Talladega didn’t disappoint again – at least not to Joey Logano.
Adding another chapter to its long list of unpredictable and often controversial finishes, Talladega Superspeedway ended the second round of NASCAR’s Chase in a most unlikely way Sunday.
Taking advantage of a newly instituted rule limiting the number of green-white-checkered finishes at the sport’s largest track, Logano won the CampingWorld.com 500 by just a few feet over Dale Earnhardt Jr., who needed to win to advance to the third round.
The victory was the third in a row for Logano in the Chase’s second round and sends him into the third round as the clear favorite to win the championship.
“We’ve got momentum, that’s for sure,” said Logano. “This team has been firing on all eight (cylinders) right now. It’s amazing all these different types of racetracks we’ve been able to win at this season, how hard everyone keeps fighting.”
Joining Logano in the eight-driver third round – which begins next Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway – are Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.
Earnhardt, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth were eliminated.
All of this came after a frantic finish Sunday, coming after Jamie McMurray’s engine blew on Lap 196 of 198.
That forced a green-white-checkered finish – the only one that would be required, thanks to a rule change made by NASCAR for Talladega earlier in the week.
With Logano and Earnhardt on the front row, the field began to accelerate on the restart. But before the green flag flew, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson crashed behind the leaders.
That forced another restart – since the overtime hadn’t actually begun without a green flag. This time another wreck happened behind the leaders. Kevin Harvick, another Chase driver, had reported problems with his Chevy earlier, and appeared to slow enough that he wrecked several other cars, including Denny Hamlin (another Chase driver).
That froze the field and, with Logano just a few feet in front of Earnhardt, gave the victory to Logano.
Harvick was accused by several drivers after the race of purposefully causing the accident so he could protect his spot in the standings.
“Obviously there are some teams that questioned what (Harvick) did on a restart,” said NASCAR president Mike Helton. “But procedurally we haven’t seen anything, so far, on the restart that is suspect. We believe that we have done everything procedurally correct so far and (Harvick) did nothing wrong.”
It ended well for Logano, who won in controversial fashion for a second consecutive week. He nudged Kenseth out of the way with five laps remaining to win last week at Kansas Speedway.
And although he performed his postrace spinout amid a hale of debris thrown on the track by disgruntled fans, Logano made no apologies for this victory, either.
“We want the big trophy at the end of the year,” said Logano. “We want to win every trophy in between, but we want the big one at the end of the season.
“What we’ve shown here this last round is a big deal, but the fact of the matter is we’re back to zero again. What we do have going for us that other teams don’t have is a lot of confidence, we got momentum and we’re relaxed. We’ve shown that we know how to do it. We just got to keep going out there and do what we know how to do.”