Joey Logano did what no other driver has done in NASCAR in the last eight years, sweeping the three races in a Chase round as he won the NASCAR Sprint Cup CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway Sunday. Logano won in a controversial finish that took NASCAR a few minutes to figure out and had huge implications for several drivers in NASCAR’s Chase.
The controversy actually erupted on Tuesday when NASCAR ruled that there would only be one attempt at a green-white-checkered flag finish instead of the traditional three. With only two cautions, leading up to Sunday’s finish the race saw no actual accidents until the final laps. Jamie McMurray lost an engine with five laps to go setting up the only attempt at a green-white-checkered flag finish. On the first attempt, Jimmie Johnson was spun behind the leaders and NASCAR threw a caution prior to the field crossing the start-finish line. NASCAR ruled that there would be another attempt.
On the second attempt, the field did cross the line but a huge crash erupted behind them and NASCAR again threw the yellow flag again freezing the field. After several minutes, NASCAR declared Logano the winner.
“Everyone just stacked up behind us,” Logano said. “They were trying to time the restart so much and if the leader goes late in the box it stacks the field up a lot. That is a product of everyone laying back and timing the start and the start not going how they planned it.”
The finish left Dale Earnhardt Jr., who led a race high 61 laps, in second and eliminated from the Chase.
“I couldn’t believe he (Joey Logano) gave me the bottom,” Earnhardt said. “I was like ‘man this is a gift.’ I was going to win the race for sure, but that caution came out.”
Earnhardt came into the race needing to win to advance and for much of the race he was the car to beat. The only issues for Earnhardt came on pit road. Pitting under green, he twice smoked the tires on his Chevy forcing a tire change .Then on lap 122, Earnhardt was penalized from a crewmember coming over the wall too soon and forced back in for a pass through. He rejoined the field 27th and was in danger of going a lap down until the first caution of the race came out when Justin Allgaier lost an engine on lap 132. Because of the caution, Earnhardt stayed on the lead lap, restarted 21st and was back inside the top 10 within 11 laps.
While Earnhardt was up front, several other Chase contenders were struggling. Martin Truex Jr. fell to the rear of the field after his qualifying time was disallowed. He spent much of the day deep in the field, but rallied to finish 7th and was able to advance to the next round. The news was not as good for Denny Hamlin. Hamlin had a latch on the roof egress door break forcing him to pit for repairs several times. Hamlin was swept up in the final crash ,finished 37th and outside the Chase cutoff. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch who was outside the cutoff much of the race, was able to avoid the final carnage finish 11th and move onto the next round. Jeff Gordon was third, Brad Keselowski fourth and Carl Edwards fifth.
Kevin Harvick had engine issues in the final laps but was able to hold on and finish 15th to advance. Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth never had the speed to contend for the win and finished 12th and 26th respectively and were eliminated.
“I don’t know if I clipped the 6 (Trevor Bayne) or if he came across as I was coming up,” Harvick said. “It was one of those days where everything went well until the very end until the bottom fell out on those lap couple of restarts when it cooled off. It has a broken exhaust pipe or something.”
In addition to scoring his sixth win of the season, Logano becomes the first driver to sweep three races in the Chase, the last being Jimmie Johnson in 2007. Johnson had also competed a three race sweep in 2004. Both of Johnson’s sweeps however came when there was no elimination rounds in the Chase.
“It is amazing,” Logano said. “Dreams come true I guess. We have to keep this dream rolling. We have a long way to go. We are back to zero going into Martinsville so we need to make something happen in the next three races.”
After his elimination, Earnhardt was still able to smile.
“Another 100 yards I would have been in the lead, but NASCAR makes the calls,” he said. “They are the governing body and I have 100 percent faith in the choices that they make. I’m not going to be too upset about it. I did everything I could. I’m proud of myself. I’m proud of my team. My guys did a good job on pit road. We had a little issue, but if this group sticks together we are going to do great things next year. I believe in all of them. I’m proud of what we did. We can sit here and pout about this day, but we didn’t do good enough in the first two races of this round. If we had done better in those first two races of this round we would not be worried about losing by a splitter.”
Paul Menard was sixth, Truex 7th, Clint Bowyer was 8th with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kurt Busch rounding out the top ten. The full race results can be found here.
The first race in the Eliminator Round the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway takes place next Sunday. The green flag will fall just after 1:15 p.m. ET with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network.