Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Keselowski takes Penske & Dodge to Win at Talladega

Brad Keselowski took Kyle Busch's assist to win the Aaron's 499
Roger Penske couldn't have sounded any happier following Brad Keselowski's win in Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway; unless of course Penske teammate AJ Allmendinger had finished second. Vindication for Keselowski and Dodge was won on this day after Brad snookered Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle on the final restart in a single green-white-checkered finish. The race itself was fairly uneventful for more than two-thirds of the event, dominated by pack racing under mostly green flag conditions with Matt Kenseth showing the way and leading the most laps. Jimmy Johnson had dropped out early with an engine problem, but almost all the other front runners in Sprint Cup points were still in the hunt for the win. It seemed like almost everyone took a turn in the lead, although they would usually drift back into the pack to cool their overheating engines or hopefully avoid "The Big One".

Jimmy Johnson finished 35th with engine problems
But the whole race changed when The Big One finally happened between Turns 3 and 4 on lap 142 and lots of good cars were damaged or knocked out of the race. Pole winner Jeff Gordon was among those damaged in the wreck which also took out Carl Edwards, Juan Pablo Montoya, Martin Truex and effected numerous others. Soon after, Kurt Busch took a wild ride through the tri-oval in his Ricky Bobby car, and then there was another late yellow for a second "Big One" in Turn 1 which set up the final restart. Last year's Sprint Cup champ Tony Stewart had fuel mileage problems throughout the day and was later caught up in the second "Big One" which set up the final restart.

The first "Big One"
On a hot Alabama spring day that started off under rainy conditions which forced a minor delay for the start of the race, engines ran hot and fans saw a typical Talladega pack race. The grumbling started right after the race though, mainly from drivers upset about the rules package or the wrecking (or both). The fans seemed happy for the win by the Blue Deuce and Keselowski celebrated in style with burnouts at both ends of the tri-oval. My vantage point was atop the tallest grandstand in the tri-oval area so I could see and shoot virtually the entire track. The lead photo with this article was used by Associated Press as the leaders came to take the checkered flag and there was no dramatic pass for the win this year, unlike the fall race in 2011. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to shoot for AP here again, and it was my third straight Talladega road trip. 

Kurt Busch spins late in the Aaron's 499
On this trip I actually got to see the City of Talladega for the first time and owe a debt of thanks to other local AP photogs who led me out of the track after the race on Sunday. I also saw some very nice Alabama scenery on the backroads between the track and Birmingham to get on I-65. It reminded me a lot of Brown County with the twisting hilly roads and lots of trees. I drove roughly 1200 miles over the weekend and things didn't always go like I had planned but everything worked out. When race day opened with heavy rain, I was initially concerned that I might get washed out like I had at this year's Daytona 500, but I had set my mind to stay until the Aaron's 499 was run even if it meant driving back late on Monday. Thankfully it didn't come to that. Normally I like to have all my travel arrangements nailed down before a big trip like this but not this time - it was an exercise in faith and flexibility. I had originally intended to camp at the track but I ended up staying in three different hotels over the weekend - the best was the Quality Inn in Irondale, Alabama and the worst was the Red Roof Inn in Goodlettesville, Tennessee. Regardless of lodging arrangements and the vagaries of the local weather, I had a great photo weekend. And this year there was no threat of tornadoes in the area like the spring race last April, thank God.

My race slideshow follows this post so I hope you see something you like. Now it's time to settle in to work in my hometown on the Indy 500 as practice opens this Saturday following rookie orientation Thursday. The Month of "Jay" is well underway so start your engines and follow me to the track. I will see you there!

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