- Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 October 2012 15:58
- Published on Wednesday, 10 October 2012 15:58
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Last Sunday’s Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 was very much a four-wheeled version of the Alabama Lottery in which any one of the 43 starting drivers was a potential winner. And for 12 of them, qualifiers for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, it’s the “wild card” event of the 10-race post season.
Matt Kenseth escaped perhaps the biggest and baddest, “Big One” since the speedway opened in 1969. The pileup occurred on the 4th turn of the final lap of the race and was triggered by Tony Stewart’s Chevrolet pulling down in front of Michael Waltrip’s Toyota. Waltrip, unable to avoid running into Stewart, sent Stewart sliding into the higher groove of oncoming traffic. From that point on it was complete chaos. In a post race interview, Stewart accepted responsibility for triggering the wreck.
Jeff Gordon, running near the front, was able to pick his way through the spinning cars unscathed to once-again notch a second place finish. Gordon has now climbed from 12th place to sixth, 42 points behind Keselowski. Gordon has an outside chance at a 5th championship. He will however, need some help in the form of a disappointing finish or two from the top ranked drivers between now and the season ending race at Homestead in November.
No fall Talladega winner has gone on to become the Sprint Cup champion during the Chase era. And Talladega has ruined the hopes of many. A top-10 finish, no easy task, is the goal for members of the Chase field.
Two streaks were on the line. Spring Talladega winner and points-leader Brad Keselowski’s bid for a season sweep, the first at the track since 2007. And Clint Bowyer, trying to win the track’s fall race for the third straight year. He won in 2010 as a Chase driver; a year ago as a “spoiler.”
Jimmie Johnson’s run at a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup title could hinge on a decent Talladega finish. Johnson, went into Sunday’s race trailing Keselowski by five points. Johnson came through the last lap melee with a 17th place finish and dropped to 14 points behind Keslowski. His first record, a restrictor-plate finish, ties this season and was 26th at Talladega in last year’s fall race.
Non-Chase drivers have won four of the eight fall races at Talladega under the current post-season format. Chase qualifier or not, anyone in the 43-car field is a contender for Talladega Superspeedway’s checkered flag. Since the Chase for the Sprint Cup began in 2004, four of the eight fall Talladega winners – Dale Jarrett, Brian Vickers, Jamie McMurray and Clint Bowyer – came from outside the Chase field. The eventual NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has never won the fall Talladega race in the Chase era.
Seven of this year’s 12 Chase qualifiers (Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon) have a victory at the Alabama track. Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex Jr., Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth went into Sunday’s race still looking for one.
Some drivers regard Talladega Superspeedway with trepidation. Not NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader Brad Keselowski, winner of the track’s spring race earlier this year and in 2009, when he scored his first of nine series victories. Keselowski, who scored Chase win No. 2 at Dover International Speedway, led Jimmie Johnson by five points entering the fourth round of the post season. Denny Hamlin was 16 points behind Keselowski in third place.
Heading to this Saturday night’s “Bank of America 500” at Charlotte, Keselowski leads Jimmie Johnson by 14 points and Denny Hamlin, in third place, by 23 points. Kasey Kahne, 4th, is 36 points back. Clint Bowyer is 5th, 40 points behind, and Jeff Gordon, in 6th place, 43 points out of the lead. For any driver behind Gordon to win the crown, they would pretty much have to sweep the final 6 races. Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth held the NASCAR Sprint Cup points lead 21 times during this year’s regular season. Now they’re 9th and 12th, respectfully.