Any visit to Talladega Superspeedway makes drivers and teams nervous. After all the 2.66 mile speedway is notorious for the legendary ‘big one’ the multi-car crash that makes predicting a finishing order nearly impossible. The ‘big one’ is the main reason the second Talladega, the fourth race in NASCAR’s Chase, is known as the wild card race.
Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Talladega was easily one of the best of the season with three and four wide racing, no dominant driver and a nervous air nearly the entire race. Several cars came close to crashing but were able to hold on forcing fans and the rest of the field to catch their collective breath. The ‘big one’ did happen but not until the final turn on the final lap. A melee ignited by Tony Stewart that swept up 24 cars, the largest crash in Chase history, and left the frontstretch littered with debris. Matt Kenseth was able to rocket ahead of the carnage for his second win of the season.
With the smoke settled and the finishing order was finally somewhat sorted out, the 2012 Chase field really didn’t change all that much; Brad Keselowski still leads, with Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin close behind.
View slideshow: The Big One at Talladega, Sunday, October 8, 2012
Jeff Gordon was the biggest mover surviving to score his second runner up finish in a row and move up to sixth in the standings, but he only gained 6 points on the leader and leaves Talladega 42 points out of first.
Brad Keselowski was scored seventh as he was able to squeeze through the crash at the end and limp to the finish line in seventh. While that might spell disaster any other week, BK actually solidified his hold on the top spot gained 9 points on second place.
Jimmie Johnson’s Chevy finished the day on the back of a wrecker, he was scored in 17th. Fortunately for him many of his other Chase contenders finished their day the same way. Johnson remained in second 14 points out of first and very much still in it.
Denny Hamlin was another lucky dog Sunday. He was able to make it through the final lap crash and came home 14th. He only lost 7 points and is just 23 out of first.
Kasey Kahne started from the pole, but that was his only real highlight of the afternoon. While he did run inside the top five for the first half of the race, a fuel miscalculation cost him. He ran out of fuel on lap 99, only a caution caused by Kurt Busch kept Kahne from losing more ground than he did. He survived the final melee and was scored 12th. He moved up two spots into fourth, but actually lost points on the lead, dropping five markers from where he started the day and leaves 36 points out of first.
Clint Bowyer nearly pulled off the win Sunday. After laying low most of the race, Bowyer was near the front in the final laps. Bowyer was swept in the final crash and was scored 23rd. He lost one spot and 15 points. Bowyer leaves 40 points out of first.
Jeff Gordon was the biggest mover in the standings gaining four spots thanks to avoiding the final crash and coming home second for the second race in a row. The news wasn’t all that good for Gordon though; while he moved up the leader board he only gained five points and is still and a nearly insurmountable 42 markers out of first.
Tony Stewart was quick to take the blame for setting off the final crash, blaming himself for trying to block Michael Waltrip and making a mistake that sent him airborne. Stewart finished with a trip to the infield medical center for a checkup and in 22nd place. He lost two spots in the Chase and 11 markers on first. He’s 43 points out of first.
Martin Truex Jr. was nowhere near contention Sunday. Despite that he finished the day by avoiding the crash and finishing 13th. He remained 8th in the Chase and lost five points, leaving Talladega 48 points out of first.
Greg Biffle was finally able to make up some ground in the standings. Biffle looked strong for most of the afternoon and avoided the final crash to finish sixth. Like the others who moved up in the standings though, the news wasn’t good; Biffle only made up two points and is 49 behind the leader.
Kevin Harvick looked strong for some of the afternoon Sunday. He was able to avoid the carnage to finish 11th. However, he lost three points and is now 49 out of first.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the biggest loser in the Chase Sunday. The day started well and Earnhardt looked like he could go all the way to victory lane. He led three times for a total of 18 laps, but was caught up in the crash. He limped home 20th, fell four spots and leaves ‘Dega with a bad taste in his mouth, 51 points out of the lead in 11th, losing 11 points from where he started the day.
Matt Kenseth looked strong all day leading 8 times for 33 laps and in the end scored his second win of the season, the first coming at the first restrictor plate race of the year, the season opening Daytona 500. He remained in 12th spot though gaining only 10 points on the lead. He came into Talladega with a 72 point deficit and leaves 62 points back, both totals giving him no chance at a title in his final season with Roush Racing.
Talladega was a great show with some of the best racing in recent history. The ‘big one’ when it did come affected a lot of the Chase field, but despite the wild finish, the three Chase contenders at the top of the field stretched their lead out and it’s looking more like a three way battle between Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin as the series heads home to Charlotte Motor Speedway for Saturday nights Bank of America 500.
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