NASCAR Barometer: Keselowski Wins Sixth Talladega Race

NASCAR Barometer: Keselowski Wins Sixth Talladega Race

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Brad Keselowski overcame contact at the end of the first stage of Sunday's GEICO 500 to make a last-lap pass to win his sixth race at Talladega Superspeedway. The Penske Racing driver finally got the victory he had been waiting for all season despite the early setback that saw teammate Joey Logano knocked out of the race. The incident looked similar to when the teammates collided while racing for the lead in the Daytona 500 earlier this season, but this time Keselowski's damage was not the end of his race. In fact, he recovered nearly immediately and spent the rest of the laps pushing hard before leading just the final lap of an overtime finish to become the ninth different winner in the first 10 races of the 2021 season. 

The race was typical of Talladega with hair-raising crashes and a jumbled finishing order. A late caution from Martin Truex Jr. set up the overtime finish where Matt DiBenedetto did his best to hold off Keselowski and Ryan Blaney. He held off Blaney, but didn't have enough after that to hold back Keselowski. Sunday's top-10 featured a number of new faces, which is great news for some who were able to overcome early-season struggles to bag a top finish. Those finishes should help those drivers as they now turn their attention to a return to 1.5-mile ovals with Kansas Speedway next up. 

UPGRADE

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski led one lap Sunday at Talladega, but it was the lap that

Brad Keselowski overcame contact at the end of the first stage of Sunday's GEICO 500 to make a last-lap pass to win his sixth race at Talladega Superspeedway. The Penske Racing driver finally got the victory he had been waiting for all season despite the early setback that saw teammate Joey Logano knocked out of the race. The incident looked similar to when the teammates collided while racing for the lead in the Daytona 500 earlier this season, but this time Keselowski's damage was not the end of his race. In fact, he recovered nearly immediately and spent the rest of the laps pushing hard before leading just the final lap of an overtime finish to become the ninth different winner in the first 10 races of the 2021 season. 

The race was typical of Talladega with hair-raising crashes and a jumbled finishing order. A late caution from Martin Truex Jr. set up the overtime finish where Matt DiBenedetto did his best to hold off Keselowski and Ryan Blaney. He held off Blaney, but didn't have enough after that to hold back Keselowski. Sunday's top-10 featured a number of new faces, which is great news for some who were able to overcome early-season struggles to bag a top finish. Those finishes should help those drivers as they now turn their attention to a return to 1.5-mile ovals with Kansas Speedway next up. 

UPGRADE

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski led one lap Sunday at Talladega, but it was the lap that counted the most. The Penske Racing driver overcame contact at the end of the first stage to work his way back into contention, and he was lined up behind leader Matt DiBenedetto for the overtime finish. When DiBenedetto moved to block a run, it was Keselowski who pounced and took the lead on the back straight. He then had to hold off challenges for the final half of a lap and had the advantage he needed off of the final turn to win his first race of the season. The victory comes with some redemption, after he and teammate Logano were involved in wrecks together both at Daytona and at Talladega. He is now the ninth different winner in the first 10 races and ranks fifth in the standings.

Matt DiBenedetto – DiBenedetto worked his way to the front in the final laps of the first stage Sunday at Talladega, holding the position until the caution waved just shy of the segment finish. The stage victory was the first of his career, the first laps he has led this season, and they continued his upward swing in performance over the past three weeks. His momentum continued as he was poised to race for the win in the final laps, but his choice to block a run from Ryan Blaney instead of sticking with Keselowski ultimately cost him the victory. Still, it was another impressive outing from DiBenedetto, who continues his audition for a full-time race seat next season. His best Kansas finish was 12th last fall and he has two top-15 finishes at the track from 12 career starts.

Bubba Wallace – Wallace was the second driver to score his first career stage win Sunday at Talladega. The Toyota driver narrowly escaped disaster at the end of the first stage, as he was caught behind Logano's flying car, and raced to the lead late in the second segment. He pulled some perfectly timed blocks to maintain his spot at the front and was in the lead when Denny Hamlin and others brought out the caution, which earned Wallace his first career stage victory. His 19th-place finish at the end of the race disguises the competitiveness he showed throughout the afternoon. This wasn't the first time Wallace has shown this kind of speed this season, and fantasy players should keep that in mind as the season continues. He is definitely a driver worth choosing at the return races at Daytona and Talladega later this year.

