I can definitely say that I will not miss having Talladega as the deciding race in the Round of 12 for the Chase. The round means too much to have a game of chance be the deciding event.
It’s not the fact that so much is on the line, but as I’ve said many times in this column, there are too many items out of the teams’ control.
That had to be one factor into the 2017 schedule in my estimation because next season, Talladega has moved from being the deciding race into now the sandwich race of the second round. And honestly, this makes for a better spot. There’s too many things that need to be in the hands of the crew, the crew chief, and the driver to let a restrictor plate race be what decides who goes into the next round.
Now that being said, this race saw some shocking eliminations from the Chase this time, but none of them came because of a wreck that they caused, or getting caught up in a wreck that someone else started. Two of those eliminations came because of engine failures.
You had Martin Truex Jr, quite possibly the great Cinderella story of the season with four victories, many of which were dominating performances. His defining moment of this season will forever be how he spanked the field at Charlotte. Leading 392 of 400 laps, keeping his No. 78 Toyota out front for all but a minuscule 12 miles of the 600-mile distance (the distance it would be on Interstate 80 from the Penfield exit to the Woodland exit) will be what he is remembered for this year.
But a blown engine means that his championship hopes are gone.
Then there’s Brad Keselowski, who on this day was being the dominant plate racer that he has become. He won two of the three races at the plate tracks heading into Sunday, and was becoming a heavy favorite as the one to beat. With Dale Earnhardt Jr. out for the race, the first time in over three decades that Talladega did not have an Earnhardt in the starting lineup, everyone was looking at the Miller Lite Ford as the one who could control the race. Sure as can be, that is what everyone got.
Yet, he suffered the same fate. His engine let go at the worst possible time, and his 38th-place finish meant his yellow spoiler, splitter, and name plate were gone.
There was no shortage of drama, but in the end Talladega didn’t become the wreck-fest that could take out the championship contenders with the slightest touch. Instead, everyone competed hard, and raced to the finish, and let where they finished determine what the next round of drivers would be. However, that wouldn’t always be the case, and that in the long run is something that NASCAR took into consideration.
Now, come next season, the final race of the second round will have teams more in control of their own destiny. For that, everyone can feel relief, and happiness.
RESULTS: 1-Logano 2-Scott 3-Hamlin 4-Kurt Busch 5-Stenhouse Jr. 6-Larson 7-Harvick 8-Almirola 9-Dillon 10-Allmendinger
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Elliott 23-Johnson 28-Kenseth 29-Edwards 30-Kyle Busch 38-Keselowski 40-Truex Jr.
CAUTIONS: 6 for 25 laps. Lap 43-47 (Oil on track from #78); 115-120 (#13, 16, 83 accident-FS); 146-149 (Oil on track from #2); 151-153 (Debris-BS); 183-185 (#1, 5, 6 accident-T3); 187-190 (#88 spin-FS).
LEAD CHANGES: 31 among 14 drivers. M. Truex Jr. POLE; B. Keselowski 1-11; M. Truex Jr. 12-13; B. Keselowski 14-25; C. Elliott 26-27; B. Keselowski 28; C. Elliott 29-31; B. Keselowski 32-37; D. Hamlin 38; M. Kenseth 39; Kyle Busch 40; B. Keselowski 41; R. Stenhouse Jr 42-47; B. Keselowski 48-62; C. Elliott 63; G. Biffle 64-76; C. Elliott 77-78; B. Keselowski 79; C. Elliott 80; D. Hamlin 81; C. Edwards 82; M. Annett 83-88; B. Keselowski 89-110; R. Blaney 111; D. Hamlin 112-116; A. Dillon 117; D. Hamlin 118-122; B. Keselowski 123-143; R. Blaney 144-145; T. Stewart 146; Kyle Busch 147; J. Logano 148-192.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 11 Mins, 38 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 159.905 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.124 Seconds
CHASE STANDINGS (Top-8 move to next round): 1. Logano, 4000 (Points); 2. Johnson, 4000; 3. Harvick, 4000; 4. Kenseth, 4000; 5. Edwards, 4000; 6. Hamlin, 4000; 7. Kurt Busch, 4000; 8. Kyle Busch, 4000; 9. Truex Jr, -1809; 10. Keselowski, -1832; 11. Dillon, -1837; 12. Elliott, -1844; 13. Larson, -1845; 14. Stewart, -1859; 15. McMurray, -1890; 16. Buescher, -1891.