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7 Takeaways From Talladega Smashup

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So what did insights did we glean from Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway besides the fact that restrictor-plate racing results in a ton of wrecked race cars?

Actually, a whole lot.

Here are seven things we learned in a wreck-filled Alabama Sunday afternoon:

Playoffs

Obviously, Brad Keselowski’s victory at the ginormous 2.66-mile Talladega oval locks him into Round 3 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs along with Martin Truex Jr., the winner one week earlier at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

That means next week’s race at Kansas Speedway will determine which six drivers will join Truex and Keselowski in Round 3 and which four will be eliminated. 

Ford power

After winning eight of the first 17 races of the season, Ford looked like it was in good shape to win its first NASCAR Cup Manufacturers’ Championship since 2002. But after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won at Daytona in July, the Blue Oval Boys went on an 0-for-13 streak.

Fortunately for its diehard fans, the Ford squad had a much better showing at Talladega Superspeedway, where most all of its cars were fast. Brad Keselowski won in his Team Penske Ford and four of the top five finishers were Ford drivers. Not coincidentally, Fords have now won seven straight restrictor-plate races.

Junior’s last stand

Dale Earnhardt Jr. came into his final Talladega race with huge expectations, especially after qualifying on the pole for the first time in his career here. And Sunday was the 17thanniversary of his father’s last win, which came right here in an epic late-race charge from 18th to the win in the final four laps.

Alas, there was no October miracle for Earnhardt, except maybe that he dodged the three big wrecks in the final 16 laps. Earnhardt finished a respectable seventh, happy to avoid the carnage.

“I would have loved to have won the race for all the fans that come out here,” said Earnhardt.  “I know a lot of folks came to see this race just for the fact that it was my last plate race and trust me, I wanted to win it for all those folks more than myself, but just couldn’t get it done.”

Champions in trouble

Chances are very, very good that at least one past Cup champion will be knocked out of the playoffs next weekend at Kansas. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is currently eighth in points and in the final transfer spot. Johnson is 7 points ahead of 2015 champion Kyle Busch, who needs a big day in Kansas to advance. It is unlikely both drivers make Round 3.

New plate king?

With Dale Earnhardt Jr. retiring at the end of the season and Jeff Gordon already gone, Brad Keselowski might be about to take the title of best active restrictor-plate racer in the Cup series. Keselowski now has six victories at restrictor-plate tracks, including five at Talladega. Conspicuously absent from his resume is a Daytona 500 victory, but he’s got plenty of time to get one.

Survival of the fittest

Only 14 of 40 cars were still running at the end of the race, and just two playoff drivers finished in the top 10. They were race-winner Brad Keselowski and sixth-place Denny Hamlin.

Streaks broken

The Alabama 500 was the fifth of 10 playoff races and the first one not won by either Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr., both Toyota drivers. The last time a Chevrolet driver won was in the final race of the regular season, when Kyle Larson triumphed at Richmond Raceway.

Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen is a veteran motorsports journalist. He spent 13 years with FOXSports.com, where he was Digital Content Manager. Previously, he was executive editor of NASCAR Scene and managing editor of National Speed Sport News. Jensen served as the president of the National Motorsports Press Association and is the group’s former Writer of the Year.