William Byron – Byron's runner-up finish Sunday at Talladega extended his streak of 2021 top-10 finishes to eight. That string of results started with his win at Homestead and puts him fourth in points. He led 12 of the 191 laps led and was the only Chevrolet driver to finish in the top five. Byron is demonstrating the type of consistency that saw him advance in the playoffs in past seasons, which is remarkable from such a young driver. That top-10 streak could continue for another week at Kansas, too. In six starts, Byron has three top-10s, including in each of the races there last season. He led 30 laps in those 2020 visits and should be a viable fantasy selection for most rosters this week.

Michael McDowell – McDowell backed up his Daytona 500 victory from February with another top-five superspeedway finish Sunday at Talladega. The 2021 race winner was the first to put his name in the winner's column this season but slid backward in the standings as the early season wore on. His third-place finish Sunday puts him above Alex Bowman in the standings among 2021 winners. It was his second top-five and fourth top-10 finish of the season. While McDowell's Daytona win was a surprise, he and the team have continued to show they are capable contenders this season. Fantasy players should remember that McDowell followed his Daytona win with two top-10s, including Homestead. Another 1.5-mile oval awaits him this week in Kansas.

DOWNGRADE

Kyle Larson – Larson didn't even complete one lap Sunday at Talladega before he was forced to exit the draft and drop to the back, as his engine began overheating. He immediately pitted to have the crew diagnose the issue, which turned out to be a piece of metal that blocked the engine, causing the temperature to skyrocket. He returned to the action just as the field was lapping him for the second time only to have the engine expire in a plume of smoke before he completed his second lap. It was a short afternoon due to the team's massive error and was a huge step backward for the team that has had the speed of the leaders nearly every week thus far. They must now rebound quickly at Kansas.

Joey Logano – Logano crashed out early for the second time in as many superspeedway races this season. He was in a line of Penske Racing cars on the final lap of the opening stage when Hamlin caused him to spin with contact to the rear. Another tap in the back sent Logano into the air, where he landed on his roof and slid out of the race. It was the second time racing with his teammates for the lead at a superspeedway this season that Logano was eliminated from contention. Next week's return to a 1.5-mile oval may be a good thing for him, however. Logano has three Kansas wins from 23 starts, including the last time out when he led 47 laps in the fall last season. He led 74 laps in the two races at the track last year.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin's impressive early-season run of top-five finishes ended with a disastrous race at Talladega Sunday afternoon. The points leader spent the early miles at the front of the pack but suffered two consecutive speeding penalties on pit road that put him a lap down in the second stage. Then, while racing to get his lost lap back, he connected with Keselowski and was turned into the outside wall. The crash damage was heavy and he spent the rest of the afternoon working to hang on to the draft, finishing 32nd. Hamlin has three Kansas victories from 25 starts. He won the spring race at the track last season and will try to defend that for his first trip to Victory Lane this season.

Kurt Busch – Busch and his Chip Ganassi Racing team put in a lot of work Sunday to walk away with just a 35th-place finish. The former champion typically has been quick at superspeedway races throughout his career, and that same trend continued Sunday afternoon. He was initially set back by a fire underneath the hood of the car. The team ultimately had to replace the oil cooler but got the work done and sent Busch back out on track. Despite the issues, he was able to stay in the draft and would have been in contention had the mechanical gremlins not occurred. He said after the race the team just needs to keep working and the results will begin to come their direction. He has 12 top-10 finishes at Kansas, including a ninth-place result in this race last season. This week would be a good time for those results to arrive.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Kaz Grala – Grala took advantage of the typical Talladega uncertainty to score the best result of his NASCAR Cup Series career. The Kaulig Racing driver took his rare start on Sunday and produced a sixth-place finish. After the race, he said he was focused on taking advantage of every opportunity he gets to make an impression in the hope of finding a full-time seat in the series. That is exactly what he did Sunday. It was just his third Cup Series start, but the finish was his second top-10. He has some additional starts to look forward to with the team this season, as their part-time schedule focuses on road courses and superspeedways. Grala has proven he should be considered for fantasy selection at both types of venues.

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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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