Joey Logano won his sixth race of the season Sunday barely holding off Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the win and the sweep of the Contender Round. It was a controversial finish after a sedate race that didn’t even see a caution until after the halfway point. Here’s how it all went down Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.
Jeff Gordon led the field to the green with his second Talladega pole of the season, as he did in May, Kasey Kahne was second on the outside; Ryan Newman voluntarily went to the back from his 18th starting spot. Gordon was able to move out to the lead; Jimmie Johnson slid into second, Dale Earnhardt Jr. third. Kahne led a line on the outside just above Earnhardt. By lap 3 Kahne on the outside had slipped back and Kevin Harvick was fourth on the inside.
The two lines had met up by la six and Gordon was moving up and down to block; Earnhardt took over second as Harvick and Johnson dueled for third. Earnhardt slipped by and took the lead from Gordon on lap 7. Denny Hamlin was soon charging up the outside and took the lead on lap 11; the field was three wide behind. Earnhardt and Gordon were side by side in front of two lines, while Harvick led a third line low on the inside and further behind. On lap 13 Earnhardt dropped to the bottom and soon had a slight advantage over Hamlin. On lap 15 Earnhardt had a clear lead and was moving up and down to block. Hamlin was close behind as there were three lines. Hamlin went back to the lead to start lap 17. Hamlin was shuffled back behind a lapped car on lap 18 and Gordon was back at the front outside of Earnhardt.
Earnhardt was back into the lead on lap 19 ahead of Gordon, Johnson was third, Kahne fourth and Joey Logano fifth. The top five were single file on the bottom. By lap 26 the top seven were single file and had broken away from the pack.
Green flag pit stops started on lap38; Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney were the first to stop; Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin followed a lap later. 15 cars including Harvick and Kurt Busch pitted a lap later. Earnhardt pitted from the lead on lap 41; Gordon, Kahne and the rest of the top 10 followed.
When the stops cycled through, Johnson led, Jamie McMurray was second, Kahne was third, Earnhardt fourth and Logano fifth. Earnhardt was third by lap 45, Kyle Larson was fourth, Gordon fifth. Kahne took over second on lap 46, Larson was fourth, Gordon fifth. The field was single file by lap 51.
A second line led by Hamlin had started by lap 59 and was slowly creeping forward. Blaney dropped down on lap 62 and took the front spot in the lower line. Earnhardt made a move and took over second on lap 63 as the bottom line approached. Earnhardt dropped down and retook the lead on lap 64.
Martin Truex Jr. who was running at the back and had a slow pit stop, went a lap down on lap 68. By lap 72, the leaders behind Earnhardt began shuffling; Paul Menard was second, Hamlin was third, David Gilliland was fourth and Johnson fifth as another round of green flag stops loomed. Gilliland moved to third on lap 75. A lap later Gilliland moved high and began dropping back. Green flag stops began on lap 78, led by Newman. Menard, Hamlin, Logano, Blaney, Kyle Busch, Keselowski and others came in on lap 80. Earnhardt, Kurt Busch, and Gordon were among those who came in a lap later.
When the stops cycled through, Menard led, Logano was second, Blaney was third, Keselowski was fourth Johnson fifth. Earnhardt was charging hard from sixth. Logano went to the lead on lap 84, Menard was second, Johnson third; Earnhardt and Kahne were side by side for fourth. With a flapping roof panel, Hamlin was forced to pit on lap 86 as Logano took the lead, Johnson went to second. Hamlin came back out in 30th. Blaney lost and engine and retired on lap 90.
Hamlin was forced to pit again as the first repairs didn’t hold and the panel. He pitted again on lap93. At the halfway point Logano and Clint Bowyer was side by side for the lead. Harvick and Kahne were side by side behind them. Hamlin was two laps down in 39th. Harvick was battling Bower for the lead on lap 97; Logano was leading a third line on the bottom. Harvick had the lead on lap 98. By lap 102, Kahne and Harvick were dueling for the lead. Kahne had the lead by lap 104, Harvick was second Gordon and Logano were side by side for third. By lap 106, Kahne led, Harvick was second and Gordon was third.
