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Ask a NASCAR fan where Brad Keselowski scored his first Cup Series win, and they might draw a blank. Ask about the time Carl Edwards landed in the catch fence, stepped out of his burning car, and jogged to the finish line, and memories of that day at Talladega will come back to them.

Edwards stole the show the day Keselowski earned his first win. Lost in all that was the fact Talladega and NASCAR were lucky to avoid a huge tragedy.

The 2009 Talladega spring race ended with a wreck and a Brad Keselowski win

Carl Edwards goes airborne as the car of Ryan Newman suffers damage and Dale Earnhardt Jr. drives by on the inside in the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 26, 2009.
Carl Edwards goes airborne as the car of Ryan Newman suffers damage and Dale Earnhardt Jr. drives by on the inside in the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 26, 2009. | Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR

Brad Keselowski took the checkered flag in the 2009 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway for his first NASCAR Cup Series win, but what he left behind on the other side of the finish line was an odd combination of humorous and scary.

Keselowski and Edwards battled over the final four laps after “The Big One” collected 10 cars, ending the day for seven. Keselowski’s No. 09 Chevy pushed Edwards past Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. into the lead on the final lap. Then, Keselowski made his move to pass, but Edwards went low to block.

The cars made contact, spinning Edwards’ No. 99 Ford up the track, where Ryan Newman clipped him. Edwards’ car flew over the top of Newman’s No. 39 Chevy and into the catch fence. The fence bowed but held, though Edwards’ car was badly mangled by the time it dropped back to the track.

Carl Edwards’ wreck was nearly tragic

Bad wrecks are a staple of superspeedways. High speeds and pack racing on long straightaways make for a dangerous combination. About the best that can be said is that the damage is generally confined to the cars. Safety features built into the vehicles, particularly beginning with the Car of Tomorrow, generally do a superb job of protecting drivers.

But a car going airborne and into the catch fence is an entirely different story, and what happened at Talladega on April 26, 2009, very nearly turned tragic. Once Carl Edwards’ Roush Fenway Racing Ford hit the fence, the barrier became a grater, shearing sheet metal and mechanical parts from the car and spraying the pieces into the grandstand.

Seven fans were injured, with two airlifted to a local hospital. Had the fence not held as well as it did, the casualty count would have soared.

“I’m glad the car didn’t go up in the grandstands,” Edwards said. “I saw some fencing at one point and that made me a little bit nervous. I don’t know if I could live with myself if I ended up in the grandstands.”

Later, Edwards added an ominous warning: “We’ll race like this until we kill somebody. Then (NASCAR) will change it.”

Carl Edwards jogged to the Talladega finish line

Carl Edwards walks across the finish line after wrecking during the final lap of the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 26, 2009 in Talladega, Alabama. | Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Carl Edwards walks across the finish line after wrecking during the final lap of the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 26, 2009 in Talladega, Alabama. | Christian Petersen/Getty Images

“Talladega is short for, ‘We’re going to crash, we just don’t know when,’” Ryan Newman said after his Chevy flipped Carl Edwards’ car into the catch fence.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. also called out the danger of restrictor-plate racing.

“For years, we’ve had wrecks like this every time we’ve come to Talladega. Ever since the plate got here. And for years it was celebrated,” he said. “The media celebrated it, the networks celebrated it. … There’s a responsibility with the media and the networks and the sanctioning body itself to come to their senses a little bit.”

The saving grace that day was that the drivers came through unscathed. Even Edwards was unhurt, and he managed to give the sport an enduring memory even after his scary wreck.

What remained of the engine compartment of Edwards’ car was clearly on fire after it dropped off the catch fence and back onto the track. He was able to extricate himself from the car, and Edwards had his bearings. With the rest of the field having safely cleared the track behind winner Brad Keselowski, Edwards jogged the roughly 40 remaining yards to the finish line. It didn’t affect his place in the finish order (24th), but it attracted a huge cheer from the crowd.

Edwards was just 37 when he quit the sport in 2016. He finished in the top five in just three of 25 Talladega starts, and crashes ended his day in five other instances.

“I have wrecked about every way you can here,” Edwards told USA Today.

Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at [email protected].