The final laps at Talladega may just be a glimpse of what we will be seeing in three weeks at Phoenix. Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s only chance of moving on to the Eliminator Round was by winning while the rest of the Chase field was trying to gain enough points to continue their quest for the title.
Johnson had command for most of the race as he led the most laps on the day but in the closing laps he found himself in a battle with Keselowski and Ryan Newman as Earnhardt Jr. lost any chance he had of winning after he was caught up in a wreck. Racing at Talladega on Sunday was no different than any other race at the restrictor plate track as it came down to having to have help from another driver in order to make a pass.
After a couple of late race cautions, it came down to a greenwhite checker finish and on that last restart Keselowski had his Penske teammate Joey Logano lined up behind him. Logano did his job and while he was in the process of giving his teammate the push he needed, Johnson got shuffl ed back and the win came down to a battle between Keselowski and fellow Chase drivers Newman and Matt Kenseth. Both Newman and Kenseth were making sure they had the points they needed to move on but both drivers were very aggressive in the final laps and it was Kenseth that actually pushed Keselowski to the win.
The eight drivers that would transfer to the next round seemed to change with ever lap. Kyle Busch was in a positon early in the race to move into the next round but a wreck forced him behind the wall for repairs that crippled his chances to earn enough points to move on.
Chase driver Kasey Kahne’s twelfth place finish actually earned him enough points to finish in the top-8 in points but this is where winning becomes so important. He was dropped from the list of drivers moving on to the next round with Keselowski’s win. Keselowski would have finished in tenth in points, five points behind Kahne and one point behind Busch but this Chase is all about winning.
Joining Keselowski, Logano, Newman and Kenseth in the Eliminator Round will be Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin. These eight drivers will have their point totals reset to 4,000. The rules remain the same for this round that will feature races at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix.
A Chase driver that wins of one of these three races will automatically move into the championship race at Homestead-Miami. The rest of the four-driver field that will move into the final race with a chance to win the title will be filled by the point standings.
Johnson, Earnhardt Jr., Kahne and Kyle Busch will have their point totals reset to 2,000 plus any bonus points for regular season wins and the points that they have accumulated during the six Chase races. Although they no longer will be running for the title, they still have plenty to race for as they can still finish in the top-10 and there is a cash bonus at the end of the year for where a driver finishes.
PIT NOTES: NASCAR’S new qualifying format came under fire at Talladega last week as the rules were tweaked for the superspeedway race. The field of 46 drivers was cut in half for first round qualifying giving two groups of 23 drivers five minutes to make their qualifying lap. Just like racing at Talladega, the cars formed a pack during the quick qualifying period and drives stuck in the back had no control over their lap and several did not cross the finish line before the time ran out. Several full–time drivers failed to qualify and some of the Chase drivers had to start at the back of the pack. Where you start on a restrictor plate track is not as important as it is at the other tracks on the schedule. Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth had to start at the rear of the field and they crossed the finish line in first and second.
Event: Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500
Track: Martinsville Speedway (.526-mile paper clipped shaped oval, 12 degrees of banking in the turns)
Date: October 26, 1:30 PM
Defending Champ: Jeff Gordon