TALLADEGA, Ala. — Brad Keselowski made exactly the right final move this time, winning again at Talladega Superspeedway and demonstrating a painful lesson well learned.
Keselowski's overtime victory made him the ninth driver to win through 10 NASCAR Cup Series races this season and avenged an embarrassing Team Penske gaffe in the season-opening Daytona 500. He and teammate Joey Logano triggered a last-lap crash as Keselowski tried to pass Logano for the victory in February.
"Daytona, that's a big one. Oh man, it stings still," Keselowski said. "But this is a good one. We'll take it. Beggars can't be choosers. I certainly learned some lessons from that race and I tried to apply them, and it all came together there at the end.
"Michael McDowell gave me a good push like he did at Daytona, and I was a little bit smarter with how I handled it."
Keselowski led just one lap, the last, in a race that featured 35 lead changes among 27 drivers.
"The whole race I had a couple opportunities to take the lead, but I just kept thinking, 'Man, keep your car in one piece,'" Keselowski said.
Logano was involved in an airborne wreck Sunday and called on NASCAR to change the dangerous racing conditions at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega, which at 2.5 miles and 2.66 miles are the circuit's only superspeedways.
"On one hand, I am mad about being in the crash, and on the other, I am happy to be alive," Logano said. "On another hand, I am wondering when we are going to stop, because this is dangerous doing what we are doing. I got a roll bar in my head. That is not OK.
"I am one hit away from the same situation Ryan Newman just went through. I just don't feel like that is acceptable."
Newman escaped serious injury racing for the win on the final lap of the 2020 Daytona 500.
The victory, Keselowski's sixth at Talladega, came after team owner Roger Penske pulled Keselowski, Logano, Ryan Blaney and affiliate driver Matt DiBenedetto onto a call this past week to discuss his expectations on how they should race Sunday. Penske refused to accept another disaster like the one at Daytona, where Logano or Keselowski should have won the race but instead of working together the two triggered a fiery crash that also collected a third Penske car and allowed McDowell to pull off a surprising win.
All three full-time Penske drivers now have victories this season, which in theory means they're all in the 16-driver playoff field.
Hendrick Motorsports' William Byron was second Sunday, while Front Row Motorsports' McDowell took third and Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick finished a season-high fourth. DiBenedetto finished fifth after leading 28 laps but giving away a potential win with a late lane change that allowed Keselowski to surge to the front.
Keselowski tied Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon with six Cup Series wins at Talladega, but it was his first at the Alabama track since the fall race there in 2017.
NASCAR is not considering mandating its personnel be vaccinated against COVID-19, and the organization's president said Sunday that making it a requirement would be a "slippery slope."
"It is important, in my opinion, that people get vaccinated," Steve Phelps said before the race at Talladega. "We will continue to monitor and change our policy as necessary in order to make sure that people are safe. We are certainly monitoring. I won't get into the numbers specifically, but the number of people who are in this garage that have been vaccinated continues to steadily rise."
Bubba Wallace recently partnered with Novant Health to address the hesitancy some have about getting vaccinated; he and fellow driver Denny Hamlin — who co-owns the team for which Wallace drives — are among the very few NASCAR drivers who have publicized receiving their shots. Multiple drivers have said they consider vaccination a personal choice.
IndyCar is highly encouraging its participants to receive the vaccine, and the open-wheel series said at least 90% of the paddock had received at least its first shot ahead of the April 18 season opener. Entrance into the Indianapolis 500 bubble next month will require either a completed vaccination schedule or a daily negative COVID-19 test.
NASCAR has not done any virus testing this season or last, but Phelps believes more drivers will soon be speaking up about receiving the vaccine.
"We'll ask the drivers, frankly, to try to promote the vaccination process," he said. "They have a voice. That voice carries a lot of weight."
Big day for Hertas
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Colton Herta went a solid eight years ignoring any advice about racing that came from his father, an actual professional driver.
Sunday on the downtown streets of St. Petersburg, in their very first race working together, Herta was listening. He followed the sound of his father's voice all the way to victory and alongside him on IndyCar's win list.
Herta raced to his fourth IndyCar victory to match the same total his father, Bryan, achieved in his 12-year career. The son needed just 34 races for his four wins, and he begins his third full IndyCar season as a strong title contender. Herta started from the pole position and led a race-record 97 of the 100 laps to win his first start with Bryan Herta as his race strategist.
"Growing up I had a lot of arrogance, and I didn't want to hear anything that my dad had to say," the 21-year-old Andretti Autosport driver said. "And then I realized — bigger, faster cars — I learned more about the sport, and I was like, 'Hey, he actually knows what he's talking about.'"
The win was the first on a street course for the son, who — though exhausted after the drive on a humid day on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary course along the Tampa Bay — asked his father for permission to do celebratory burnouts. It was granted, but his dad also reminded him over the radio "wave to your fans" on the victory lap.
Josef Newgarden finished second as he was denied a third consecutive victory at St. Petersburg. He was followed by fellow Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud.