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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Reddick steals win at Talladega for Michael Jordan as McDowell crashes at the line

    Tyler Reddick celebrates his win at a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

    Talladega, Ala. — So much for Michael Jordan being a jinx at the race track.

    The Basketball Hall of Famer celebrated as if he was still on the court after Tyler Reddick stole a NASCAR Cup victory at Talladega Superspeedway, speeding across the line after front-runner Michael McDowell — swerving back and forth in a desperate bid to hold the lead — crashed with the finish line in sight.

    It was another wild Talladega finish — and marked the first time that Jordan, co-owner of the 23XI Racing along with Denny Hamlin, has been at the track to witness a victory for one of his drivers.

    "Denny keeps saying I was bad luck when I come to the track, and today we proved him wrong," a beaming Jordan said in Victory Lane. "I'm very happy to be here to see it. Everybody tells me when we win we can have a good celebration, but this is the first time I've been here."

    McDowell, the pole-sitter, dominated the closing laps and was in position to give Ford its much-needed first victory of the year. But his desperate efforts to block Keselowski, another Ford driver, wound up costing them both.

    McDowell spun out, Keselowski had to check up and Reddick sped by to claim his sixth career Cup victory by 0.208 seconds.

    A pile of cars behind them were taken out, as well. Corey LaJoie's No. 7 machine slid across the finish line on its side, pinned against the wall in front of the massive grandstands.

    Reddick climbed out of his No. 45 car and scurried up the fence like Spider-Man.

    "Was that crazy, guys?" he screamed to the fans. "That was chaos. That's Talladega for you."

    For Jordan, it sparked memories of his former life, the one where he won six NBA championships and hit countless buzzer-beaters.

    Yet make no mistake: Jordan's passion these days is stock car racing.

    "To me, this is like an NBA playoff game," the 61-year-old said. "For us to win a big race like this, it means so much to me. I'm all in. I love it. It replaces a lot of the competitiveness that I had in basketball. But this is even worse, because I have no control. If I was playing basketball, I'd have total control. But I have no control, so I live vicariously through the drivers, crew chiefs and everybody."

    Keselowski settled for the runner-up spot, failing again to pick up his first win since he triumphed three years ago at this 2.66-mile trioval in east Alabama.

    "We went to make a move and Michael covered it," Keselowski said. "We went the other way and had nowhere to go when Michael came back down. It's just the way this stuff goes."

    McDowell was apologetic to Keselowski and everyone who crashed behind him.

    "He pushed me out. I drove back to him and was able to get in front of him that very first time. But when I came back down, I barely wasn't clear," McDowell said. "It's Talladega. You're going for it, trying to get a win. We just came up short and took a lot of guys out with me."

    Reddick's victory redeemed a botched strategy that knocked out a bunch of Toyota contenders, including Hamlin, who co-owns 23XI while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.

    All three Toyota teams pitted in tandem with 37 laps to go, going with a strategy that would've allowed them to push the pace on the rest of the fuel-saving field — with an idea of drafting all the way to the front for the checkered flag.

    Unfortunately, they couldn't keep their cars straight.

    Just four laps later, with the Toyota train running at a blistering, single-file pace and chasing down the lead pack, John Hunter Nemechek appeared to get into the bumper of Bubba Wallace, who is Reddick's teammate at 23XI. Wallace then clipped Erik Jones, which sent him smashing hard into the outside wall.

    Nemechek then slid down the track and took out Hamlin, as well.

    "We had a plan," Wallace said. "We just didn't execute it as well as we should have. I hate it. It doesn't make us look good at all."

    Jones took the brunt of the blow, a crash that would've been much worse without the sturdy cars and foamy barriers.

    "I'm a little sore, but I'm all right," Jones said after exiting the infield care center. "If you're gonna be dumb, you've got to be tough."

    Reddick was at the front of the pack and avoided the crash.

    In the end, he was able to celebrate an improbable win.

    Always one to deliver a well-timed verbal jab, Jordan couldn't resist taking a poke at his co-owner, who was headed for the exits until he realized Reddick had won.

    "Actually. he did a good job of wrecking," Jordan said of Hamlin, "so we could get up front. That was actually pretty good."

    Clean racing

    Unlike the wacky finish, the first two stages were caution-free — the first time that's happened at Talladega since the stage system was instituted in 2017. Many drivers were focused on saving fuel and there weren't many bold moves.

    Finally, on lap 132, with the cars three-wide and tightly bunched in the middle of a huge train, the first occurred.

    Justin Haley got a bump from behind and went spinning into Christopher Bell, whose car sustained heavy damage that left him with a last-place finish.

    Impressive Kiwi

    Shane Van Gisbergen turned in a strong run in the first oval race of his burgeoning NASCAR Cup career.

    The stunning winner of the Chicago street race in his Cup debut last summer, Van Gisbergen showed the depth of his talent by leading laps and staying out of trouble at the harrowing 2.66-mile trioval until the very end.

    Unfortunately for the 34-year-old from New Zealand, he got caught up in the final melee and didn't make it across the line. He finished 27th.

    Starting at the back

    Season points leader Kyle Larson started the race with a huge disadvantage after his team was penalized for altering the roof rails on his No. 5 car on the way to the qualifying line Saturday.

    Larson, who had won three straight poles, was barred from qualifying, forced to start from the back of the field and ordered to do a drive-through penalty on the opening lap. He was least a half-lap behind the field by the time he got up to speed and, without anyone to draft with, was caught by the leaders on the 12th lap.

    NASCAR also ejected Larson's car chief, Jesse Saunders, from the speedway.

    Larson was able to work his way back into the mix but he wasn't a contender at the end. He finished 20th.

    Up next

    The Cup series heads next Sunday to Dover Motor Speedway, where Martin Truex Jr. won the race a year ago.

    23XI Racing co-owner Michael Jordan celebrates a win by his driver Tyler Reddick after a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
    NASCAR Cup Series driver's Ryan Preece (41) Josh Berry (4) and Corey LaJoie (7), upside down, crash on the final lap during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
    NASCAR Cup Series driver's Ryan Preece (41) Josh Berry (4) and Corey LaJoie (7) crash on the final lap during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

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