Observations• Emotions ran high with drivers on Sunday and even more with fans after the race. Many voiced their displeasure with fan favorites like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson getting eliminated from title contention following the race based on their points position. The reality is poor finishes by both Earnhardt, Johnson and even Brad Keselowski in recent weeks would have made it virtually impossible for them to win the championship under the previous format. The new format – which guarantees advancement with victory – gave them all the same opportunity on Sunday, which Keselowski cashed in.
• A lot was made of Keselowski’s post-race run-ins last week with drivers Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth. Despite any lingering animosity, Kenseth still helped Keselowski with a push on the final restart without regard to the incident. Why? Because it gave Kenseth the best chance to win and the best chance to advance in the Chase, which he did. As much as fans and media may like the “drama,” drivers typically act in their own self interest.
• Hillman Racing doesn’t have near the resources of the top teams in the Cup series, but Landon Cassill’s career-best fourth-place finish showed what is possible on tracks like Daytona and Talladega where the playing field is virtually equal for all teams.
How the remaining Chase drivers fared:
1 . Joey Logano (All drivers reset to 4,000 points)
Already locked in to the Round 3, Logano hoped to be able to assist his Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski in joining and late in the race he was able to do so.
“I thought we did a great job (in this segment) – a win, a fourth and an 11th unfortunately here at Talladega, but we’re doing what we have to do to win this championship,” he said.
2. Kevin Harvick
Harvick joked about sitting out Talladega after winning at Charlotte last week, but he ended up in thick of the hunt for the victory on Sunday. He got caught up in an accident on Lap 60 and ended up with a ninth-place finish.
3. Ryan Newman
Newman had one of his best performances of the season and was in position to win late in the race but Keselowski, with help from Logano, got around him for the lead.
After the race, NASCAR said Newman’s car was found to be too low on both sides of the rear of the car. Any penalties will be announced early this week. The typical penalty for the infraction would not affect Newman’s Chase eligibility.
4. Denny Hamlin
Hamlin was holding his breath late in the race as he was precariously close to missing the cut to advance to Round 3 of the Chase.
“I hate lagging in the back, but couldn’t afford to have what happened to (Kyle Busch) happen to us and take our chances out,” he said.
5. Matt Kenseth
When it came down to crunch time, Kenseth went with what would give him the best chance at victory – and that was giving an assist to Keselowski on the final restart. Kenseth ended up finishing second and advanced to Round 3.
6. Carl Edwards
Edwards stayed out of trouble and finished 21st – nothing spectacular but good enough to be among the eight drivers to move on.
7. Jeff Gordon
Gordon spent virtually the entire race running around near the back of the pack, hoping to avoid trouble. He succeeded and still advanced with a 26th-place finish.
8. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski leads the series with six wins and none was more timely than Sunday’s, which he needed to continue his quest for a second series championship. Without the victory, his title chances would be gone.
Chase drivers already eliminated:
9. Kyle Busch
10. A.J. Allmendinger
11. Jimmie Johnson
12. Greg Biffle
13. Kurt Busch
14. Kasey Kahne
15. Kurt Busch
16. Aric Almirola
Five key moments
1. Jimmie Johnson led the first lap and the most in the race (84).
2. A wreck on Lap 60 did damage to Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch but all were able to continue on.
3. Johnson and Ryan Newman were trading the lead when a debris caution bunched the field and sent the race into the first of two two-lap overtimes.
4. On the first restart, Keselowski got a push from Joey Logano to get around Newman for the lead.
5. On the final restart on Lap 193, Keselowski got some unexpected assistance with a push from Matt Kenseth which helped propel him to victory.