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.
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
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.
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.
- Joey Logano 4000
- Kevin Harvick 4000
- Ryan Newman 4000
- Denny Hamlin 4000
- Matt Kenseth 4000
- Carl Edwards 4000
- Jeff Gordon 4000
- Brad Keselowski 4000
- Kyle Busch 2193
- AJ Allmendinger 2163
- Jimmie Johnson 2152
- Greg Biffle 2147
- Kurt Busch 2146
- Kasey Kahne 2136
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2135
- 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.
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.