By Kelly Crandall – The most anticipated race of the Chase has arrived as the 12 remaining contenders head to Talladega Superspeedway for the second round of eliminations.
Only two drivers, @JoeyLogano and @KevinHarvick, head to the restrictor plate race knowing they are locked into the Eliminator Round. That comfort delivered courtesy of their wins at Kansas and Charlotte, respectively. It leaves 10 drivers fighting for the six remaining spots.
Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway didn’t change much in terms of the four drivers who are sitting on the outside looking in. After problems in Kansas, Brad @Keselowski along with Hendrick Motorsports teammates @JimmieJohnson and @DaleJr., who remain the bottom three in points, although Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. swapped positions.
With a 10th place finish, @KaseyKahne moved himself from ninth in points to eighth, swapping the position with Matt Kenseth. He will hold the final spot the bottom four are aiming for to remain in the Chase heading to Talladega.
Troubles on the Track and in the Chase
Brad Keselowski and @MattKenseth weren’t thinking of their Chase positions on Saturday as both had bigger fish to fry. And it was with each other after making contact both on the racetrack and because of actions in the garage.
On a late race restart in which Keselowski was on the front row outside and Kenseth lined up behind him fourth, Kenseth was squeezed into the wall by the No. 2. It damaged the right side of Kenseth’s Toyota and his race was never the same afterwards.
Kenseth ended up finishing 19th and with a 13th place result in Kansas, he’s now ninth in points, but only one marker behind eighth place Kahne. The 2003 Sprint Cup champion is a two-time winner at Talladega, the last having come in the Chase race of 2012.
Keselowski, on the other hand, found himself 36th in Kansas and 16th in Charlotte, which he blamed on Kenseth. According to the 2012 champion, Kenseth knocked his right front off, and it resulted in him going backwards late. Keselowski will head to Talladega, where he also has two wins and last won in 2012, sitting 10th in points, 19 behind an advancement position.
Johnson Sinking Fast
Johnson struggled all night in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet at arguably one of his best tracks where he has seven previous wins, including one in May. Late Saturday things even became tense over the radio between him and crew chief Chad Knaus about the car’s ill handling. Johnson heads to Talladega also a past winner, twice, the last coming in 2011.
Johnson sits 26 points behind eighth place in points, another Hendrick teammate, Kahne. The six-time and defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion is in danger of missing the Chase after finishing 40th in Kansas and 17th in Charlotte.
Broken Shifter but Not Chase Dreams
Dale Earnhardt Jr. turned 40 on Friday in Charlotte and then said he was going to win the race because he was that confident in his car. When the 334-lap event started, the story was different.
Earnhardt fought a vibration most of the night to start then had his gear shifter break on Lap 137. It took three attempts for the No. 88 team to find a solution that would work for the remainder of the event. However, the damage had been done, and Earnhardt Jr. spent the rest of the night running around the 23rd position trying to get a lap back.
He never did and wound up with a 20th place finish. After crashing from the lead in Kansas and finishing 39th, Earnhardt Jr. finds himself 12th in points heading into Talladega.
He’s won at the superspeedway five times, the last being in the fall of 2004.
“Go out there and win it. We can do it; we have won there a lot of time. I know what we need to do. We will just have to build a fast car and hope that we don’t have any gremlins and try to go out there and win it,” he said.
“We had a lot of gremlins tonight. We had a good car in practice and we never could get a chance to show it. The vibration just tore the car all apart. Broke the shifter and made the car handle real bad.
“We did have a pretty good car all weekend; we were running okay there in the race. I think we could have easily finished in the top-10. The shifter slam broke it half. I mean it is steel, it shouldn’t be breaking, but the vibration was that bad.”
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