TALLADEGA, Ala. The “Big One,” the trademark multi-car accident that Talladega Superspeedway is known for, never happened on Sunday. Instead, only big dreams were shattered.
Martin Truex Jr., one of the best drivers throughout the season and a favorite to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, saw his title hopes cut short early with a blown engine.
Brad Keselowski, the 2012 champ, might have had the best car on the day but also sustained a blown engine to see his dreams dashed.
A rookie won’t win the championship for the first time after Chase Elliott failed to find a way to Victory Lane.
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Feels good to win on a clutch moment like that with the pressure on. I think we ran like a champ.
Joey Logano, after repeating as race champion
And another promising driver, Austin Dillon, might’ve had the worst feeling after losing a tiebreaker with Denny Hamlin for the final spot in the Round of 8 in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. A couple feet separated Dillon and Hamlin from the final transfer spot into the next round.
In the end, only Joey Logano could truly smile after taking the checkered flag and securing his spot among the final eight drivers.
“Feels good to win on a clutch moment like that with the pressure on,” said Logano, who repeated as the race winner. “I think we ran like a champ.”
Logano salvaged what could have been a disastrous day for Team Penske. At least one of the team’s two drivers advanced.
Keselowski appeared to be the heavy favorite much of the race with arguably the best car. He led a race-high 90 laps, but blew an engine on Lap 144.
“Just wasn’t meant to be,” Keselowski said. “We had an incredible car today. Just have to keep pushing.”
That’s what Logano will be doing down the stretch in hopes of getting one of the four spots in the championship round.
The AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Nov. 6 serves as the middle race of the round, and Logano would love to pick up his second career win at the track, which would guarantee him a spot in the championship round.
Just wasn’t meant to be. We had an incredible car today.
Brad Keselowski, after a blown engine ended his title hopes
So would the rest of the drivers in the Round of 8; all of them have to feel good about their chances. Joe Gibbs Racing, in particular, has a strong history at Texas and all four of its drivers advanced.
Hamlin seemed more relieved than anything after Sunday’s race, as his three teammates (Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards) opted to drop to the back of the pack and play it safe to keep their points positions intact.
Hamlin didn’t have that luxury going into the race, sitting 10th in points, and needing to make a move. He did that barely by finishing third, only 0.006 seconds ahead of fourth-place finisher Kurt Busch.
As Hamlin put it afterward, “We’re on house money at this point.”
If Hamlin would have finished behind Busch, Dillon would have advanced to the Round of 8.
“I guess it wasn’t our day to do it,” Dillon said. “We tried. ... It sure stinks to lose it on a tiebreaker.”
Along with Logano and the four JGR drivers, two Stewart-Haas drivers (Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick) and Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports are in the Round of 8.
Harvick and Kurt Busch, however, don’t appear to be on good terms at this critical stage. After the race, Harvick confronted Busch on pit road and the two had a heated moment. Harvick said he wasn’t happy that Busch ran into him on the cool-down lap.
“I don’t really understand that,” Harvick said. “[Our car] didn’t have a scratch on it until then.”
Said Busch: “He has a misunderstanding of the call at the end of the race. He will understand it. … For us, we are great teammates. We are doing good together. We have to work together to beat all these other teams out there and he knows that.”
That’s part of the beauty of the Chase format that gets everyone’s competitive juices flowing. Moments such as that have become commonplace in the three years of its existence.
There isn’t even much time to celebrate. Just ask Logano.
“It’s nice to be able to move onto the next round, great feeling for about 20 minutes,” Logano said. “Already thinking about Martinsville.”