Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images

Thinkin’ Out Loud: GEICO 500 – Brad Keselowski Lives to Fight Another Day

Key Moment – The caution flag flew with four laps to go for a piece of metal on the race track. The No. 22 of Joey Logano had it on his grill under caution and rubbed it off when the yellow flag was in the air. The end result was a green-white-checkered finish that brought on the dramatic moment of the race.

In a Nutshell – Coming into Talladega, there was no consensus on how the race would unfold. For the majority of the event, the action was intense with cars three-wide on most of the laps contested under green flag conditions. As the laps wound down the intensity ratcheted up, culminating in a green-white-checkered finish that saw Brad Keselowski impose his will on the field and hold off all challengers to win and advance to the round of eight in the Chase.

Credit: CIA Stock Photography
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. saw his Chase hopes come to an end late in the race at Talladega on Sunday afternoon. Credit: CIA Stock Photography

Dramatic Moment – During the first green-white-checkered attempt, Greg Biffle got into the back of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., triggering a melee that included six different cars. The incident took Earnhardt out of what limited chance he had of winning the race and advancing to the next round of the Chase. The ensuing extension of the race pushed Jimmie Johnson beyond the fuel that Chad Knaus gave him on the final pit stop. As a result Johnson was trying to save fuel coming to the final restart but was shuffled when he got into Trevor Bayne and ended up coming home in 24th. At the front of the pack Joey Logano pushed Brad Keselowski to the point when the green flew and then threw a couple of blocks to help his teammate clear the field. Ryan Newman had a run on the final lap, but Keselowski crowded him as they spilled onto the back straight and pulled back past to lead the last half of the lap and advance to the next round of the Chase.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler

Like it or not, the new format of the Chase gives drivers a chance to redeem themselves if they have a bad race or two. Coming into Talladega, Keselowski knew he would most likely have to win the race to advance to the next round of the Chase. When the checkered flag flew he had done just that. Johnson and Earnhardt were unable to accomplish the same feat, and they will be on the outside looking in for the final four races of the Chase. For all of the people screaming about the good teams that were eliminated at Talladega, they would have been out of contention in previous years before the green ever flew in Alabama.

After the race at Talladega, the No. 31 of Ryan Newman was found to be too low in post race inspection. Depending on the level of penalty that NASCAR determines for the violation could significantly impact the next round of the Chase. If it is determined to be a P3 penalty, the points should be less than 25. However, if it is determined to be a P4, the points would be 25 for the violation and 10 for occurring in post race inspection. Newman ended Talladega 27 points ahead of Kasey Kahne. A 35 point penalty would drop Newman below Kahne in the standings and remove him from the next segment, putting Kahne into the next round. Should it be a P4, Newman and Richard Childress Racing can petition for a rapid appeal to attempt to reduce or overturn the penalty before the next race at Martinsville.

There are too many smart people in this sport thinking way too hard about things that should be simple. During Cup qualifying the teams are allowed five minutes to attempt to set a time in each of the rounds in the latest version of restrictor plate qualifying. On Saturday, multiple teams did not make it to the line to start their lap in the allotted five minutes. A lap at Talladega takes under a minute to complete. Therefore, a driver should be able to complete at least four laps during a session if they get on the track right away. Of course that would be too simple, so everyone has to try and line up and get other drivers to lead them around the track and allow them to get a good run and set a great time. By posturing and attempting to snooker opponents, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Justin Allgaier went home by not being able to post a time during qualifying. While trying to lay down a killer lap is admirable, it is in the best interest of a team to at least lay down a lap so that they have something to fall back on. Smart people should be able to figure that out, but some people are too smart for their own good.

FAS racing unveiled a split paint scheme for Terry Labonte this weekend at Talladega. The driver side was the red, white and yellow of Labonte’s 1996 Kellogg’s paint scheme while the passenger side was the pale blue of his 1984 Piedmont Airlines scheme. NASCAR was none too pleased with the idea and forced the team to change the car to be consistent on both sides. NASCAR has a rule that both sides of the car must be similar so as to avoid confusion for spotters and race officials. The car was all red, yellow and white on Sunday. Labonte also announced that Sunday, his 890th career start was his final start.

