Talladega takeaways: 5 things we learned from an ugly afternoon

As far as races go, they don’t get much stranger than Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, which was won by Joey Logano by inches over Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The race ended with not one, but two controversial restarts, one of which was ruled not a restart at all. And after running the first 132 laps caution-free — the most at Talladega since 2002 — predictably, the field got wadded up at the end.

Here are five takeaways from an ugly afternoon at Talladega.

Still alive for five — Jeff Gordon barely made it into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at all, yet he’s navigated his way through the land mines littering the Challenger and Contender Rounds of the Chase. And with big hitters Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin already out of the Chase, Gordon is in a good spot right now. Next up is Martinsville Speedway, where Gordon has eight race victories. If he could win a title in his final season, that would be huge.

Logano is good — Joey Logano had a breakout season last year at Team Penske, when he made it all the way to the Championship Round of the Chase. This year, he’s even better. And the fact that he swept all three races in the Contender Round this time is something no one saw coming — including Logano and team owner Roger Penske. Logano, along with the defending champion Kevin Harvick, have to be considered the title favorites right now.

JGR’s fortunes take a hit — The second round of the Chase saw Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin eliminated from the title hunt. Kenseth is a five-time winner this year and Hamlin’s won twice, with both drivers winning in the first round of the Chase. But now they’re gone and JGR’s hopes of the team’s fourth championship — and a first one for Toyota — rest on Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch. Certainly, Edwards and Busch are capable, but as a team, JGR’s odds got cut way, way down.

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The door is still open — NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton said the sanctioning body didn’t think Kevin Harvick didn’t do anything wrong on the final restart, when he hit Trevor Bayne and triggered a big crash. But that could change, Helton implied after the race. "Obviously there are some of the teams questioning what the 4 car (Harvick) did on the restart," said Helton. "We went back and walked through with them. Procedurally from NASCAR, we don’t see anything there that’s of suspect — so far. We haven’t seen anything. The only thing I mean by ‘so far’ is that I’ve been around racing long enough to know that something could crawl out of the woodworks in the next 24 hours." Wow. Wonder what that could be?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was incredibly gracious — If anyone had reason to be bitter about the outcome of the race, it was Earnhardt, who appeared to be ahead of Logano when the final crash happened but was narrowly behind him when the yellow flag flew. As a result, Earnhardt finished second and was officially eliminated from championship contention. But in his interviews on pit road and in the media center, Earnhardt showed great poise and dignity.  A total class act all the way.