjoy the moment. Ironically, on this date in 1996, Jordan won his 8th NBA scoring title, breaking Wilt Chamberlin’s record. The Chicago Bulls’ 72nd win of the season topped off the most successful seasons in NBA history.

Michael McDowell finished 31st, the last car on the lead lap. Corey LaJoie was one of the cars caught up in the crash.

He finished the race in 18th position, sliding across the finish line on the driver’s side of his car. When he finally stopped, the car rolled over and back onto four wheels.

NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings

1 William Byron 335 In Win(3)
2 Denny Hamlin 308 In Win(2)
3 Kyle Larson 359 In Win
4 Chase Elliott 337 In Win
5 Tyler Reddick 316 In Win
6 Christopher Bell 255 In Win
7 Daniel Suarez 220 In Win
8 Martin Truex Jr. 344 +99
9 Ryan Blaney* 302 +57
10 Ty Gibbs 296 +51
11 Ross Chastain 277 +32
12 Alex Bowman 261 +16
13 Bubba Wallace 257 +12
14 Chase Briscoe* 256 +11
15 Brad Keselowski* 254 +9
16 Chris Buescher* 245 +0
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Cut Line
17 Joey Logano* 245 Tie Breaker
18 Kyle Busch 234 -11
19 Austin Cindric* 192 -53
20 Erik Jones 181 -64
21 Carson Hocevar 172 -73
22 John Hunter Nemechek* 164 -81
23 Ryan Preece* 162 -83
24 Todd Gilliland* 161 -84
25 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 160 -85

*Ford Mustang Darkhorse Drivers

Results of the GEICO 500 from Talladega SuperSpeedway

1 45 Tyler Reddick 188
2 6 Brad Keselowski 0.208 188
3 10 Noah Gragson 0.277 188
4 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 0.487 188
5 48 Alex Bowman 0.977 188
6 62  Anthony Alfredo 1.262 188
7 24 William Byron 1.363 188
8 38 Todd Gilliland 1.575 188
9 31 Daniel Hemric 2.002 188
10 21 Harrison Burton 2.297 188
11 19 Martin Truex Jr. 2.506 188
12 14 Chase Briscoe 2.937 188
13 1 Ross Chastain 3.578 188
14 41 Ryan Preece 3.579 188
15 9 Chase Elliott 3.927 188
16 4 Josh Berry 4.287 188
17 77 Carson Hocevar 4.555 188
18 7 Corey LaJoie 4.556 188
19 22 Joey Logano 4.557 188
20 12 Ryan Blaney 4.657 188
21 5 Kyle Larson 4.797 188
22 54 Ty Gibbs 4.798 188
23 2 Austin Cindric 5.095 188
24 15 Cody Ware 6.096 188
25 17 Chris Buescher 6.598 188
26 8 Kyle Busch 7.336 188
27 99 Daniel Suarez 7.509 188
28 16 Shane Van Gisbergen 12.412 188
29 71 Zane Smith 18.747 188
30 3 Austin Dillon 18.963 188
31 34 Michael McDowell DNF 187
32 78  BJ McLeod -1 187
33 42 John Hunter Nemechek -4 184
34 51 Justin Haley -4 184
35 43 Erik Jones -34 154
36 23 Bubba Wallace -34 154
37 11 Denny Hamlin -34 154
38 20 Christopher Bell -56 132