Rockingham Speedway has avoided receivership. Andy Hillenburg has presented a Richmond County judge with a plan to save the speedway. He has until Jan., 2015 to present a viable financial plan with new partners to save the track and return racing yet again to the one mile track.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images
Kyle Busch’s Chase hopes ended when he was hit behind early in Sunday’s race from Talladega. Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images

Kyle Busch came into Talladega with a 26 point advantage over ninth place Matt Kenseth. His goal for the race was to survive and advance. Busch lingered at the back of the pack all day, attempting to avoid being involved in a large wreck. On lap 103, a big wreck unfolded on the back straight well in front of Busch. He checked up and was about to avoid the incident when Austin Dillon made contact with his back bumper. The contact turned Busch down the track into the AJ Allmendinger and ultimately into the inside wall of The Alabama Gang Superstretch. It took his team over 45 laps to repair his car and get it back on the track. Busch was able to maintain minimum speed and came home in 41st position.

Paul Menard was not one of the 19 drivers to lead a lap on Sunday, but his car was constantly in the mix near the front of the pack. It appeared that he was going to have a shot at a solid top 10 or better finish until he was caught up in the final accident of the day on the back straight on lap 188. Instead of a strong finish for a team that could use a shot in the arm, Menard came home in 36th. Late season success has been fleeting for Menard for years, and Sunday was just another stark reminder of it.

Jimmie Johnson was in the same boat as Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. coming into Talladega. The only way to control his destiny was to go out and win the race. He led the most laps and made a timed pit stop late in the race to take on a minimal amount of fuel to make it to the end. When the green-white-checkered unfolded and turned into a second GWC, his potential of making it to the finish appeared to be in doubt. He rode on the apron to make sure the car continued to pick up fuel. The final restart happened and Johnson tangled with Trevor Bayne, sending the driver of the No. 21 onto the apron of turn one. While Johnson didn’t mention it in the post race, his car appeared to struggle returning to speed and ended the race in 24th. His hopes for a seventh championship went down with the waving of the checkered flag.

The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Landon Cassill came home in fourth place on Sunday. For an underfunded team whose hood was blank until Saturday last week, a fourth-place finish is a huge coup. Cassill has continued to do amazing things in subpar equipment race after race, and this time he pulled off his first top 5 in 147 career Cup races. Unfortunately for Cassill, he doesn’t have a big money sponsor to bring to an organization, just a boatload of talent. Hopefully someone will give him a shot in quality equipment to show what he can really do.

Travis Kvapil has run 266 Cup races in his 10 year career in the series. He had six top-10 finishes before 2009. Sunday was his second one since. Kvapil has been in backmarker equipment since he left Yates Racing in 2008. He has run for several owners this year and managed a top 10 for Joe Falk in the No. 33 this weekend. A former Truck Series champion, Kvapil has been the definition of a journeyman, and Sunday was proof that anything can and will happen at Talladega.

Still chasing the elusive oval track win before he heads back to Australia, Marcos Ambrose knocked on the door again on Sunday. Ambrose ran with the leaders for much of the race and wrangled an eighth-place finish. A lame duck driver who is not in the Chase, it would be easy for Ambrose to mail in the last handful of races in his Cup career, but he is still trying hard to check the oval win off of his bucket list. The story of a win over the final four races of his career would not only upset the chemistry of the Chase but be a great send off for a solid Cup career.

Worth Noting

Brad Keselowski’s win at Talladega was his 16th of his career in 193 starts.

Keselowski’s triumph sets him alone in 51st on the all-time wins list for the Cup series. One more win will put him in a tie for 47th.

The win as Keselowski’s sixth of the season, which leads the series.

The Penske Racing drivers, Joey Logano and Keselowski have won 11 of the 32 races contested this year.

Keselowski has run 12 races at Talladega and this win is his third at the 2.66-mile oval.

Matt Kenseth came home second at Talladega. It is his second top 2 finish of the season.

Kenseth’s runner-up run was his second career top 2 at Talladega.

