A year after a somewhat disputed finish, Joey Logano left no doubt Sunday holding off Brian Scott to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega Speedway in a green-white-checkered flag finish. Logano led 45 of the 188 laps including the final 39 for his 16th career win and his second at Talladega.
In last year’s race, Logano was just ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. when a caution flew to freeze the field and end the race. Sunday Logano had a clear lead and easily took the win.
“I was really confused,” Logano said. “I didn’t know what lane to pick coming to the last restart, but I knew Kevin (Harvick) had a lot of experience in these situations and is great at speedway racing, so he did a good job of pushing me out and then had to defend the top lane with Brian Scott, so a couple of Fords out front here at Talladega is pretty cool.”
While there was no drama for Logano at the finish, for Denny Hamlin his championship hopes came down to inches. Exiting the final turn on the final lap, Hamlin was fourth; Austin Dillon who was in ninth held the final transfer spot to the Round of 8. Crossing the line however, Hamlin had just enough momentum to get next to Kurt Busch and just past him to take third. That put Hamlin and Dillon in a tie, with Hamlin taking the final transfer spot via a tiebreaker.
At least two of the favorites entering the Chase saw their 2016 championship stories end badly. Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski both won 4 races in 2016, but both were eliminated.
Polesitter Truex Jr. led laps and looked strong, but on lap 41 the engine in his Furniture Row Toyota let go and ended his race and his Chase run. Truex ended the day 40th.
“Just damn, it just hurts to go out like that,” Truex said. “We could have raced all day, got in a big wreck and still not made it – there’s no telling, but it sure would have been nice to at least find out and at least play the whole game so to speak and see what would have happened. To barely make it to the first pit stop hurts. It’s the way it goes some days. Some things you just can’t explain.”
Keselowski soon became the car to beat. He would go on to lead a race high 90 laps and it appeared to be his race to lose. On lap 139, for the second time in the race, Keselowski had debris on his grille. He slowed and allowed Ryan Blaney to take the lead in an effort to clean it off, but it was futile and his engine let go on lap 144. He finished 38th.
“We just had a tremendous race going,” Keselowski said. “But it wasn’t meant to be.”
Three of the four Joe Gibbs Racing cars; Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch fell to the back of the field and stayed there expecting the “big one” multi-car crash typical of Talladega. That crash never happened. Kenseth finished 28th, Edwards 29th, and Kyle Busch 30th. All three, along with Hamlin advance to the next round. Jimmie Johnson, who along with Harvick had already secured a spot in the Round of 8 with a win, finished 23rd.
Chase Elliott needed a win to advance. He ran inside the top five much of the race, and led 9 laps. He was stuck deep in the pack late in the going and could only salvage 12th.
“We were trying to be as aggressive we could and try to make stuff happen,” Elliott said. “It’s tough to do as you get back in the pack and try to make your way through the pack. It just takes time. There’s definitely a lot of power in numbers. We’re disappointed that we came up short.”
Logano’s drama came earlier in the day.
During the first round of green flag stops that started on lap 37, Logano exited the pits with his jack stuck under the car. The jack would not come loose and Logano toured the 2.66 mile speedway and came back in to have it removed. On the same stop, Hamlin was penalized for speeding. Hamlin came in for a pass through penalty however, NASCAR had told the team to keep him out while they reviewed the penalty, but the message was delivered too late. NASCAR also ruled that Logano had served his stop and go when he reentered the pits to remove the jack.
Behind Hamlin in third, Kurt Busch was fourth and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was fifth. Kyle Larson finished sixth, Kevin Harvick seventh, Aric Almirola eighth, Dillon ninth, and AJ Allmendinger 10th. The full results can be found here.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Martinsville Speedway for the Round of 8 next Sunday. The Goody’s Fast Relief 500 will be live on the NBC Sports Network starting at 12:30 p.m. ET.