Sunday Talladega Notebook
(Getty Images Photo) By REID SPENCER
TALLADEGA, Ala. – The effective end of Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway came moments after Kevin Harvick’s Chevrolet clipped Trevor Bayne’s Ford and ignited a multicar wreck in the tri-oval during the one attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish.
The caution ended the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title run for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was inches behind race winner Joey Logano when the caution lights illuminated.
But the wreck also kept Harvick in the Chase, a position that was in jeopardy with his car faltering on the final laps. Two drivers who failed to advance to the Eliminator Round, Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, were quick to accuse Harvick of causing the crash on purpose, after both were victims of the late-race chaos.
“The 4 knew he was blew up, so he said he was going to stay in his lane, so the 6 (Bayne) then went up and outside, and he (Harvick) clipped him and caused a wreck because he knew he’d make the Chase that way,” said Kenseth, who was leading at Kansas a week earlier before contact from Logano’s Ford sent him spinning with less than five laps left.
“I got wrecked out two weeks in a row from people doing what they had to do to make the Chase, but call it what you want.”
Naturally enough, Harvick had a different version of the events.
“It wasn’t running really well on the restarts,” Harvick said of his No. 4 Chevy. “Then at the end, I was trying to get out of the way. I don’t know if I clipped the 6 or if he came across as I was coming up.
“It was one of those days where everything went well until the very end, until the bottom fell out on those last couple of restarts when it cooled off. It has a broken exhaust pipe or something.”
NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton said the sanctioning body reviewed the incident and found nothing untoward.
“Procedurally, from NASCAR, we don’t see anything that is of suspect so far,” Helton said of Harvick’s move on the final restart. “The only thing I mean about ‘so far’ is I’ve been around long enough to know that something could crawl out of the woodwork in the next 24 hours.”
TRUEX OVERCOMES ADVERSITY TO ADVANCE IN CHASE
Martin Truex Jr.’s team neglected to tell the driver about a change in qualifying procedure for Sunday’s race at Talladega—and it almost cost him a spot in the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
NASCAR had informed its teams that dipping below the yellow line coming to the finish was no longer allowed during time trials. Unaware of the change, Truex did just that. As a result his qualifying time was disallowed, and Truex started dead last in Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500.
After a slow green-flag pit stop, Truex lost contact with the main draft and eventually lost a lap, which he didn’t regain until he got a “lucky dog” as the highest scored lapped car under the races first caution (Lap 132).
Back on the lead lap, Truex survived the chaos at the end of the race and finished seventh, advancing to the Eliminator Round of the Chase with 12 points to spare.
“I felt like I was on the seesaw today,” Truex said after the race. “It’s crazy how fast things can change and how much is out of your control. We were sitting out there riding a lap down for about 100 laps, thinking that we were going to need an act of God to get back on the lead lap and have a fighting chance. We kept fighting and fighting, and had a good sequence of green-flag stops to establish ourselves in that front single-file line ahead of the guys we were racing.
“Then we got lucky and got a caution. Once we were back in the game, we felt good about it. But it was still nerve-wracking down to the end. The first (aborted attempt at a green-white-checkered), I spun the 48 slap out in front of me, and I was never on the gas pedal. I was on the brake as hard as I could without locking up the front tires. I was getting hit over and over. The 48 got spun and luckily we didn’t get spun out, or our day would have been over.”
GORDON ADVANCES BUT REGRETS HE COULDN’T HELP EARNHARDT
Comparatively speaking, Jeff Gordon’s third-place finish at Talladega was uneventful, but despite advancing comfortably into the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Gordon did have one major regret at the end of the race.
“I hate it that I didn’t have Dale Jr in front of me on that last restart,” Gordon said. “I got kind of excited about pushing him there at the end and get both him and me in the next round.”
But race winner Joey Logano made an astute choice before the final restart, electing to take the green from the outside lane in front of Gordon, rather than in front of Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski on the bottom. Gordon and Earnhardt had worked effectively together throughout the afternoon, and Logano’s choice ultimately gave him enough of an edge to win by inches when NASCAR called the final caution.
“That was pretty smart of the Penske guys to split themselves up,” Gordon acknowledged. “I had too much on the line, so all I could do and get a good restart and not lose spots. We were still in jeopardy, too. I thought maybe we could push Joey a little bit and then go to the middle and go three-wide and try to find a way to help Junior.
“But we just could never get a chance to see it unfortunately (because a wreck ended the last restart almost as soon as it began). I had a lot of fun out there. It’s fun having a race car that strong. I’m so proud of this race team. They never quit, they never give up, and I can’t believe we’re going to round three. I said all along that if we got to round three, we have an excellent shot to get to Homestead.”
Now Gordon has a chance to prove it.