Talladega Superspeedway never disappoints – and the Hellmann’s 500 Sunday afternoon was no exception. As the Round of 12 concluded, unexpected problems struck several playoff contenders. Some were able to rebound from their adversity, while others suffered issues too big to overcome. Nevertheless, the Chase is unforgiving, and four drivers were cut from their championships hopes.
From the Bottom to the Top
From the drop of the green flag, it was apparent Penske Racing driver Joey Logano had a strong car. However, less than 50 laps into the race, the driver suffered a significant error during a green flag pit stop. The jack became jammed into the side of his No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford as he darted from his pit stall. The team was hit with a penalty for removing equipment outside of the stall and forced to come back and remove it. Fortunately, a caution came out a lap later for Martin Truex Jr. blowing a motor, allowing him to remain on the lead lap.
Heading into the event, Logano was already in jeopardy of being cut in the playoffs – tied with Austin Dillon for the final transfer spot in eighth. He and his team knew they not only needed to survive the treacherous track, but also score a solid finish. They excelled in both. Logano drafted through the pack and as the laps came to a close, he soon found himself in the lead. After a caution placed the event in overtime, the driver held on to the lead and grabbed his second victory at the 2.5-mile track.
Farewell to Four
As aforementioned, Talladega served as the final battleground of the Contender Round – and when the checkered flag flew, four were eliminated from the playoffs.
Brad Keselowski, like his teammate, knew he needed a stellar finish to advance to the next round. Luckily, Talladega is known to be one of his best tracks. While the driver led a race-high 90 laps, engine issues struck on Lap 146, abruptly ending the team’s impressive performance.
Martin Truex Jr. also suffered from similar problems. As mentioned previously, the engine in his No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats Toyota blew up on Lap 42, ending his day prematurely.
Chase Elliott was cut from the playoffs after finishing 12th. The rookie started from the fourth position and led nine laps. However, his car faded during the second half and ended the team’s first championship run.
Finally, Austin Dillon’s championship hopes ended in the result of a tiebreaker with Denny Hamlin. As the two jockeyed for position on the track, they found themselves within a few points of each other. When the event concluded, they were tied. The rules set the playoff tiebreaker to be the best finish within the round. The event happened to be Hamlin’s best as he beat Kurt Busch by inches at the line and score a third-place finish – which was what he needed to advance. Notably, Dillon’s best finish of the Round of 12 was sixth last week at Kansas.
Tension but No Turmoil
As the laps ticked down, the well-known stress of the door-to-door pack racing returned. Talladega is known to be a time-bomb for carnage – culminating in the last laps, as driver patience thins. However, while there were two cautions within the final ten laps, the event Sunday did not feature an overwhelming multi-car accident.
However, the ending was still exhilarating – watching a pack of professionals battle for position in the closing moments. It was proof while wrecks are a staple to restrictor plate racing, they are not necessary for the end of a great race.
Toyota Prominent in Round of 8
As the Round of 8 begins, the playoff field is becoming more competitive – and the championship is just around the corner. However, one can’t help but notice Toyota comprises half of the eight contenders, which continues the trend of Toyota’s newfound dominance in the series this year. The team still owns the most manufacturer wins of the season, and now the entirety of Joe Gibbs Racing is still in championship contention.
As a result, this increases the odds one of their drivers will be a part of the championship-deciding round at Homestead-Miami Speedway, perhaps two of them. Regardless, one cannot deny the impressive performance from the foreign manufacturer in 2016.
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