When Brad Keselowski got his first career Sprint Cup win at Talladega Superspeedway three years ago, I think people chalked it up to an upset Talladega win.
It was for a team that had never won a Cup race, in Keselowski's fifth career start, and he had never led a lap until the final one. But it's clear today that Keselowski is the real deal.
His driving ability was best showcased at the end of the race, as he basically outsmarted the draft. Once he and Kyle Busch had separated themselves from the field, he managed to break the draft and erase the disadvantage the driver leading usually is in at the plate tracks.
That move propelled Keselowski to a win by 0.304 seconds. Now, three-tenths doesn't seem like much, but in plate racing at Talladega, it's practically a blowout.
Since the series introduced electronic scoring in 1993, that's the second-biggest margin of victory on record. The only greater one was a 0.388-second "blowout" by Dale Earnhardt Jr. over Tony Stewart in 2001.
In fact, since 1993, there have been only four plate races decided by over three-tenths of a second. Those two at Talladega, a six-tenths victory by Sterling Marlin over Dale Earnhardt in the 1995 Daytona 500 and ...
Trivia break! What driver won the July 2003 race at Daytona by over four seconds (it was a fuel-mileage race)?
Leader of the pack
Matt Kenseth had just about as dominating an effort as we've seen recently in a restrictor-plate race, leading 73 laps but finishing third. That's the most laps any driver has led at a plate race since Stewart led 86 in a July 2009 Daytona win.
No driver has led more in a Talladega race since Jeff Gordon led 139 there in the spring 2005 race, a race Gordon won.
That brings Kenseth's total in plate race laps led this year to 123, in just two races. Last year, in four plate races, Clint Bowyer led all drivers in laps led with 97.
No driver has led more laps in plate races in a season since Kyle Busch led 135 in 2009.
Trivia break! In the restrictor-plate era (since 1988), who holds the record for most laps led in plate races in a season?
Some fancy passing
NASCAR has been under fire from the fan base for the on-track product -- no denying it. I'll let you decide what you liked and didn't like about the first two plate races of the year. But I'll provide info for your argument.
Sunday at Talladega, there was 103 green-flag passes for the lead (not just at the start-finish line, but anywhere on the track). That's far up from Daytona's 44.
In last year's Talladega races, there were 159 in the spring, but 107 in the fall, so that number didn't drop off much.
There also were 11,459 green-flag passes Sunday for the entire race, about 4,000 more than there were in February at Daytona.
That number is actually up from last spring's wild Talladega race, which featured 11,025 green-flag passes.
Trivia break! Ten drivers have gotten their first Sprint Cup Series win at Talladega, but who is the only one with more career wins than Keselowski?
Trivia break answers
1. Greg Biffle won the race by 4.102 seconds for his first career Sprint Cup Series win.
2. Dale Earnhardt led 523 laps in 1990, winning three of the four plate races.
3. Davey Allison won 19 career Cup races.