NASCAR Barometer: Keselowski Tames Wild Talladega

NASCAR Barometer: Keselowski Tames Wild Talladega

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski seemed to be the last driver standing in Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, in what was one of the wildest races of the season. The track famous for creating massive crashes claimed more than half of the field Sunday, and only a handful of cars were damage-free at the finish. Keselowski outlasted the competition, coming to the front around the halfway mark and then continuing to lead 46 of the 188 laps. The win was his second of the season and all but guarantees him a spot in NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup alongside teammate Joey Logano.

Fantasy players who took gambles on some long-shot drivers last week are largely walking away from the weekend smiling. Michael Waltrip, Trevor Bayne, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Blaney and other names not normally featured at the top of the order, took top finishes, and certainly outperformed expectations. The race featured 17 different leaders in its 500-mile distance, but it was Keselowski who stood on top to claim his fourth win at the track before heading to Kansas Speedway for next week's GOBOWLING 400 at Kansas Speedway.

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Brad Keselowski – Keselowski scored his second win of 2016 with a top performance in Sunday's GEICO 500. The Penske driver took command at the front of the field through the final segments and held on at the final restart to win the race by holding off the charging lines of cars behind him. This driver has been fantastic

Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski seemed to be the last driver standing in Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, in what was one of the wildest races of the season. The track famous for creating massive crashes claimed more than half of the field Sunday, and only a handful of cars were damage-free at the finish. Keselowski outlasted the competition, coming to the front around the halfway mark and then continuing to lead 46 of the 188 laps. The win was his second of the season and all but guarantees him a spot in NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup alongside teammate Joey Logano.

Fantasy players who took gambles on some long-shot drivers last week are largely walking away from the weekend smiling. Michael Waltrip, Trevor Bayne, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Blaney and other names not normally featured at the top of the order, took top finishes, and certainly outperformed expectations. The race featured 17 different leaders in its 500-mile distance, but it was Keselowski who stood on top to claim his fourth win at the track before heading to Kansas Speedway for next week's GOBOWLING 400 at Kansas Speedway.

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Brad Keselowski – Keselowski scored his second win of 2016 with a top performance in Sunday's GEICO 500. The Penske driver took command at the front of the field through the final segments and held on at the final restart to win the race by holding off the charging lines of cars behind him. This driver has been fantastic at Talladega in the past, and he leveraged that experience to earn himself a spot in the Chase. Keselowski is also a former Kansas winner, taking the checkered flag in the spring of 2011. He also finished in the top 10 there twice in 2015. His confidence should be fully restored for this week's contest.

Austin Dillon – While racing at the front of the field at the halfway mark on Sunday, Dillon was taken out by a lack of room when he was pushed up the track. Jamie McMurray on his inside pushed the No. 3 into David Gilliland who was on Dillon's outside. The contact turned Dillon's car into the wall, but that didn't hold the young driver back from challenging for the win in the final laps. Having narrowly missed another victory, Dillon now must focus his attention on Kansas where he has just one top-10 finish from five races. He crashed and didn't finish his last race at the track in the fall and he will need to do better than his average finish of 23.2 to continue the momentum from a challenging Talladega race.

Jamie McMurray – Just as fantasy players had been hoping for in the early portion of the season, McMurray turned Sunday into a top result. The driver has been one of the more promising racers early in 2016, but results hadn't transpired from that promise. All that changed on Sunday when McMurray was within striking distance of the lead in the closing miles of the GEICO 500. When the race ended, the No. 1 machine was classified fourth, which was his first top-five finish of the season and his first top-10 since coming home 10th in the Auto Club 400 in March. If McMurray can leverage Sunday's momentum he might have a chance to score his best ever Kansas finish. He has three top-10 finishes at that track with a best of seventh place twice.

Chase Elliott – Elliott is showing more frequently that he could become a winner in his first full season in Sprint Cup. He started from pole for the second consecutive restrictor-plate race, and drove a very mature 500 miles to finish in fifth position, well within contention to win. Elliott has not yet raced at Kansas in Sprint Cup, but he does have two top-10 finishes from two starts there in the Xfinity series. He started 12th in both of those races and didn't lead any laps, but his focus on finishing races is giving him a lot of experience that will serve him well the longer the season rolls on. Elliott will certainly be a star in the future, and could find Victory Lane sooner rather than later.

DOWNGRADE

Joey Logano – The 25th-place Talladega finish was Logano's worst finish of the season. In his five races prior to the GEICO 500, his lowest finish was 11th, and Sunday's result stopped that streak in its tracks. His previous worst finish in the current season was in Phoenix where he finished 18th. The team, which already claims a spot in the Chase, will need to rebound quickly to ensure they have momentum to fight for the championship until the end. Fantasy players will remember that Logano was the most consistent finisher toward the end of 2015 before his season ended on a very sour note, not to mention a feud with Matt Kenseth.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Earnhardt's race ended prematurely for the second consecutive restrictor-plate race on Sunday. The Hendrick driver battled a tight condition at the start only to lose control off of turn 2, which was similar to what happened to him in the Daytona 500. Later contact with Carl Edwards put the finishing move on his afternoon. There are two more restrictor-plate races this season at which the No. 88 can redeem himself, but he shouldn't have to rely on those two events to work his way into the Chase. Earnhardt has never won at Kansas, but he did score three top-10 finishes in the last five races. His average finish at the track is 16.1 from 19 career tries, and he'll aim to actually complete the full distance this Saturday night.

Kasey Kahne – Despite starting the 2016 season better than he has in recent years, Kahne faltered at Talladega through no fault of his own. The No. 5 was taken out by being at the wrong place at the wrong time, when teammate Earnhardt lost control and made contact with him. Like Earnhardt, Kahne's race was ended completely when he returned to the track and another crash furthered the damage done in the first scrape. If he can score a top-10 at Kansas, it would be his third top-10 finish in the last five races as well as his second consecutive top 10 at the track after finishing fourth there last fall.

Danica Patrick – Throughout her history in Sprint Cup, Patrick has proven to be a decent racer on superspeedways. Unfortunately, she wasn't able to demonstrate that skill last Sunday. Upon entering the pits for her first stop of the race, she collided with other cars making the entry, causing significant body damage to her car. The damage didn't prevent her from continuing to take part in the race, but it did stymie any real chance she may have had to push her way farther forward up the running order. Patrick has just one top-10 finish at Kansas, which came in 2014. Her best finish at the track aside from that lone result was 16th in the fall of 2014.

Matt Kenseth – Yet again bad luck kept Kenseth from a top finish. The only Joe Gibbs Racing driver yet to score a victory in 2016 led 39 laps in Sunday's race before unfortunate circumstances put him in the air and out of the race. He was clipped on the backstretch, and the damage was simply too much for him to continue, and so another promising finish fell by the wayside. There's still plenty of time for things to turn around for him, however. One win is enough to qualify for the Chase, and Kenseth could win just about any week. As an example, he has two wins at Kansas, and hasn't finished lower than 14th at the circuit since 2010. Kenseth simply needs to shake his bad luck.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Trevor Bayne – Bayne forced his way into the front of Sunday's race, but it shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise. The Roush Fenway Racing driver has always been a good racer in the draft, and his team has given him a much more competitive car this season. Bayne led a number of laps on Sunday and also confidently directed the field while out front. He slipped to 10th-place at the finish, which could arguably feel like a disappointment from an otherwise stellar afternoon. He has three Kansas starts with a best finish of 18th, but his first top-five of 2016 in Bristol shows that at times he can be considered a valuable fantasy option throughout this season.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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