Matt Kenseth escaped a massive pileup in Turn 4 on Lap 189 of Sunday’s Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 at Talladega Superspeedway to win the fourth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Jeff Gordon likewise dodged the 25-car crash — triggered by contact between Tony Stewart’s Chevrolet and Michael Waltrip’s Toyota — and ran second, followed by Kyle Busch, David Ragan and Regan Smith.
Brad Keselowski finished seventh and extended his championship lead to 14 points over Jimmie Johnson, whose Chevrolet was heavily damaged in the wreck and limped home in 17th.
The handling of Kenseth’s car was on the loose side, forcing the driver of the No. 17 Ford to run the middle lane. That turned out to be a blessing, as Stewart and Waltrip collided near the bottom of the track.
“The track kept getting looser for me as the day went on and we never could get it tightened up,” said Kenseth, who posted his second victory of the season, his first at Talladega and the 23rd of his career. “On the last lap, that’s why I chose the middle groove. I knew I couldn’t be on the bottom or I’d get spun out, so I had to run the middle or the top to try to make a move. . . .
“I didn’t know what was going happen and I’m still not sure what happened. Somehow, I think Tony got turned and caused a big wreck.”
Jamie McMurray, who had led 39 laps, spun in the tri-oval on lap 183, as he got a push from Kevin Harvick. McMurray brought out the fourth caution but, amazingly, no other cars were collected in the incident.
Clint Bowyer led the field to the restart on Lap 188, but Stewart quickly took the point. Trying to block Waltrip in the final corner, Stewart turned across the nose of the No. 55 Toyota and triggered the wreck.
Stewart took full responsibility for the melee that scrambled the order of finish.
“I just screwed up,” Stewart said. “I turned down across — I think it was Michael — and crashed the whole field. It was my fault, blocking to try to stay where I was at. I take 100 percent of the blame.
“I was trying to win the race, trying to stay ahead of Matt there, and Michael got a great run on the bottom, had a big head of steam. When I turned down, I turned down across the right-front of his car. It was just a mistake on my part, but it cost a lot of people a bad day because of it.”
Gordon wasn’t surprised at the last-lap chaos. He was surprised it didn’t happen earlier.
“I don’t know how we made it to the white flag,” said Gordon. “Coming through that tri?oval, being hit from behind, hitting the guy in front of me, you’re sandwiched in between, basically. There are cars doing the same thing on that side of you, cars on that side of them doing the same thing.
“I really don’t know how we made it to the white flag. It was just insane. But you’re doing all you can to try to move your lane and hope that you make it back around. In today’s case, we did.”
The first round of green-flag pit stops proved the undoing — albeit temporarily — of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Trevor Bayne, all of whom were flagged for speeding on pit road. After serving pass-through penalties, all three drivers were lapped by the pack.
Just past the halfway point, Kenseth surged past Kurt Busch into the lead, marking a full recovery from a Lap 42 spin off the bumper of teammate Biffle and subsequent spectacular save.
Bayne got his lap back as the “lucky dog” on Lap 99, when Kurt Busch lost fuel pressure off Turn 2 and spun off the bumper of McMurray’s Chevrolet, slamming the wall and causing the second caution of the afternoon.
Driving James Finch’s Phoenix Racing Chevrolet for the final time before debuting for Furniture Row Racing next weekend at Charlotte, Busch –helmet off and out of radio contact with his team and NASCAR — drove away from the accident scene before NASCAR had cleared him and was parked for his effrontery.
It wasn’t until 40 laps later that Earnhardt and Kyle Busch regained their lost laps. Earnhardt paced the field as the last car on the lead lap when NASCAR called a caution for debris on Lap 39. Busch also rejoined the lead lap as the highest-scored lapped car, and restarted third on Lap 144 after the vast majority of drivers returned to pit road to top off their fuel tanks on Lap 142.
Caught up in the wreck on the last lap, Earnhardt came home 20th.