Talladega Superspeedway is well known to be home of the “wild card” race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship and today proved no different. When it was over Joe Gibbs Racing’s Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch had advanced to the next round, while Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth were eliminated from championship contention.
Edwards led JGR in today’s Campingworld.com 500 with a fifth-place finish while Busch was 11th. Kenseth, who was wrecked as the leader with just a few laps remaining one week ago in Kansas, finished today in 26th and eliminated from the Chase. Hamlin was also eliminated after a problem with his roof hatch forced him to make several unscheduled pit stops and fall two laps behind the leader. A late-race accident would also factor into his 37th-place finish.
This was the final race of the Contender Round of 12 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. The field has now been reduced to just eight teams leading into next week’s race in Martinsville. The Eliminator Round consists of the next three races on the schedule with Texas and Phoenix following Martinsville. Four more teams will be eliminated following the race at Phoenix leaving a Final Championship Four to compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22. Also eliminated today were Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Carl Edwards started the No. 19 Subway Toyota in the 15th position and was content racing toward the back of the pack for much of the first half of the race. Edwards would work his way toward the front of the field as the race neared its conclusion. Earlier in the week NASCAR altered the rule from three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish to just one. Edwards would find himself battling for a spot in the top five when the 4 car, who was struggling with issues to his motor and unable to bring his car to full speed, triggered an accident by turning into the 6 car just as the leaders passed the start/finish line. NASCAR was forced to throw the caution ending the race and Edwards was scored in fifth. He now advances into the Eliminator Round of eight which starts next week in Martinsville.
Kyle Busch qualified the No. 18 M&M’S Halloween Toyota in 16th and spent the afternoon navigating the pack style of racing that Talladega is well-known for. He would lead the field for 11 laps starting on lap 140. NASCAR’s new rule limiting green-white-checkered finishes from three attempts to just one would play into today’s finish. Busch would line up in the middle of the pack and with every point counting toward his place in the standings he was looking for an opportunity to gain position. A caution for a blown engine on the 1 car would bring out a caution on lap 185. It appeared the field was set for a green-white-checkered finish but several cars wrecked prior to the leaders reaching the start/finish line and NASCAR ruled it was not an official attempt. By avoiding that accident Busch would however gain several key spots on the track. That wreck ultimately set up another restart on lap 196. Once again the field would wreck shortly after the drop of the green flag but this time they had passed the start/finish line and NASCAR ruled the race was official. Busch was scored in 11th and advances into the next round by three points.
Matt Kenseth started the No. 20 DEWALT Toyota from the fourth position and was patient throughout the afternoon while racing in the main pack of cars. He would find his way to the front of the field on lap 137 and led three laps. Earlier in the week NASCAR altered the rule from three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish to just one. Kenseth would find himself outside of the top ten for the final restart but any hopes of making a late run to the front were dashed when the 4 car, who was struggling with issues to his motor and unable to bring his car to full speed, triggered an accident by turning into the 6 car just as the leaders passed the start/finish line. NASCAR was forced to throw the caution ending the race and Kenseth, who was sent spinning down onto the apron would end up being scored in the 26th position. He is now eliminated from championship contention.
Denny Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota in eighth and he would lead early on two different occasions this afternoon as he maneuvered his way through the pack. Around lap 80 Hamlin would radio in to his crew that the roof hatch on his No. 11 Camry had come loose. With fear that the roof hatch could break off at the high speeds of Talladega Superspeedway Hamlin would be forced to come to pit road for repairs. Unfortunately the first attempt to repair the issue didn’t hold for long and he would have to come back a second time on lap 92. The process would cause Hamlin to fall two laps off the pace. Although he entered the day as the leader in points behind only the 20 car, which won the opening two races of the segment of the Chase, Hamlin was suddenly on the edge in points. When the 4 car set off a wreck on the day’s only green-white-checkered finish Hamlin would hit hard into the 14 car ending his day and losing an additional lap in the process. That left him back to finish 37th and he would miss the final transfer spot by just eight points.
Joey Logano captured the win, followed by Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, and Edwards rounded out the top five. There were three cautions for a total of 18 laps and 30 lead changes among 18 different drivers. In addition to Busch and Edwards, the final eight remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Series Championship include Logano, Keselowski, Gordon, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex, Jr. and Kevin Harvick.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will open the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship next week at Martinsville Speedway. NBCSN will broadcast the race live with coverage starting at 12:30 PM (race begins at 1:15 PM ET).