TALLADEGA, Ala. – Last year, Joey Logano did all he could at Talladega Superspeedway to help Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski advance to the Chase’s Round of 8.
Then again, last year Logano was in a position to do so, given that he had won the first two races in the Round of 12. And with his help, Keselowski advanced to the penultimate round with a fourth-place finish.
But in the Hellman’s 500 on Sunday, both Logano and Keselowski will be fighting for their Chase lives. Heading into the Round of 12 cutoff race, Logano is tied for eighth, the final transfer position. After wrecking out of last Sunday’s Kansas race in 38th place, Keselowski is 11th in the Chase standings, seven points behind Logano and Austin Dillon.
Accordingly, each driver will have his own agenda on Sunday.
“Brad was in a do-or-die situation and I was locked in, so our main goal was to get Brad through,” Logano said of last year’s Talladega race, which Logano won to sweep the round. “That was our goal. There was a lot of talk about how we help each other and how we can put him in position to make the moves at the end of the race. I gave him my commitment that I was going be there for him.
“I was going push him along. I was going do everything that I knew how to do to help him win. That situation will happen throughout a lot of other teams this week, but it’s something Brad and I need to have an understanding that, ‘Hey, yeah, we’re going to help each other as much as we can, but we both kind of have to win.’
“It’s a little bit different than that race, but at the same time we’re good teammates. We’re going to race each other and we’re going help each other like we do every single week.”
But they won’t be helping each other at the expense of their own Chase chances.
On Sunday, six-time Talladega winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. will miss his first restrictor-plate race since his debut in the 2000 Daytona 500, breaking a string of 67 straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series plate races. In the Hellman’s 500, Alex Bowman is subbing for Earnhardt, who is recovering from a concussion and will not return to competition this season. … GEICO has extended its sponsorship of the May race at Talladega through 2019. In addition, GEICO will be the entitlement sponsor of the restart zone all International Speedway Corporation tracks with the exception of Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The GEICO Restart Zone was established this weekend at Talladega; starting in 2017, it will be a fixture at 11 ISC tracks. … Ryan Reed has re-signed a multi-year deal with Roush Fenway Racing to continue competing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Reed, who was diagnosed with Type I diabetes five years ago, hopes to make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the Hellman’s 500 at Talladega on Sunday. He is one of five drivers competing for four available spots in the 40-car field. … Drafting with fellow Ford drivers Chris Buescher, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne, Greg Biffle paced opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at Talladega with a lap at 198.949 mph. The only non-Ford interloper in the top five was Chevrolet driver AJ Allmendinger, who was second fastest at 198.327 mph. … Jimmie Johnson, who has already locked up a spot in the Round of 8 thanks to his win in Charlotte, led final practice on Friday with a lap of 196.386 mph.