TALLADEGA, Ala. – The leader on the last lap isn’t supposed to win at Talladega Superspeedway. Everybody knows that.
Brad Keselowski disagrees, and he showed how to do it Sunday with a calculated plan that sent him to Victory Lane.
Keselowski used a big push by Kyle Busch to pass leader Matt Kenseth, and after leaving the Daytona 500 winner in their wake, Keselowski staved off Busch’s attempt to snatch the win. Using a move Keselowski said he had dreamed about, he held on for his second win of the season and second at Talladega.
“I had this whole plan if I ever got in that situation where I was leading; I thought about it and thought about it, dreamed about what to do, and sure enough, going into (turn) three, it was just me and Kyle,” Keselowski said. “I knew the move I wanted to pull. It worked because the guy running second should have the advantage, but I had this move all worked up in my mind.”
Keselowski was the first driver in the last five races at Talladega to take the white flag and hold on for the win. He did it with a plan that left both Busch and Kenseth flat-footed, and both praised Keselowski after the race.
“He’s no dummy, that’s for sure,” said Busch, who wound up second for the second consecutive day.
Busch was the leader on the last lap of Saturday’s Nationwide Series race, and was passed by Joey Logano at the finish line. He conceded there’s little the leader can do to preserve the victory on the last lap of a restrictor-plate race, and predicted how Sunday would unfold.
“If you’re leading, being pushed, plan on finishing second. That’s all there is to it,” Busch said Saturday.
So he should have been sitting pretty after pushing Keselowski to the front. Instead, Keselowski went high into the third turn, then pulled off of Busch’s bumper to create some separation.
“That allowed me to drive untouched to the checkered flag,” Keselowski said. “It wasn’t easy to convince myself to do that, but it was the right move.”
Busch initially seemed dumbfounded.
“I must have screwed something up, because we got to turn three and came unhooked,” Busch said. “Just gave the win away over there. Not sure exactly what happened. We definitely need to go back and figure out what it was.”
Kenseth didn’t feel much better. He led seven times for a race-high 73 laps, but believed he gave the win away on the final restart.
A nine-car accident with four laps remaining brought out the yellow flag, setting up a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish. Kenseth, as the leader, got to pick where he wanted to restart and chose the outside line so Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle would line up behind him and presumably push him to the victory.
That put Keselowski and Busch together on the inside line, but they drifted back on the restart as Kenseth indeed was able to jump out to a huge lead.
It was probably too big of a lead.
Kenseth got a little too far away from Biffle, which gave the Keselowski-Busch tandem a chance to catch him. The two cars sailed past Kenseth on the outside line.