TALLADEGA, Ala. — The championship contenders said Talladega Superspeedway would be the wild-card race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
That was an understatement.
Talladega delivered yet another ‘‘big one’’ Sunday, when defending NASCAR champion Tony Stewart triggered a 25-car pileup as he tried to protect the lead. His bid to block a long line of traffic on the last lap backfired, and his car was sent sailing through the air in a chaotic crash that collected 10 of the 12 title contenders.
Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth won under caution, and everyone else was left wondering when NASCAR will do something dramatic to alter the dangerous racing at restrictor-plate tracks.
‘‘It’s not safe. It’s not. It’s bloodthirsty,’’ Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. ‘‘If that’s what people want, that’s ridiculous.’’
Stewart, who assailed the wreckfests at Talladega with a sarcastic diatribe in May, took full responsibility for creating the latest carnage.
He had charged to the lead on the first lap of a two-lap sprint to the finish, but Kenseth was charging on the outside of him and Michael Waltrip was leading a line of traffic on the inside. Stewart was blocking all over the track, and said he mistakenly chopped across the front of Waltrip’s car to trigger the accident.
‘‘I just screwed up. I turned down and cut across Michael and crashed the whole field,’’ Stewart said.
Five-time Talladega winner Earnhardt was credited with a 20th-place finish that dropped him four spots in the standings to 11th.
‘‘If this was what we did every week, I wouldn’t be doing it,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ll just put it to you that way. If this was how we raced every week, I’d find another job.”
Of the 12 Chase drivers, only race winner Kenseth and second-place finisher Jeff Gordon avoided the final wreck.
‘‘That was the craziest, craziest finish I’ve ever experienced at Talladega,’’ Gordon said. ‘‘It was just insane. I remember when coming to Talladega was fun, and I haven’t experienced that in a long time. That was bumper-cars at 200 miles per hour. I don’t know anybody who likes that.’’
The highlight before the final drama was Kurt Busch being parked by NASCAR for driving away from safety workers as they attempted to check on him after he wrecked.