Early in Sunday’s Hellman’s 500 from Talladega Superspeedway, Joey Logano pulled into what he thought would be nothing more than a routine pit stop. Everything seemed to go as planned when Logano pulled out, with the exception he was dragging his jack that was stuck under his Ford when the jack man dropped the car down at the completion of the stop.
Once back on the track, Logano’s yellow No. 22 was forced to slow down as the sparks flew from underneath his car as he tried to swerve back and forth in an effort to free the jack. Logano’s efforts to free the jack were unsuccessful so he had come back into his pits where his crew removed the jack, but in the process he found himself at the back of the pack once he returned to the track.
Logano was one of the Chase drivers that entered the race knowing that he was going to have to drive his way into the next round as Talladega was the elimination race for the Round of Twelve. He wasn’t the only Chase driver that was in danger of being eliminated, as five drivers entered knowing that they were all going to have to drive their way into the next round.
Fellow Chase drivers Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. saw their chances of advancing go up in smoke as both drivers had their championship run ended by blown engines. Logano did not have the speed that his teammate Keselowski showed before leaving the race, but he used some great work by his pit crew and used the draft to move up through the field until he took the lead for good with 45 laps remaining. It wasn’t as easy as it sounded as he had to survive a late race caution that extended the race with a green-white-checkered flag finish.
The win automatically moved him into the Round of Eight, but with the exception of Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick who had also won during the Round of 12, the remaining five drivers attempting to advance did not lock down their spot until the checkered flag had waved. The competition to advance was so close that two drivers actually tied for the final spot and a tiebreaker had to be applied to determine which driver would advance.
It came down to the final lap when Denny Hamlin who was in a battle with Austin Dillon for the final spot was able to beat Kurt Busch to the line by .006 seconds, which comes out to about two feet for third place. It was exactly the number of points that Hamlin needed to tie Dillon who finished ninth. The tie between the two drivers was broken by going to the highest finish of each driver during the three-race round. Dillon’s best finish was sixth at Kansas.
Logano advances into the next round as the only Ford driver while Hendrick Motorsports driver Jim- mie Johnson joins fellow Stewart- Haas Racing drivers Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch in Chevrolets. The remaining half of the Chase field will be made up of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyota drivers Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.
All eight drivers will advance into the three-race round, which includes stops at Martinsville, Texas, and Phoenix. Every driver’s points will be reset to 4,000 with no bonus points being carried over from previous races. Only four drivers will advance out of this round to the Championship Round at Homestead-Miami with the chance to run for the title.
Up to three drivers may advance by winning one of the next three races, leaving only one spot for a driver to qualify by his position in the points. No driver wants to wait until the final race of the round at Phoenix to earn his spot in the final, which puts more pressure on the teams next week when the round opens at Martinsville to capture one of the three available checkered flags.
Four really good race teams will not advance, but the four that do will be within one trip to victory lane of becoming the 2016 Sprint Cup Champion.
Event: Goody’s Fast Relief 500.
Track: Martinsville Speedway (.526-mile paper clip oval, 12 degrees of banking in the turns).
Date: Oct. 30, 1 p.m.
Defending Race Winner: Jeff Gordon.