Race Weekend Central

Michael McDowell Spins from Lead, Corey LaJoie Flips in Last-Lap Talladega Calamity

TALLADEGA, Ala. — It was Michael McDowell and Tyler Reddick side-by-side for the lead in the closing laps of Sunday’s (April 21) GEICO 500, until the Fords of McDowell, Brad Keselowski and Noah Gragson broke free from the Toyotas in the final set of turns.

With no immediate threat from the outside lane, Keselowski moved up and then darted back to inside to try and move past McDowell. McDowell — who won the pole and led a race-high 36 laps — followed his every move while trying to block.

McDowell almost succeeded in fending off the No. 6 car, but his block to the inside was too late, and he got turned in front of the field.

Over a dozen cars were collected in the trioval melee, and the resulting wreck saw Josh Berry go airborne and Corey LaJoie flip over.

“I’m good,” LaJoie said after the crash. “That was the first flip of my career in a big car, so 10 out of 10 don’t recommend it. Pretty wild ride. Just never could quite get [the car] in the right spot at the right time there at the end, and then you just know you’re just waiting to pile them up. Good thing I tugged, gave the belts a good-old tuggy with about three to go, so I didn’t bounce around as much.”

LaJoie got airborne after his right front got launched off the left rear of Berry’s car, and he ultimately did one flip before coming to rest on all fours. Unofficially, he crossed the finish line in 18th-place.

“I did a full rotation, so I did like left side on the ground for a bit, and then it kind of stopped, then it flipped over, hit the roof and then landed on all fours, and the all-fours hit was pretty big,” LaJoie said. “I’m glad I slipped past the finish line though, so I don’t have to run past it like I was Carl Edwards.”

Berry unofficially finished 16th, and he got pushed (and hit) across the line by other cars after the left rear of his No. 4 car was shredded by LaJoie’s No. 7.

“I don’t know what happened up in front of us, but they got all crossed up, and then we got turned in the wall,” Berry said. “I’m sure everybody was running wide open into it, and we got knocked up in the air. But thankfully we got hit so hard that it actually carried us over the start/finish line, and we actually finished the race, so that was a plus.”

At the front of the pack, it was Reddick who scooted by Keselowski, Gragson and McDowell’s spinning car to take the checkered flag with co-owner Michael Jordan in attendance.

See also
Tyler Reddick Avoids the Big One, Wins at Talladega

McDowell was the only car involved in the crash to not cross the start/finish line, and what could’ve been the third victory of his Cup career — and the first of the 2024 season for Ford — instead ended with a 31st-place finish.

“I moved up to block Brad’s run, and when I pulled back down, I just, just wasn’t clear,” McDowell said. Barely got my bumper and turned me, but just unfortunate. I hate it because we had a good chance of getting a Dark Horse Mustang in victory lane. We definitely had the speed.

“But on the flip side of that, it’s the last lap of Talladega and you’re going for a win. So I’ll learn from it, go back and watch it and see what I could have done differently and better. But Brad’s a tough guy to beat here; he knows what to do on the last lap. He’s won [six] times here and he did everything right.

While disappointed with his own finish, McDowell was also apologetic for all the cars that were collected with his spin.

“[Keselowski] got connected there with [Chase Briscoe] and just surged right before I pulled down,” McDowell said. “You’re dealing with inches the whole time and I miscalculated. I apologize to Brad and everybody that was behind that got collected in that.

“I hate it that other people got caught up in my mess, but I’m proud of our effort. I’m proud of our speed and I’m proud of our race team.”

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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Christopher

How many times through how many years must a last lap block fail before drivers realize it never works? If McDowell had held his line he’d have finished second, Keselowski would have been in victory lane for the first time in 140+ races and Ford would have had its first victory of this season. Stupidity is often defined as doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. That is also the definition of NASCAR superspeedway racing on the final lap.

DoninAjax

“doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result”

That is the definition of insanity. Applies to the NA$CAR Brian Trust too!

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