NASCAR wanted to produce Game 7 moments with its new championship format and certainly received its biggest example yet at Talladega Superspeedway when Brad Keselowski staved off Chase elimination with a based loaded, bottom of the ninth home run-style victory on Sunday afternoon in northeastern Alabama.
The parity-ridden restrictor plate race was also the biggest opportunity yet for several teams to show some muscle and move up the power rankings before the final four-race stretch of the season.
The updated Fast 15 list can be viewed below:
1. Brad @Keselowski (LW: 15)
No team more exemplifies the spirit of the new Sprint Cup championship format than the 2012 champions who won at Talladega, against all odds, to advance to the penultimate round of the Chase for the Championship. After winning at Talladega, Keselowski and crew have to feel unbeatable heading into four of their best venues.
2. @KevinHarvick (LW: 2)
After winning at Charlotte last weekend, Kevin Harvick had little to lose in racing for the win at Talladega. He was near the front for a large portion of the GEICO 500 and ultimately finished ninth. You have to wonder what could have been if Harvick hadn’t of been spun on pit road in the closing laps of the race, eliminating all of his track position in the process. So it goes.
3. @JoeyLogano (LW: 1)
Logano did not win the race but he might have been the biggest winner at Talladega outside of teammate Brad Keselowski. In blocking for Keselowski and pushing him towards the win, Logano proved himself a team player in the eyes of bossman Roger Penske, an act that will likely keep him on the good side of the Captain’s Ship for a long time.
4. @RyanJNewman (LW: 7)
Equipped with the powerful Earnhardt Childress Racing engines, Newman was able to put his car wherever he needed to in the big pack on Sunday afternoon and was leading late before the Team Penske one-two punch ultimately knocked him out and back to fifth. Still, it was good enough to get him into the third round of the Chase for the Championship without a victory. He is an upset alert in the making.
5. @JeffGordonWeb (LW: 3)
Gordon had an absolute dreadful weekend at Talladega, failing to post a fast time in the disastrous qualifying format, a result that forced him to start at the tail-end of the field. Once there, he decided to ride in the back throughout the race, hoping to avoid the Big One and was unable to work his way to the front. The results nearly proved disastrous when he finished 26th and was the last driver to advance in the Chase by a mere three points over teammate Kasey Kahne.
6. @MattKenseth (LW: 10)
Oh the irony … Kenseth rode in the back all day, avoiding all the wrecks and quickly worked his way to the front when it mattered most, only to push new rival Brad Keselowski to the win on the final lap of the race. All this after the weekend began with the two working out of neighboring garage stalls one week after scuffling in the pit area at Charlotte last weekend.
7. @DennyHamlin (LW: 9)
This new championship format is really setting up well for Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team. If Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are the A+ players at Martinsville, Denny Hamlin is a A- with four wins and an average finish of 8.8. He’s also a former winner at Texas and has always been competitive at Phoenix. The sport is going to learn an awful lot about the moxie of Joe Gibbs Racing and their longest-tenured driver over the next month.
8. Carl Edwards (LW: 6)
Like Denny Hamlin up above, the next month shakes out pretty well for the Roush Fenway Racing ace. No longer confused for a lame duck, the soon to be departing Edwards has five wins at Texas and Phoenix and should he advance to Homestead — another two victories. Keep counting the No. 99 team out at your own peril.
9. @KyleLarsonRacin (LW: 5)
Following the hottest Chase to any driver in the history of the sport (despite being outside of the playoffs), the wacky randomness of Talladega ultimately brought Yung Money closer to Earth, gridding him 17th by the end of the race. His spin at the end of green flag pit stops late in the race ensured the wackiness that would ensue over the final 10 laps.
10. @JamieMcMurray (LW: 8)
It was quite the eventful day for Frosted Tips on Sunday who began the GEICO 500 by leaking his hair gel, or perhaps oil, all over the windshields of most of the competition. He was able to plug the hole, work his way to the front only to cut a tire in front of the field resulting in damage to both Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. Considering where they finished the race, it’s likely safe to say no harm, no foul outside of his own result — a 35th-place finish.
11. @ClintBowyer (LW: NR)
It’s been a frustrating season for Bowyer who needed his third-place run on Sunday just to restore his good juju heading into the World Series where he is an avid Kansas City Royals fan.
12. @KaseyKahne (LW: 11)
The No. 5 team’s topsy-turvy run for a championship ended under frustrating circumstances on Sunday at Talladega. Kahne finished 12th in the GEICO 500 and had earned a top-8 in the points finish but was bumped to ninth due to 10th-place Keselowski winning the race. Kahne was left lamenting a missed opportunity from Kansas.
13. @DaleJr (LW: 13)
Earnhardt did everything he was supposed to do to win Talladega — his only path to advance in the Chase but the efforts came up just short, especially when he was turned by Greg Biffle late in the race. The magical run for he and departing crew chief Steve Letarte ended at Earnhardt’s most storied stomping ground.
14. @JimmieJohnson (LW: 14)
The six-time and defending champion also gave a last-ditch effort at Talladega all he had, leading the most laps in the process but was just bullied out of the lead by Team Penske and Ryan Newman late in the race. NASCAR will have a new champion by the end of the season.
15. @LandonCassill (LW: NR)
It took 147 starts but Landon Cassill finally has a top-10 in the Sprint Cup Series and it comes with it the distinction of his first top-5 as well. It’s only restrictor plate racing but someone please sign this guy to a major team because he’s a savvy smart driver who most proves it at Daytona and Talladega.