By Jared Turner
Logano Is Doing Something Special
Prior to the start of the Contender Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, it had already been a terrific year for Joey Logano. But in the last three weeks, Logano has taken it up to a whole other level. By making it a clean sweep of the three Contender Round races with wins at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, the Team Penske driver is the clear favorite to go on and win the championship entering the eight-driver Eliminator Round that begins Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. Oh, sure, everything could now fall apart for Logano, but such a scenario is highly unlikely based off his performance of late.
Dale Jr. Threw Everything He Had At It
Despite ultimately failing to advance to the Eliminator Round, Dale Earnhardt Jr. delivered an admirable effort on Sunday at Talladega, where he led a race-high 61 laps but was denied an opportunity to pass race winner Joey Logano when the caution flag waved almost immediately on the race’s final two restarts. Earnhardt, who needed to win at Talladega in order to make it to the next round, took responsibility for coming up short, noting that his poor finishes the past two weekends at Charlotte and Kansas were to blame – rather than NASCAR’s controversial decision to declare Logano the winner after a thorough review of the replay that showed where the leaders were running when the final caution flag froze the field.
Jeff Gordon’s ‘Drive For Five’ Is Still Alive
No one was happier to see Sunday’s race at Talladega end than four-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, who was making his final start at Talladega and his final start at a restrictor-plate track, period. Gordon, who has made no bones in recent years about his dislike for the close-quarters plate racing and the kind of violent wrecks this kind of racing often breeds, survived the late-race mayhem to finish third behind Joey Logano and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. As a result, Gordon punched his ticket to the Eliminator Round from which the championship field will be slashed from eight drivers to four. Although he is not expected to advance to the Championship 4, Gordon wasn’t expected to get this far this year, either.
Talladega Drives Drivers Insane
Is there any race on the entire schedule that is more dreaded by virtually everyone – except the fans – than the fall Chase-elimination race at Talladega? As widely expected on Sunday, the final laps were pure mayhem with multiple multi-car wrecks that had a major impact on the outcome of the race and the Chase. There was also a major controversy, as many drivers believed Kevin Harvick deliberately caused a wreck in order to keep his championship hopes alive. Fans, meanwhile, were irate that NASCAR declared Joey Logano – rather than fan-favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. – the race winner, after a lengthy review of who was running where on the track when NASCAR froze the field following a late multi-car wreck.
It’s Better To Be Lucky Than Good
No driver this season – with the possible exception of Joey Logano – has performed consistently better than Matt Kenseth. A winner of five races, Kenseth entered the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup tied for the No. 1 seed and was widely expected to be among the four championship finalists heading into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But thanks to an absolutely miserable Contender Round, Kenseth is out of title contention and can now finish no better than fifth in points. What does the plight of Kenseth really mean? It means that being fast all season, and even having one of the dominant cars, is no guarantee of advancing deep in the Chase. The simple fact is that there is a lot of luck involved.