By Aaron Bell
Brad Keselowski won't soon forget his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win.
Keselowski claimed the checkered flag in a wild day at Talladega Superspeedway that ended with Carl Edwards crashing into the catch fence, Dale Earnhardt Jr. getting his best finish of the season and a rookie winning at Talladega for just the second time in NASCAR history.
Keselowski was 10th with four laps to go and moved to eighth with two to go. He pushed Edwards around leaders Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. with the white flag waving and then made contact with Edwards approaching the finish line. Edwards rolled into the outside wall and Keselowski claimed the win.
"Pinch me, am I awake," Keselowski asked in Victory Lane.
"I've got to apologize to Carl for wrecking him but the rule is that you can't go below the yellow line," Keselowski said. "He blocked and I wasn't going below it. I don't want to wreck a guy but you're forced in that situation. There was nothing else I could do."
Keselowski was making his third start of the season and his previous best finish was 19th at Texas last November.
"This is the best show on Earth," the 25-year-old from Rochester Hills, MI said. "Man was that fun. I hope the fans had a lot of fun too. This is NASCAR racing and this is cool."
After a wild tumble on the front stretch, Edwards got out of his car and ran across the finish line.
"I didn't know if it mattered if I went across the finish line," said Edwards, who didn't suffer any injuries in the spectacular crash. "I just wanted to finish the race."
Edwards said that despite the disappointment of not winning the race, he didn't blame Keselowski for the move.
"Brad was pushing and doing everything he could," said Edwards, who was officially scored in 24th place. "I didn't realize he was there and came down on him. Brad did a good job - congrats to him on this win. That's what Brad's supposed to do. He's assuming that I know he is inside. I was doing everything I could to keep him from winning. I'm just glad nobody got hurt today."
Earnhardt and Newman were pacing the field in the closing laps and Earnhardt thought that he was heading for his first win if the season.
"We had it going and I thought there was no way," said Earnhardt, who finished second. "We were staying tied together but they were smart enough to move up and the higher line has been faster all day. I couldn't believe Brad was pushing that 99 (Edwards). He did an awesome job."
Newman finished third while Marcos Ambrose finished fourth. Rookie Scott Speed capped an exciting day with his first career top five finish.
Speed qualified eighth but was held a lap at the start of the race for working on the car before the race started. He got back on the lead lap after the first caution on lap seven and took the lead when he stayed out under caution on lap 43.
The day was bookended by a pair of multi-car wrecks - one just seven laps into the race and the other with nine laps to go.
Point's leader Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth made contact near the front of the field on the back stretch just seven laps into the race. The wreck collected nearly half of the field.
"We were having a good time there but I'm not really sure what happened," Gordon said. "I was just cruising up through the middle."
Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne were among those caught up in the early trouble.
"It's just unfortunate," Bowyer said. "I don't know what happened - just racing way too hard, way too early."
There was another big wreck with nine laps to go. Polesitter Juan Pablo Montoya, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Robby Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were all collected in the wreck.
"Man it sucks racing here," Johnson said. "You've got a great race car - guys worked really hard to get this thing in order and very fast and then get that close to the end and it gets tore up. It just looked to me like they were some guys were beat and didn't have the position and tried to force their way in from the outside. It's too bad."
Kyle Busch was leading the race with 17 laps to go when was tapped from behind by Jeff Burton. Busch's car didn't sustain a lot of damage, but he couldn't get it started and needed a push to the pits. Truex, who also led laps earlier in the race, was also collected in the wreck.
Kurt Busch finished sixth and moved past Gordon into the points lead while Greg Biffle finished seventh and jumped into the top-12 in the standings.
Burton started 20th but fell behind three laps with an electrical issue. His crew changed his battery on pit road and he worked back to the lead lap and brought home a 10th place finish.