The yellow line at Talladega might as well have been a brick wall - that was the mind-set of occasional Sprint Cup competitor Brad Keselowski, who pulled off a Sunday surprise in the Aaron's 499.

Last October, NASCAR took a victory away from Regan Smith for passing Tony Stewart below the yellow line that divides the racing surface from the apron, and, in the drivers' meeting before the '09 race, events director David Hoots made it clear that anyone improving position by passing below the yellow line would be penalised. Accordingly, Keselowski wasn't about to go out of bounds on the final lap, even if it meant wrecking a rival.

The rookie stood his ground in the final moments of the race and, with Carl Edwards' #99 Ford flying hard into the catch fence behind him, Keselowski crossed the finish line 0.175secs ahead of mentor Dale Earnhardt Jr to take his first Cup win in only his fifth start in the series.

Driving the #09 Chevrolet owned by James Finch, the 25-year old moved to the inside when Edwards went high to block him in the final 400 yards of the 188-lap race. Edwards slid back down the track in another attempt to block, but Keselowski was already inside his left-rear quarter-panel.

Contact between the cars turned Edwards and lifted his rear tyres off the road, moving him into the path of third-place finisher Ryan Newman. The inevitable collision launched Edwards into the fence, while Newman's wrecked car slid on across the finish line. The win was the first for Finch in 105 Cup starts since his debut as an owner in 1990 with Jeff Purvis driving.

"I've got to apologise to Carl for wrecking him but, man, the rule is you can't go below the yellow line," Keselowski said, "He blocked, and I wasn't going to go below. I don't want to wreck the guy, but you're forced in that situation. There was nothing else that I could do. This is NASCAR racing, and that was cool."

Edwards' version of events was surprisingly close to Keselowski's, given that the wreck dropped him to 24th at the finish.

"Brad was pushing -- he's doing everything he can," noted the '08 series runner-up, who climbed from his car and sprinted the last 100 yards to the finish line, "I saw him go high. I went high. He goes low right here. I didn't realise he had got that far, so I went low to block, and I didn't realise he was already there...."

Eight fans sustained non-life-threatening injuries that ranged from contusions to possible fractured extremities when Edwards' car slammed into the catch fence, according to speedway medical director Dr Bobby Lewis.

"NASCAR just puts us in this box," Edwards continued, "Brad did a great job. Congrats to him on the win, but they put us in this box, and we'll race like this until we kill somebody - and then they'll change it.... That's what Brad's supposed to do. He's assuming I know he's inside. It was so quick I didn't know he was inside.

"We saw what happened to Regan Smith. You can't go down below the yellow line or you lose the race. [Keselowski] was winning, and I was doing everything I could to keep him from winning. I'm just glad I'm all right. I didn't know if it mattered if I went across the finish line -- but I just wanted to finish the race."

Keselowski won the race in a four-lap dash to the finish that followed the second major wreck of the afternoon, a ten-car incident on the backstretch triggered by contact between Denny Hamlin and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Keselowski and Edwards hooked up in a two-car tour de force and surged to the front, as the rookie pushed Edwards past Newman and Earnhardt, who likewise were locked in a two-car tandem.

In the melee, Marcos Ambrose came home fourth, followed by rookie Scott Speed - who recovered from a one-lap penalty because his crew made changes to the #82 Toyota outside impound - Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Brian Vickers, rookie Joey Logano and Jeff Burton.

The 'big one' came early, before the race was seven laps old, as the field streaked through the third and fourth corners. The cars of Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon violated one of the fundamental laws of physics as they tried to occupy the same space at the same time, and the unavoidable contact triggered a massive wreck that cost Gordon 55 laps before his crew could complete repairs.

Mark Martin, last weekend's race winner at Phoenix, retired to the garage with irreparable damage while among those crippled in the crash were the Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets of Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick and the Richard Petty Motorsports Dodges of Kasey Kahne and AJ Allmendinger.

Kurt Busch took the series lead from Gordon, who now trails by five points after finishing 37th. Jimmie Johnson, a victim of the ten-car wreck on lap 180, finished 30th and is now 64 points behind in third.

by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service