Clint Bowyer was the third driver across the line Sunday. It is his third top-3 run of the season. All three of them are third-place finishes.

Bowyer’s podium run was his second consecutive third-place run at Talladega.

The top 3 for Bowyer is his fifth career podium at Talladega.

Austin Dillon came home in 13th place and was the highest finishing rookie.

Cole Whitt finished 15th at Talladega. It is his best career finish in 46 career Cup races.

What’s the Points

The points matter as the field is cut down to the final eight in the Chase to the Cup. Three drivers advanced to the round of eight by winning races in this segment. The other drivers making up the eight who made it to round three did so on points. The 16 drivers in the Chase are listed below with their point total after round two of the Chase. Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano, by virtue of their wins at Talladega, Charlotte and Kansas assured their places in the third segment.

  1. Joey Logano 4000
  2. Kevin Harvick 4000
  3. Ryan Newman 4000
  4. Denny Hamlin 4000
  5. Matt Kenseth 4000
  6. Carl Edwards 4000
  7. Jeff Gordon 4000
  8. Brad Keselowski 4000
  9. Kyle Busch 2193
  10. AJ Allmendinger 2163
  11. Jimmie Johnson 2152
  12. Greg Biffle 2147
  13. Kurt Busch 2146
  14. Kasey Kahne 2136
  15. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2135
  16. Aric Almirola 2101

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – Many people don’t like restrictor plate racing, and even more hated the idea of a plate race as an elimination race. Unfortunately for them, it was undeniable that the race on Sunday had most everything you could ask for in a quality Cup Series race. The intensity of side-by-side racing, often three-wide throughout much of the race, dominated the event. The points implications and gyrations changed nearly every lap throughout the entire contest and eventually even appear to have continued into post race inspection. As a result the race is going to receive a frosty six pack of Good People’s Brewing Company’s Snake Handler double IPA.

Next Up

With Talladega in the rear view mirror, the series heads to Martinsville Speedway, the only track still on the schedule that was used during the very first season of the Cup Series. With the lingering hurt feelings from Charlotte and some other bruised egos from Talladega, the odds are there will be some retributions delivered at the half-mile flat track in Ridgeway, VA. The action heats up at 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN Sunday Oct. 26. It can also be heard on MRN radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90.

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About Mike Neff

Mike Neff
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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27 comments

  1. Avatar

    Let’s see. We have one guy (Newman) with 3 top five finishes that could win a championship. We have another (Hamlin) who would be 17th in the standings if the Chase was not in place.
    That being said, at least the four best cars this season are still in it. It would be poetic justice, though, if Kenseth won this thing without winning a race and bring this farce full circle.
    .

  2. Avatar

    Sorry, but while I can admit there was a high level of circumstantial, gut wretching excitement due to the way NASCAR has set up the dominoes this year, I did not care for that race. I felt it was cruel and unusual punishment to put both drivers and fans through that exercise of random chance. If Talladega must be part of the chase it should be the 1st race in a round and not the last race in the round. Piling a crapshoot on top of a crapshoot and then putting two crapshoot cherries on top with the two GWC finishes is just a terrible way to determine the champion. I won’t watch this race next year. What’s the point?

    While I have no love for Kyle Busch, and ordinarily would find joy in his hardship (assuming we’re just talking about a bad finish being the hardship), to have his season be decided the way it was is just wrong. I feel sorry for him. He got screwed more than anyone.

    The qualifying deal is stupid. I agree with Dale Earnhardt that qualifying at the RP tracks should go back to single laps. Watching teams try to play the system to their advantage is not interesting to me and goes against what I want racing to be… going out and putting a fast lap down when you have to (no second chances if you screw up). BTW, I’ve watched less qualifying this year than I have since it’s been regularly broadcast every week.

    Even though I am happy that my driver (JG) squeaked by to the next round I can only give this race one bottle of Pepto-Bismal. I will add that now my view of this new chase format is even more negative as I think it will have a higher probability of not rewarding the most deserving team with the championship than any other format Brian has dreamed up.

    • Avatar

      Bill, you said everything I was thinking! “cruel and unusual punishment” defines exactly how I felt during that race. Watching a race is supposed to be fun, not painful & nervewracking.

