Capacity: 78, 000
Banking: Turns 1&2 – 33°, Turn 3&4 – 32.5°, Tri Oval- 16.5°, Back Straight – 3°
The Talladega mayhem that NASCAR fans, drivers, and teams have all come to know and dread, was discussed at great length prior to this weekend as anticipation heightened for the Hellmann’s 500 – the elimination race of the second round of The Chase. Announcers, retired drivers, analyzers, and experts all fully expected the kind of drama that we saw at Talladega in May of this year, especially with drivers desperate to keep themselves above the cut line. Shockingly, however, the usual lion’s roar of ‘Dega was more like a kitten’s meow.
Before the race even began, fans saw a very different approach from three of four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers as Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Carl Edwards all pulled onto the apron during the opening pace lap and deliberately fell to the back of the field despite qualifying in the Top 15. All three drivers entered the race several points to the good and were set to advance to the next round as long as they finished 31st or better. Knowing that desperate drivers would charge for the front where there would be a potential wreck, and knowing that a middle-of-the-field wreck statistically would destroy several cars, it seemed the safest place for teammates Busch, Kenseth, and Edwards was in their own little bubble at the back of the pack. And there they stayed – unharmed and unaffected. The team strategy paid off and all three drivers will be advancing to the next round of The Chase.
Uncharacteristically, the multi-car wrecks that were anticipated at this superspeedway were nowhere to be found. Instead, most of the 6 caution flags that flew were for debris, single and two car spins, and most notably: engine failures. Early in the race, Martin Truex Jr‘s engine expired on Lap 49 with just a vibration as a warning. Truex finished the day in 40th position and did not advance to the next round.
Exactly 100 laps later, Brad Keselowski, who had been leading the field, collected debris on the grill of his No.2 Miller Lite Ford. After waiting too long to correct the problem, he waved the No. 21 car of Ryan Blaney around him to use Blaney’s air to suck the debris off the grill. Although the maneuver was successful; unfortunately, it was too late and Keselowski’s engine began to overheat. He immediately dropped onto the apron with noticeable fire spewing from under the car. He then headed straight for the garage. The Team Penske driver had been strong all day with an exceptionally fast car, but this incident essentially ended his run at the championship.
The only crashes of the race occurred on Lap 112 when Greg Biffle, Jeffery Earnhardt, and Casey Mears crashed on the entrance to pit road, and again on Lap 184 when Alex Bowman spun into the grass with only 4 laps to go. Bowman is filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr who is still out with concussion symptoms.
Denny Hamlin and Austin Dillon were tied for points when the checkered flag dropped but because Hamlin finished 3rd and Dillon finished 9th, Hamlin made it into the next round and Dillon was eliminated. Joining Dillon in the elimination was everyone’s favorite rookie, Chase Elliott, along with the aforementioned Martin Truex Jr and Brad Keselowski.
Team Penske driver Joey Logano got off to a rough start when his first pit stop of the day went awry and left the jack under his Shell Pennzoil car. He dragged the jack all the way around the 2.6-mile racetrack and back to the pits where it was removed. Logano was penalized but didn’t miss a lap thanks to the caution flag of Martin Truex Jr. Later, Logano collected debris on the grill just as his teammate Brad Keselowski had done, and concern ensued as the car’s water temperature began to rise. Luckily, some jockeying for position helped to remove the debris and after two successful restarts, Logano ended the race with a lengthy celebration burnout and partying in victory lane. This is his second chase race win at Talladega in the past two years, his second win overall this year, and the 16th of his career.
Tune into NBC on October 30th at 12:30p for the first race in the Round of 8 at Martinsville Speedway. Or, if you can make it to the 0.5-mile track, nicknamed “the paperclip”, buy your tickets HERE.