Joey Logano wins at Talladega to advance in Sprint Cup Chase
On a day that earlier claimed a couple of top Sprint Cup title contenders, Joey Logano emerged victorious in Sunday’s Chase elimination race at Talladega Superspeedway.
Logano survived a series of late cautions to win, although The Big One — a wreck that often claims half the field at the 2.66-mile track — never really came.
A single-car incident in which the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driven by Alex Bowman got out of sorts and slid through the grass brought out the final caution, setting up a green-white-checkered overtime finish.
Underdog Brian Scott, who is not in the Chase and was gunning for his first career Sprint Cup victory, started on the outside of the front row along with Logano on the final restart.
But Logano, driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, had fellow Chaser Kevin Harvick pushing him from behind and surged to the lead. He then held off Scott, who finished second in his No. 44 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, and the rest of the field for the victory.
“I was able to stay on the bottom and try to run the bottom and keep everyone in line, and that worked out really well,” said Logano said. “Kevin did a good job with that, which ultimately got us all a great finish.
“It was fun racing there at the end. I was really confused. I didn’t know what lane to pick coming to the last restart, but I knew Kevin had a lot of experience in these situations and is great at speedway racing, so he did a good job of pushing me out. Then I had to defend the top lane with Brian Scott, so a couple of Fords out front here at Talladega is pretty cool.”
Usually at Talladega, it’s wrecks that claim the most victims.
But on Sunday, engines were the culprits for Chasers Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski.
When the motors in both of their cars blew, their Chase hopes went up in smoke along with them. As the Chase playoff field was trimmed from 12 drivers to four, they unexpectedly took their seats on the championship sidelines along with Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott at the end of the tumultuous day.
Advancing to the Round of 8 in the playoffs were Logano, Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin, who finished third and advanced over Dillon by virtue of a tiebreaker as they both finished the Round of 12 with the same number of points.
Joining Logano, Scott and Hamlin in the top five of the final finishing order Sunday were Kurt Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., with Kyle Larson, Harvick, Aric Almirola, Dillon and AJ Allmendinger rounding out the top 10.
Keselowski came in on the outside of the Chase cutoff line, knowing he very well might need to win to advance to the Round of 8 in the playoffs. And for much of the afternoon, it looked like he was right on track to do so.
But after leading 90 laps, which still held up as the race-high total in the 192-lap event, the engine let go in Keselowski’s No. 2 Team Penske Ford on Lap 144. It expired after debris got caught on his grill several laps earlier, causing the engine to overheat.
“We came here to win and we were doing what we needed to do, but it just didn’t play out the way we wanted,” Keselowski said.
It wasn’t the only unexpected development on the day.
Earlier, Truex lost an engine in the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota just 41 laps after starting the race from the pole.
Truex and Keselowski came into the race tied for the lead in most Sprint Cup victories this year with four, and Truex had led more laps than any other driver this year. Truex even won two of the first three Chase races, appearing to set himself up for a title run.
But early on at Talladega, Truex reported first a vibration and then smoke in his Toyota. Soon after that the engine in his Toyota let go, punching a big hole in the oil pan.
And that ended all 2016 title hopes for Truex.
“Just developed a vibration and started to lose a little bit of power,” said Truex. “Originally I thought it could have been a tire because it was shaking worse and worse and worse until it was time to pit. I slowed down to hit pit road and felt the vibration still there and knew it was the engine.”
Logano, meanwhile, won the fall race at 'Dega for the second consecutive year, overcoming an incident earlier in the race that seemed to dim his hopes not only for the win, but possibly for Chase advancement. During what should have been a routine pit stop on Lap 40, Logano took off in his No. 22 Team Penske Ford with the jack still underneath his car.
Remarkably, Logano made it all the way around the 2.66-mile track without the jack jarring loose. He served a stop-and-go penalty, during which the jack was removed, and went on to make his way back up front to eventually win the race.