By AMANDA VINCENT
Joey Logano swept the Contender, or second, round of the 2015 Chase for the Sprint with a win after a controversial green-white-checker restart in the CampingWorld.com 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway on Sunday.
“Dreams come true, I guess,” Logano said. “We have to keep this dream rolling. We have a long way to go. We are back to zero going into Martinsville (Speedway), so we need to make something happen in the next three races.”
The win also made Logano the first Ford driver to win three-straight races since Rusty Wallace did so in 1994.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second, Jeff Gordon third, Brad Keselowski fourth and Carl Edwards was fifth.
The second yellow of the race came on lap 183 of the race that was scheduled for 188 laps, but when the green flag waved for what would have been the final time for a green-white-checker attempt under a rule modification NASCAR announced earlier in the week that reduced possible green-white-checker restart attempts from three to one at Talladega, Logano appeared to spin his tires and bunched up several drivers, causing Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson to get turned.
” I couldn’t believe he (Logano) gave me the bottom (lane on the final restart),” Earnhardt said. “I was like, ‘Man, this is a gift.’ I was going to win the race, for sure, but that caution came out. I’m fine with the new rule. Everybody is going to debate that we were thinking before the race that they made a good change on the green-white-checkered to go to one, and I still that way. Per the rules, we ran second. I can live with that. The No. 22 (Logano) did a great job. He had a hell of a round winning all three races. If he wins the championship, he can look back on this round, here, as the one that set him up.”
One more restart attempt was made since the leaders hadn’t crossed the start/finish line to restart the race. So Logano and Earnhardt lined up on the front row one final time to restart the race. When Kevin Harvick failed to get up to speed because of an engine issue on the final restart attempt, the yellow flag waved after the leaders crossed the line, ending the race under caution.
“I wasn’t running really well on the restarts,” Harvick said. “Then, at the end, I was trying to get out of the way. I don’t know if I clipped the 6 (Trevor Bayne) or if he came across as I was coming up. It was one of those days where everything went well until the very end until the bottom fell out on those last couple of restarts when it cooled off. It has a broken exhaust pipe or something.”
Earnhardt, despite his second-place finish, saw his championship hopes come to an end. Matt Kenseth, also needing a win to advance, was eliminated from the Chase after finishing 26th. Other drivers eliminated from the Chase after Talladega were Ryan Newman, who finished 12th, and Denny Hamlin, who wound up laps down in 37th after an issue with a roof hatch that his team couldn’t keep down.
Hendrick Motorsports dominated the first half of the race after Gordon started on the pole, with Kasey Kahne alongside on the front row and Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt also starting in the top-five.
All four drivers led laps early. Earnhardt leading 42 laps before a pit road penalty on a green-flag pit stop around lap 120.
Earnhardt was nearly a lap down, and fellow-Chaser Martin Truex Jr. was off the lead lap when the first caution of the race came out on lap 131. The yellow flag kept Earnhardt on the lead lap and put Truex back on the lead lap.
Kyle Busch led as Earnhardt worked back toward the front. With just under 40 laps to go, Earnhardt moved back into the lead with Logano in second.
When the rest of the race field cycled through pit stops under green-flag conditions in the final 20 laps, Greg Biffle stayed out and went into fuel-conservation mode with a 38-second lead on the race field
That lead was erased by the second yellow flag that resulted the green-white-checker attempt. Just before the race restarted, Biffle headed for pit road, unable to go the extra laps added by the green-white-checker.
Paul Menard finished sixth, Truex seventh, Clint Bowyer eighth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ninth, and Kurt Busch rounded out the top-10.
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