Brad Keselowski offers simple Talladega advice: ‘Don’t wreck’

The drivers of these cars were unable to follow Brad Keselowski's advice in the spring race at Talladega.

Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty

Sunday’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway will play a crucial role in determining which drivers will contend for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship over the final four weeks of the season.

Heading into the weekend’s event, only one driver — Team Penske’s Joey Logano — is breathing easy. Logano won the first two races of the Contender Round of the Chase at Charlotte and Kansas, punching his ticket to the next round and keeping his competitors on edge.

Racing at Talladega is the epitome of racing on the edge. From the drop of the green flag to the time the checkered flag flies, trouble lurks around every corner. The threat of the "Big One" could not only ruin your day, but also dash any hopes at competing for the championship at the end of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"You can come here with a plan or approach and when they drop the green a lot of times it goes out the window," said defending race winner Brad Keselowski. "My first real thought is, ‘Don’t wreck.’ And if we can get through this race without wrecking, we’ll have a really good day."

Team owner Rick Hendrick, who has Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon trying to advance to the Eliminator Round, knows there are no guarantees on Sunday.

"It’s going to be a heck of a race to watch, Talladega is," Hendrick said in an exclusive interview with "You can be running second on the white flag and come out 20th, if you get shuffled or somebody gets under you, you get trapped in the middle. You make the wrong move with one or two (laps) to go and you’re out of the deal. And you could have led it all day long."

Hendrick said he’s trying to get used to the elimination format.

"The first year of that deal (2014) it really bothered me," said Hendrick. "And then I’ve gotten to where I just think about it and it’s not life-threatening. You just do the best you can. It’s a new era. It’s not like, who had the best year, although Harvick had a great year last year and he won it. But some of the folks that ended up (at Homestead last year) weren’t that dominant."

For Matt Kenseth, there is only one plan for Sunday’s race at Talladega: win. After incidents at Charlotte and Kansas, Kenseth heads into the event 35 points behind the eighth-place cut off. While his goal is clear, he also understands there will be a host of other agendas throughout the field.

"It’s all about being in the right place and being positioned properly and not making just the right moves for yourself, but yet the moves that the rest of the cars make too," said Kenseth. "Certainly being a race in the Chase everybody’s kind of on a different agenda or some people are locked in and are just going to help their teammates — there’s all kinds of different scenarios, so, (we’ll) just go race as hard as we can and hope for the best, so try to do the best we can every week."

While there are many agendas and a lot on the line, six-time Talladega winner Jeff Gordon believes you have to approach Sunday’s race just like any other Talladega race.

"No one is safe other than Joey," said Gordon. "Just the Chase format itself is what heightens the intensity of each race, especially this one. You have to run it just like you would any other restrictor plate and Talladega race. When you know what’s on the line, what could go wrong and what that could cost you — and on the flip side if everything goes right — it’s a huge race.

"That just adds intensity and pressure that is on everyone within the Chase," he said. "Then there is everyone outside the Chase that wants to win because they feel they can. I don’t think there is a car in this field that doesn’t feel like they can win. It’s a track where everyone says they can do it and spoil the Chase."

With four drivers facing Chase elimination at the end of the day, Sunday’s 500 is sure to be intense and unpredictable. That should make for an exciting 500 miles of racing.