The Talldega Superspeedway in Alabama is notorious for being brutal, the results always being unpredictable as fans and drivers alike maintain vigilance to see where the next “big one,” or multiple car crash will happen. It is not a matter of whether or not one of the signature wrecks will occur, as it always does. The close quarters draft-style racing leaves little room for error, and the pressure of this week’s race being the last opportunities for driver to get a win and cinch a spot in the next round of the chase meant that the teams needing that win were forced to take chances that could lead to disaster. This trademark Talladega recipie for destruction came to fruition and when the smoke cleared, several perennial chase contenders were left with their hopes for moving on crushed.
Among the drivers needing to win on Sunday were Dale Earnhart Jr., Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, and six-time champion Jimmie Johnson. This race was crucial for all of them, and each one ended up a casualty of the Superspeedway. They were all eliminated from the next round of the chase, and Championship contention, in one fell swoop. Kyle Busch was eliminated by the famous Talladega “big one” and he was sent to the garage with 85 laps to go. He was able to finish the race after effecting repairs, but 48 laps behind the leaders, all hope of continuing on in the chase was lost. Dale Jr. and Jimmie Johnson both spent significant time at the front of the pack, and for a long time it looked like they would be battlilng for the checkered flag between them. Though both had strong cars, each lost their lead as the race came to a close. Dale Jr. started getting loose in the latter part of the race and began losing ground that he was never able to make up. He made moves several times to try to get back to the front of the pack, but was stuck in traffic for too long to have the time to make that move. Johnson looked like the clear favorite, but fell at the end without significant help from any drafting partners. He will not be making a run for a seventh title this year. Kahne was the third Hendrick Motorsports driver to fall short of the next round of the chase at Talladega, making it a rough day all around for the team. Kahne was on the bubble with points for the entire day, but ended up losing the battle for position and being eliminated with the win by Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski took the lead to seal the deal with a push from Matt Kenseth to get past Ryan Newman. This was a combination that confused many fans, as Keselowski was fined $50,000 last Saturday for post-race run-ins with Kenseth and Denny Hamlin. Almost certainly Kenseth believed that he would have the room and time to complete a pass and take the win from Keselowski, but that is not how events unfolded when all was finished at Talladega. Strange bedfellows are made in the types of situations that arise at this daunting track.
Whether it was being crushed under the weight of the fickle Talladega Superspeedway or just a string of bad luck, several Perennial chase contenders lost their hope of making it until the end this Sunday. Despite being a fan favorite venue, it doubtful that these drivers will be ranking Talladega among their favorite tracks anytime soon.
Commentary By Jim Malone