  3. Avatar

    Jimmie Johnson GONE… Kyle Busch OUTTA THERE. Brad Keselowski right back in it. While detest this chase format and restrictor plate races, I give this race a case of Redd’s Wicked Ale.

    • Avatar

      Carl D,
      What a short-sighted, un-objective rating. If Jimmie and Kyle would have both made it and Brad would have been out and, let’s say, Carl Edwards or Joey Logano, would have suffered the “lightning bolt from heaven” bad luck instead of Kyle Busch, would you still have given the race a case of Redd’s Wicked Ale ? Just wondering if you are giving the race that high of a rating or the results.

      • Avatar

        I admit it… The results. I still think both the chase and restrictor plate racing are crapshoots and that both suck. And I will say that the finish was pretty exciting. Not the previous 180 or so laps, though.

        • Avatar

          I admit it too, I do not enjoy a race won by a Toyota or a driver I can’t stand. I think it is just the nature of fandom. Still did you see Pouty Busch pushing through the crowd afterwards, his wittle wip pushed out? What a volcanic asshole. You can bet the Frances are breathing a sigh of relief though. After all the gimmicky manipulation just think what effect nascar’s most unpopular driver, a petulant, immature, unprofessional idiot in a foreign car, winning the Championship would have had on ratings.

        • Avatar

          Don’t worry, Hamlin still has a chance.

  4. Avatar

    i realized yesterday the only way to watch this race without physical malady was to be at the track. watching on tv tore my stomach up and netted me a really wicked headache. it was intense for 90% of the race and i didn’t nap once during the broadcast. i can only imagine how the drivers feel. and a g/w/checker at plate track guarantees a wreck, period!

    haven’t seen jr race so aggressively in a long time. shame the handling went away on the car. was wondering if kenseth would help brad…..lol. i momentarily tried to imagine what would have happened if princess had won this race. but alas, she ended up with a top 20 finish.

    ok, seeing that ryan failed post race and the fact that there is only 2 hendrick owned/satellite cars in the next round…wonder if the stars will align to put kane in by penalizing the 31 enough to knock him out of contention. lets see, 4 hendrick owned cars and then not sure how many satellite cars, 4, only 1 owned car and 1 satellite car are in the fight for the championship. you know all that money spent by hendrick has to be eating away at him right now.

    wonder what the earnhardt jr effect will be with butts in the seats for the remaining races. sure he’ll be there trying to win another race this year, but i have a feeling his team will be “on vacation” now, as they were after his 3rd win prior to the chase.

    now that is absolutely johnson (i’m glad, didn’t want to see him get #7) is out, my focus will be “no logano for champion”.

    again na$car had a plate race, lots of torn up equpment, but no injured spectators or drivers, so they’re happy. i wonder if in the driver’s meeting if retaliation was addressed. however, watch out at martinsville.

    i agree with bill b….1 bottle of extra strength pepto for me.

  5. Avatar

    With the standard penalties, why does it take so long for Nascar make a ruling? With so much riding on the outcome for the #31 and #5 teams, it seems like this matter should be resolved quickly. Either the car was too low or it wasn’t; dish out the appropriate penalty and be done with it.

    Interesting to hear Johnson refer to Kurt Busch’s team as a Hendrick car. HMS doesn’t even try to hide the fact that they are skirting the rules anymore.

    • Avatar

      Along these lines would someone please explain to me how Logano throwing blocks to advance a team car is not exactly the same thing Bowyer did last year. I swear NASCAR pulls rules out of a hat. As a pointless aside, the yuppie beer rating system drives me nuts. If I would have offered my father an Apple Pumpkin MetrosexuALE he would have knocked me on my as, and I would have thanked him for it.

      • Avatar

        AMEN to the beer selection for the rating system…..sounds like a writer trying to be too smart by half.

      • Avatar

        Just put the blindfold on and start repeating “there are no team orders in Nascar, there are no team orders in Nascar”.

      • Avatar

        I was surprised to hear no comments during or after the race about Logano almost running Harvick into the wall when he had a run and looked like he might be able to pass Keselowski.

