TALLADEGA, Ala. — Tony Stewart tried to block his way to a win at Talladega Superspeedway.
It backfired, badly.
The "big one" came on the last lap Sunday of the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500, when Stewart's attempt to hold on for the victory instead sent his car sailing through the field and triggered a 25-car accident. Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth won under caution, and everyone else was left wondering what happened to cause so much carnage.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. called the tight racing "bloodthirsty" after he finished 20th and dropped four spots to 11th in the Chase for the Championship.
"That was the craziest, craziest finish I've ever experienced at Talladega," said Jeff Gordon, who was second. "It was just insane. I remember when coming to Talladega was fun, and I haven't experienced that in a long time. That was bumper cars at 200 mph. I don't know anybody who likes that."
Stewart took full responsibility for causing the accident. He had charged to the lead on the first lap of a two-lap sprint to the finish, but got too far ahead of the pack to keep a drafting partner.
Kenseth was charging on the outside and Michael Waltrip was leading a line of traffic on the inside. Stewart was blocking all over the track and said he mistakenly chopped across the front of Waltrip's car.
The contact hooked Stewart to send him into a spin, and his car lifted into the air and sailed on its roof and then on its side over several other cars. It created chaos through the pack, which was running three-wide.
"I just screwed up. I turned down and cut across Michael and crashed the whole field," Stewart said. "It was my fault, blocking and trying to stay where I was at.
"I was trying to win the race, and I was trying to stay ahead of Matt there and Michael got a great run on the bottom and had a big head of steam, and when I turned down, I turned across the front of his car. Just a mistake on my part but cost a lot of people a bad day."
Stewart waved to the crowd as he climbed from his battered car, while Jimmie Johnson sat on the ledge of Earnhardt's window for a lift back to the garage. Everywhere they looked, they saw crumpled cars.
Kyle Busch was third, but NASCAR was sorting the final order almost an hour afterward.
Series points leader Brad Keselowski said he was holding on trying to stay in the bottom lane because he figured that would be his escape route when the inevitable accident happened. He was credited with a seventh-place finish, but his Penske Racing team had a photo that showed Keselowski on the apron in fourth with the caution lights on — when the field should have been frozen. Both owner Roger Penske and team president Tim Cindric believed the driver wasn't awarded the proper finish.
Still, Keselowski left Talladega with a 14-point lead over Johnson with six races to go.
"That's pretty big; I just feel lucky to survive Talladega," Keselowski said. "Just a bunch of guys running four-wide. You know it's a matter of time before they wreck. We all did."
Clint Bowyer, the leader on the last restart and trying to make it to the finish before Stewart's car landed on top of his, wound up 23rd. "That's just Talladega," he said. "That's why we all come out and watch."
An angry Little E
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished 21st, was especially upset about the type of racing that led to Sunday's wreck at Talladega. A sampling from the driver who has won five times at the superspeedway:
• "It's not safe. It's not. It's bloodthirsty. If that's what people want, that's ridiculous."
• "If this was what we did every week, I wouldn't be doing it. I'll just put it to you that way. If this was how we raced every week, I'd find another job."
• "That's what the package is doing. It's really not racing. It's a little disappointing. It cost a lot of money right there."
• "If this is how we're going to continue to race and nothing is going to change, how about NASCAR build the cars? It'll save us a lot of money."