The top five had broken away by lap 111; Kahne led, Gordon was second, Earnhardt had worked his way to third, Johnson was fourth, Harvick fifth. Hamlin slowed and went another lap down with his roof flap issue on lap 115.
Another round of green flag stops began on lap 119. Casey Mears was pushed from behind and flew across the infield. There was no caution but the leaders all came in for green flag stops a lap later. Earnhardt was penalized for having his crewmembers over the wall too soon and forced back in for a pass through from the lead on lap 122. Earnhardt rejoined the field 27th. Up front the top seven led by Johnson were single file; Larson was second Kane was third, Logano fourth, Gordon fifth.
Justin Allgaier lost an engine on lap 132 and the first caution of the day came out. Earnhardt was close to going a lap down but was still in front of the lead pack, Truex was the first car a lap down and was able to get his lap back.
The 27 cars on the lead lap all came in for stops. Kenseth won the race off pit road followed by Kyle Busch, both who had taken fuel only. Logano, Gordon and Johnson followed with two tires and fuel. Earnhardt pitted, took four tires and restarted 21st.
The first restart of the day came on lap 140 with Kyle Busch and Kenseth side by side. Kyle Busch and the outside line was able to move ahead, Gordon was second, Harvick was third. Busch dropped down to the inside bringing the leader with him on lap 141. Harvick slipped into second as lap 142 started, Kenseth was close behind with Gordon on the outside.
Earnhardt moved to the outside to start a third line on lap 144; he was eighth on lap 145. He moved to the middle and the second line on lap 146 and went to fifth. Leader Kyle Busch moved up to block Earnhardt’s charge in the outside on lap 148 and Earnhardt settled into second, Logano was third. Earnhardt moved to the inside and retook the lead on lap 150. Logano fell into second and Kyle Busch moved to the outside, By lap 152 the top five had broken away. Logano was looking for the lead as Earnhardt moved up and down to block. It was two by two behind Earnhardt on lap 155. Harvick was reporting a possible engine issue as up front Earnhardt moved among whichever line seemed to have momentum.
The final round of green flag stops began deep in the field on lap 165. Up front Earnhardt still led as Logano and Keselowski were side by side behind. McMurray was third. With 21 to go the top seven were single file. Edwards and Kenseth pitted on lap 170 for fuel only. Earnhardt and the rest of the lead came in right after. Earnhardt smoked his tires trying to stop and a fuel only stop became a two tire stop as the rest took fuel only; Earnhardt was the fourth in line leaving.
When the pit stops cycled through, Logano led, Keselowski was second, Menard was third, McMurray fourth and Newman fifth. Earnhardt was 11th.
With 13 to go Earnhardt was eighth and the top 20 was single file. Earnhardt dropped to the inside with 10 to go and tried to move forward. With no help, Earnhardt moved back up in line to fourth . Meanwhile, Greg Biffle had yet to pit and was 36 seconds in front. Behind the pack led by Logano was leading the main pack and trying to black Earnhardt and others from moving forward. Earnhardt was third with seven to go. McMurray began to smoke as he lost an engine with five laps to go and the second caution came out.
The caution set up the one attempt at a green white checkered flag finish mandated earlier in the week by NASCAR. Biffle pitted for fuel just as the field got the one to go. The move left Logano first and Earnhardt second. Logano chose the outside leaving Earnhardt on the inside. Logano was in front of Earnhardt’s teammate Gordon, Earnhardt was in front of Logano’s teammate Keselowski. Harvick reported a sour engine and said he would stay high to avoid issues.
On the restart, Johnson was spun from behind after getting pushed by Truex, Larson also spun and the caution immediately flew; NASCAR said it was not an attempt at a restart as the field had not reached the start-finish line and the field was lined up again. Kahne pitted under the caution.
It was the same setup at the front as the restart was attempted again. There was a big crash behind the leaders and the finish was in doubt as the caution flew after the field crossed the line. The crash happened when Harvick was slow on the restart; among those caught up were Kenseth and Hamlin, both Chase drivers.
After a few moments of checking replays and scoring loops, Logano was declared the winner. Jeff Gordon was third, Brad Keselowski fourth and Carl Edwards fifth.
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.