The championship playoff known as the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup has had more turns that a West Virginia mountain, but Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway took the cake. It all happened at the end of the race and it changed who would vie for the crown over the last three races before heading to Homestead and the final four. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the best car all day when he wasn’t botching pit stops.
Earnhardt is probably the best driver at Talladega. He apparently inherited his father’s ability to see the air because he led the most laps and seemed to have no other driver he couldn’t pass. It was in the later stage of the race that Joey Logano got the lead and it was only just a matter of time before Earnhardt was going to pass him, except it didn’t happen due to some really strange circumstances. With only four laps to go, Jamie McMurray lost an engine bringing out only the second caution all day. That ensured there would be a green-white-checker finish, and with the new rule for this race, it was one and done. No matter what happened, during the final laps, the race would end. Then it got really weird.
Earlier, at Lap 172, when most pitted, Greg Biffle stayed out and gambled that he would have enough fuel to finish the race and steal a win. Biffle was so far ahead, it looked like his plan might work until the caution flag flew. That bunched up the field and Biffle now found himself back in a pack of superior cars. Biffle had to pit for fuel and his dream was over. He finished 20th.
The two tries to finish the race were even stranger. When the first attempt at a finish started, cars getting together in the back of the field caused NASCAR to wave it off and said it wasn’t really an attempt. Stranger, the green light can be seen on the flag stand, but one more try was ordered. After a long caution period, another attempt was made—technically the first attempt. Before the cars could get to Turn 1, the big one finally happened. With Kevin Harvick not having enough power in his failing engine, he couldn’t get up to speed. Trevor Bayne tried to pass him on the outside, but once Bayne was almost by him, Harvick seemed to turn right, clip Bayne and create the only “big one” of the day. It involved the cars of Denny Hamlin, Michael McDowell, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Danica Patrick, Austin Dillon, Sam Hornish, Bayne, and Alex Bowman. Hamlin was eliminated from the Chase.
Hamlin, Bayne, and Kenseth pointed fingers are Harvick since the only way he was going to get to the next round was to have an additional caution. NASCAR Vice Chair Mike Helton, after meeting with representatives from Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing said they could find no evidence that Harvick had done anything wrong unless something came up this week. Harvick denied any wrongdoing.
So, after last week’s controversial win, Logano had another controversial win. It’s clear that Kenseth hasn’t gotten over that tap from Logano last week, as he threatened to beat him up when an early pit stop got dicey. Kenseth seemed to cool at the end after his day was over and no beating occurred. The final result showed Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Earnhardt, and Kenseth eliminated, with Logano, Edwards, Gordon, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., and Kyle Busch left to compete for the title.
Much will be said about the last two races, but a few things are clear. Team Penske drivers Logano and Keselowski are always near the front and Logano has shown the skill to be at the front at the end of races. Jeff Gordon has speed, but will it continue? With his expertise on mile and a half tracks, he could be a factor. The rest are only dependent on what happens to those favorites, but after the last two weeks, you can’t count anything out.