TALLADEGA, Ala. — At a place where you know anything can happen, there was no way anybody could anticipate what happened at the finish of Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Brad Keselowski, in just his fifth Sprint Cup start, got an improbable victory in a last-lap duel with Carl Edwards that ended with Edwards' car slashing into the catch-fence as it crashed violently after contact from the winner.
Edwards' Ford gashed the fencing in a manner similar to the horrifying 1987 wreck here by Bobby Allison that led to the birth of the restrictor-plate era at this 2.66-mile track.
Debris scattered in all directions and seven fans were injured but track medical director Bobby Lewis said none of the injuries was life-threatening.
Edwards, who climbed from his crumpled car and jogged across the finish line, railed against the racing style at Talladega and Daytona, the tracks where the horsepower-sapping restrictor plates are used.
"We'll race like this until we kill somebody," said Edwards, "then (NASCAR) will change it."
The final drama began on a restart with four laps left in the Aaron's 499. Ryan Newman led Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the green flag. Those two broke away, but Edwards and Keselowski jumped to the outside and their two-car train picked up an immediate head of steam. They passed Newman and Earnhardt on the outside and at the white flag Edwards led.
On the final lap Keselowski, who drives for Earnhardt in the Nationwide series but was racing a James Finch-owned Chevrolet in this race, dipped inside of Edwards' car into the trioval. Edwards tried to block an instant too late. Keselowski's nose touched Edwards' rear bumper, and the contact sent Edwards toward the wall.
The No. 99 Ford's wheels came off the ground and Newman's car hit it, sending Edwards catapulting toward the catch fence. Keselowski went on to the victory, while Earnhardt swept to second and Newman, after bouncing off the wall, finished third.
"He blocked and I wasn't going to go below the yellow line," Keselowski said. "I felt bad. I was watching Carl wreck in my mirror, but he put himself in that spot. I hope he's okay."
Edwards was. He got out of his car under his own power and ran to the start-finish line. He didn't blame Keselowski.
"It was what Brad was supposed to do. … He did a great job," Edwards said. "I was doing everything I could do to keep him from winning."
The mayhem at the end provided a fitting bookend for a race that saw a big wreck near the start, too. On Lap 7, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon made contact. Gordon's car went up the track and tapped David Gilliland's against the outside wall. With those two out of control, the cars around them were in big trouble. At least 14 cars wound up being involved.
Earnhardt Jr., a five-time Talladega winner, echoed concerns about the racing style.
"For years, we've had wrecks like this every time we've come to Talladega. Ever since the plate got here," he said. "…The media celebrated it, the networks celebrated it, calling it 'The Big One' just trying to attract attention and bring people's attention to the race."
Lewis, the track medical director, said two women were airlifted to Birmingham hospitals – one likely with a broken jaw from debris off of Edwards' wreck. The other had an undisclosed medical condition. Lewis said they were airlifted because of traffic, not the severity of the injuries. The other people struck by debris were treated and released.
Amid the chaos, the 25-year-old Keselowski hopped out of his car and needed to know his win — the first for Finch in 20 years of part-time racing in the Cup series — was for real.
"Pinch me! Am I awake?" he yelled. He was.