  6. Avatar

    Thankfully, I used my “Dega/Daytona fast forward” button — ignored all the meaningless “lead changes” — dissected the wrecks via my slow motion, , and watched the last 15 laps

  7. Avatar

    well I disagree with you, Mike Neff, about it being a 6 pack worthy race. I worked outside in the yard and came in to watch the last 100 laps (since most of the time they all ride around doing not much until then anyway unless someone has a boneheaded moment).

    I’m not a fan of RP racing and I think the whole new format of the chase is flawed and having a RP track as as an elimination race was even worse.

    rg72, I agree about this whole thing being a farce. If I didn’t really want Gordon to win this deal to finally get one of the 10 race trophies, I’d be rooting for Kenseth, too.

    You realize though that NASCAR’s PR machine & most of the media continue to insist that “the fans really love the chase” even with much evidence to the contrary, so NASCAR will continue to insist that its what the fans really want. Ratings were down for CMS again – this for the “only night race” in the chase.

    • Avatar

      as typical…na$car doesn’t hear us….cause just about every na$car fan i know HATES this chase format, along with all the previous version as well.

    • Avatar

      GinaV24……you are correct that ratings were down at Charlotte from 2013. However, it must’ve been down for all other broadcast networks as well. The 500 @ Charlotte even in a college football delay was still the #1 rated program for the night.

  8. Avatar

    Kyle’s out… see y’all in February

  9. Avatar

    That was one exciting, but very tough race to watch. I’m just happy the 24 made it through. No doubt the new format ramped up the Talledaga intensity. Rarely were the cars running in one long line, and when the leaders did start to string out a new line quickly formed. I know others will disagree, but I love plate racing. It’s a game of chess at 200 mph. It’s the one type of racing that distinguishes NASCAR from all other forms of racing. No other series races high-banked Superspeedways. I was very entertained, yet exhausted at the same time.

    • Avatar

      I like plate racing because it’s edge of your seat racing. What I don’t like is my driver (JG) riding around in the back all race to stay out of a wreck. I just can’t grasp that way of thinking. That ain’t racing. Thanks Dale Jarrett . You started that sh*t way back when. Hey Gordon, news flash! If you run up front there are no cars to wreck in front of you. So no danger. I believe there were at least 2 occasions where spinning cars had to be dodged back in the pack. How many up front? Kenseth and Edwards were able to find their way to the front near the end but look where you ended up. So how did that plan work out? Okay by running back there the 24 moves on, but it was just barely. Now that’s what makes me nervous.

  10. Avatar

    I’m a fan of intense racing and frankly don’t care wins the Cup. This was an intense race and if new new format was responsible for that, fine with me.

  11. Avatar

    I cannot help but think that this stupid version of “The Chase” was hatched last year by vengeful Brian upon one of his yes men weasel busting in the his office at Castle Daytona to tell what he just overheard..The formation of the Race Allliance. That race was horrible to watch yesterday, and in no way should be a determinant in who advances or not where a large part of the race is staying out of someone’s mistake..how does that speak to your record all year, or increments of 3 races. And the yes men on TV did you notice, put this back on the fans. They kept saying “fans” wanted more emphasis on winning, so what..this is the only way? All idiots.

  12. Avatar

    Yall saw how this one ended.. chasers that did not need to win avoided racing at the end.
    Iv’e Never seen Neuman and Matt bail like that before.. interesting
    Just finish baby…
    should have just put
    Kez , Jr, Jimmie and Kyle on the track with Danica to be the blocker for a 30 lap main.
    then
    we might have seen a race..

  13. Avatar

    If the new format is all about winning – why are Newman and Kenseth still alive with no wins between them yet Dale Jr and Jimmy Johnson have three each and are on the outside looking in?

  14. Avatar

    Probably the first time I posted here all year.
    There’s some home made apple pie shine on the bar for anyone who noticed that Kyle had the 2015 nose on his car when he came back out on the track.

  15. Avatar

    When Johnson said he looked back and didn’t have any friends, why was he surprised?

    Lets see how Brian arranges for another Mr. H car to stay in the chase.