TALLADEGA, Ala. — Brad Keselowski was in trouble when he arrived at Talladega Superspeedway ranked 10th in the playoff standings. He knew he’d need a big finish to keep his championship chances intact.
Keselowski earned an automatic berth into the third round of the playoffs with a victory Sunday in the Alabama 500 at Talladega, where he considered himself lucky to finish after a sloppy day for NASCAR.
‘‘I survived,’’ Keselowski said. ‘‘I feel like only eight cars finished the race. It was one of those crazy days . . . a lot of attrition.’’
There were just 14 cars running at the conclusion, and only four were playoff drivers. The race was red-flagged three times for nearly 35 minutes.
By avoiding the problems, Keselowski won for the fifth time at Talladega and gave Ford a season sweep of the four restrictor-plate races. More important, Keselowski remained in contention for his second Cup title.
Keselowski was the leader when the race resumed with three laps remaining, but was passed by Ryan Newman, who stayed out front until the final lap. Then Keselowski made his move around Newman on the high side of the track to take the lead, and a crossover move held off both Newman and Penske teammate Joey Logano.
Keselowski then collected the American flag for the victory lap on his 24th career Cup win, which came in his 300th start. His first career Cup win was at Talladega in 2009.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished seventh in his final race at Talladega, where he and his father combined to win 16 Cup races. Alabama declared Sunday ‘‘Dale Earnhardt Jr. Day.’’
Newman finished second and was followed by Trevor Bayne, Logano, and Aric Almirola — all non-playoff drivers.
‘‘Brad and I work really well together on these speedways,’’ Logano said. ‘‘I was able to push him up to the lead and I thought, ‘All right, now I got you to the lead. It’s my turn to get up there and try to win this thing.’ Our never-quit-attitude got us a top-five out of a day that looked like we may not even finish. I’m proud of that.’’