The excitement lasted 3 hours and 47 minutes, included 30 lead changes, 11 cautions, and three red flags, which added another 35 minutes and 29 seconds to the race. The first crash came on lap 27 as Erik Jones slammed into the back of playoff contender Jamie McMurray, who then slammed into the wall at the entrance if the tri-oval and collected Jeffery Earnhardt. McMurray’s early exit from the race put a real dent in his Championship hopes, resulting in him being 29 points behind Jimmie Johnson for the 8th place cutoff line. However, McMurray took full blame for the accident.
“I didn’t even know where the 77 was. When I got on the brakes, I thought we were all going to pit. I’ll take the blame for that. I just kind of assumed we were coming to pit road right there. Obviously not everyone one was.”, Said McMurray. As a bit of foreshadowing, he added, “I’m sure I won’t be the only Playoff driver disappointed today.”
He was more than right about that. On lap 173 “The Big One” happened on the backstretch with 16 cars being involved and resulted in the first red flag. That wreck would take out five playoff drivers out of the race that included Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Kevin Harvick.
One of the drivers left in the field at the end of the race was the pole-sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the #88 Mountain Dew Chevy finishing in 7th place. It was Dale’s last race at Talladega and after the race Jr. addressed being able to make it through all the wrecks.
“I think that anyone who questions our desire to be here and compete this year and our desire to run hard and face, can look at the risks that we took this afternoon, knowing that any of those crashes would have probably given me a bit of an injury that would have held me out of the rest of the season.”
The governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, declared the day of the race to be Dale Jr. Day in the state of Alabama. It was just one of the many tributes to the legend that won at Talladega 6 times. Another tribute to Jr. on Sunday came from the race winner Brad Keselowski. His paint scheme for the race was based off of Keselowski’s car that he won his first two Xfinity races in while under JR Motorsports. Brad’s quarter panel’s on his car read “#Cheers2DaleJr” in Sunday’s race, due in part to his sponsor Miller Lite allowing Keselowski’s team to select two races to do whatever they wanted with the paint scheme.
“It was just kind of a “duh” moment when we said Talladega, and we get a special paint scheme, we should do something to honor Dale for that with respect to the opportunity he gave me early in my career and the white 88 Navy car. So it was kind of a perfect fit and was nice to show some love and respect to him for everything he has done for me and for the sport. I think it’s something we can all be grateful for in a lot of ways.”
The win for Keselowski seals his place in the playoff cutoff for the round of 8, which starts on the 29th of October in Martinsville. He locks in his spot along with Martin Truex Jr. who won last week at Charlotte. Kyle Busch, who started the day 6th in the playoff standings finished in 27th place after getting caught up in “The Big One” costing him his standing’s and now sits 7 points below the cutoff line in 9th place behind Jimmie Johnson. Busch joins Matt Kenseth, Stenhouse Jr. and McMurray that all sit below the cutoff line.
They will all have a chance to punch their ticket to the round of 8 next weekend when the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Kansas Motor Speedway in the final race in the round of 12.