By Steve Mickey
Joey Logano continued one of the hottest streaks in the brief history of the Sprint Cup Chase as he became the first ever driver to sweep all three races in one Round. The Contender Round this season might just be remembered as the Logano Round as he won all three races at Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega. The win Sunday at Talladega was the toughest of the three as it went down to a green-white-checkered finish that ended up with NASCAR officials having to look at a video tape of the finish before it could officially declare the winner.
Logano’s domination of the round forced ever one of the other eleven Chase drivers to enter the race Sunday knowing that they were going to have to race their way into the Eliminator Round. While every one of those eleven drivers wanted to capture the checkered flag, points racing was on the mind of all but Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth who had to win in order to advance on through the playoffs.
Earnhardt Jr. entered the race as the favorite because of his past success at the track and it was no secret he was also the fan favorite. It didn’t take long for him to take the lead and like he has done so many times before at a restrictor plate track, he began putting on a clinic on how to control and lead the draft. It looked as if he was on his way to securing the win and advancing until he was hit with a costly pit-road penalty that forced him to come back down pit road for a drive through.
Once back on the track he had lost the draft and was in danger of going a lap down until a timely caution allowed him to restart in the back of the draft but it wasn’t long until he was able to drive his Chevrolet back to the lead. He stayed there until the last pit stop when he slid his tires as he was slowing down entering pit road. The slide forced his crew to change right side tires while the rest of the leaders just taking on enough gas to make it to the finish. Having to put on the tires cost him the lead and control of the draft.
He drove his way back up to second following Logano when a late caution set up a green-white-checkered finish. The finish was going to be the first under NASCAR’s new rule that stated there would only one attempt at a green-white-checkered finish at the restrictor plate track.
On the restart, NASCAR ruled that the caution had been thrown before the race had actually gone back to green as the lead drivers had not passed the start/finish line. This set up one more attempt at a green-white-checkered finish and with it the hopes of every driver still trying to drive their way into the Eliminator win by finishing in the top-eight in points.
Logano and Earnhardt Jr. once again started side by side on the restart and remained that way past the start/finish line but in their rear view mirror was the sight of Kevin Harvick triggering a major crash that caused the caution flag to wave. Since the leader had crossed the start/finish line, the field was frozen at the time of the crash.
NASCAR had to go to the video tape to not only declare Logano the winner but to also set the rest of the finishing order. When it was all over, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth were eliminated from moving on to the Eliminator Round.
CHASE NOTES: Jeff Gordon is the favorite next week at Martinsville as he has posted the most wins with eight, and his 6.9 average finish is tops among Chase drives. Martin Truex Jr. may be one of the drivers in trouble at Martinsville as he is tied with Kurt Busch, Joey Logano and Carle Edwards with the fewest top-10’s with five. His 22.9 average finish is the worst of the Chase drivers.