Head scratching, bent fenders and eliminations.
None of which involved Joey Logano at Talladega Superspeedway, who grabbed a controversial victory in the CampingWorld.com 500 following two multi-car crashes on green-white-checkered restarts. The win is the third in a row for the Team Penske driver and career-high sixth of the 2015 Sprint Cup Series season.
“This team is unbelievable,” Logano said. “Three in a row, can you believe that? How does that even happen? What an amazing team we got. We’ve come to play this year.”
The final restart with two laps to go in the 500-mile event was short-lived as a chain-reaction crash with Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson prompted NASCAR to throw a caution before the field reached the start-finish line. NASCAR determined the attempt was never started and a second shot was given to officially restart the race for a GWC result.
“I was confused after the first [restart],” Logano said. “I saw the green lag fly and I was like, ‘Man, I thought the green flag flew and that was an attempt.’ They said we had to do it one more time which was cool. We play by NASCAR’s rules, we’re in their sand box and well play by those. Thankfully it worked out for us.”
The second attempt saw a slow Kevin Harvick sparked a 12-car accident past the flagstand, which officially ended the race under yellow. Harvick was plagued with what he called a possible exhaust issue which made his a sitting duck.
“It wasn’t running very well on the restarts,” Harvick said. “And there at the end, I was just trying to get out of the way and I don’t know if I clipped the [No.] 6 or if he came across as I was coming up.”
Despite the issue, Harvick advances to the Eliminator Round with a 15th-place result.
“It’s just one of those days where everything went well until the very end,” he said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove an impressive race throughout the day, leading a race-high 61 laps after a pit-road penalty. The Hendrick Motorsports driver was on the losing side of the end, finishing second behind Logano in what was a must-win race.
“Another 100 yards I would’ve been in the lead,” Earnhardt said. “But NASCAR makes the calls. They’re the governing body and I have 100% faith in the choices they make. I’m not going to be too upset about it, I did everything I could. I’m proud of myself, proud of my team.”
“He knew he was going to be 30th, last car on the lead lap,” Hamlin said. “So he caused a wreck.”
Hamlin was a victim of the crash, slamming into the rear of Tony Stewart and bursting into flames. It was a tough ending to a tough day for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who had a roof hatch come loose in the middle stages of the race.
“We had a self-inflicted day,” said Hamlin who fell four laps down and finished 37th. “Took us four times to get our roof fixed. Just one bad race in a three-race season and it obviously takes you out. I really cant spin any positive on it right now.”
Matt Kenseth was in a must-win scenario for Sunday and got out front early before he fell back and got involved in the last accident. Kenseth joins teammate Hamlin in the eliminated drivers out of Talladega.
“It was a pretty tough ending,” Kenseth said. “The [No.] 4 knew he was blowing up and told everybody he was going to stay in his lane while he did that so somebody can get on his side and cause a wreck to finish the race. You can hardly blame a guy if he does that and wrecks some people going slow or he’s not going to make it if it goes green for two laps.”
Though the JGR teammates led the cavalcade of disappointment and defeat, there were those who leave the gates of ‘Dega in a good place.
Jeff Gordon started his last Talladega race on pole and led the opening eight laps. The No. 24 driver was a regular face out front working with teammates and came home third, propelling him to the Eliminator Round.
“Crazy, absolutely crazy. What a relief,” Gordon said. “I just cannot believe – this season has been a crazy season for us. But since the Chase started, the attitude of this team, the momentum and the execution. I never thought in a million years that I would be looking forward to coming to Talladega to advance through, but boy I did today.”
The final race of the Contender Round began with a 131-lap green flag run, the longest at Talladega since 2002 when the race went caution-free. Justin Allgaier ended the string on lap 132 after blowing a motor in the No. 51 Chevrolet.
Ryan Newman’s 12th-place finish was not enough to elevate himself to the third run of the Chase. He joins Earnhardt, Hamlin and Kenseth on the outside. Kyle Busch drove to an 11th-place finish to advance as Martin Truex Jr. overcame a qualifying miscue, a slow pit stop, and a lap lost to finish seventh, enough to secure his spot in the third round.
“Starting in the back wasn’t a big deal,: Truex said. “We planned on riding there for a little while to make sure there wasn’t an early wreck. Once that cleared, we were going to race our way up through there. We had a bad pit stop and lost the draft first stop. That definitely wasn’t part of the plan.”
The 196-lap race was populated by pack racing and thrilling action amongst Chasers. Truex said he had a blast in the clean race.
“Got to say the race was really, really fun today,” he said. “Everyone did a great job and it was a blast. Guys were really racing hard but we never seen a Big One. That’s a testament to the skills out there and everybody that we race with.”
Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards finished the top five as Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kurt Busch completed the top 10. Michael Waltrip came home 13th while Greg Biffle – who led late in an attempted fuel-mileage win – finished 20th.
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