Despite strong run, Johnson’s Chase hopes end at Talladega
By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
This year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is now, officially, a novel experience.
With four races left to determine the series champion, Jimmie Johnson is no longer a factor, and that’s a “first” in the Chase era.
Johnson remains the only driver to have qualified for every Chase since the inception of the 10-race playoff in 2004, but under a new format that eliminates four drivers every three races, he’s no longer eligible for the 2014 title.
Despite leading a race-high 84 laps on Sunday at Talladega, controlling the pace and darting between lanes to block the progress of those trying to pass him, Johnson fell short in a race he had to win.
When he steered his No. 48 Chevrolet to the outside on the first attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish, no one went with him, and that in itself was a measure of the enormous respect Johnson’s fellow competitors have for the 48 team.
If Johnson had kept his title hopes alive by winning Talladega, chances are he would have advanced to the season finale at Homestead, given the array of tracks in the Chase’s Eliminator Round.
At Homestead, with the championship on the line, only a fool would bet against the 48 in a head-to-head matchup against three other cars.
So why help a guy who is likely to beat you? On Sunday, no one did.
And, for better or worse, the Chase now has a decidedly different flavor.
Congratulations to Kyle and Samantha!
We’d have made our NASCAR.com headline “KESELOWSKI WINS TALLADEGA THANKS TO PUSH FROM KENSETH” if the comment section below wouldn’t fill up with “Is this The Onion?”
We apologize for the tension-filled race Sunday, and sincerely hope that your stomach didn’t reach the “eliminator round,” so to speak.
So remember the finale of “Star Wars” when the final Rebel fighter is knocked out and Luke Skywalker realizes he’s all alone? That’s Jeff Gordon.
Jamie McMurray really oughta hang out with Edward Snowden, so they can just sit around and leak things together.
So Milka Duno ran the truck race. It was made out to be this giant, harrowing, catastrophic event. Turns out it wasn’t at all. If only there was anything else currently in the news similar to that.
(Follow @nascarcasm on Twitter. His unique views on NASCAR are his own – but chances are you have probably figured that out by now.)
By Reid Spencer
12: The number of laps led by Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, a race he had to win to advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Keselowski led laps 187 through 192, and after surrendering the top spot to Ryan Newman on the white-flag lap (193) retook the lead from Newman on the one that counted.
31: The number of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races run this year by Denny Hamlin, who missed the event at Fontana, Calif., in March because of an eye injury. Should Hamlin win the championship this year, he would be the first series champion since Richard Petty in 1971 to win the series title without competing in a full schedule of races.
1: The number of top-five finishes for driver Landon Cassill in 147 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts. Cassill ran a superb race in Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega, avoided the pitfalls that beset other drivers and sped across the finish line in fourth place for a career-best result.
7.0: Jeff Gordon’s average finish in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway, best among the eight drivers still eligible for the series championship. Denny Hamlin is second at 8.8. Surprisingly, the driver among the eight with the worst average finish at Martinsville is Kevin Harvick at 15.8.
5.2: The average finish at Martinsville for six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who has won eight times at the historic .526-mile short track. Johnson may have been eliminated from the Chase on Sunday, but it’s a virtual certainty he’ll be a contender for the victory this weekend at Martinsville—Chase or no Chase.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series kicks off the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. The points for the eight remaining championship-qualifying drivers – Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin – have been reset to 4,000. ... Jeff Gordon enters Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 (1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) in hunt of his ninth win at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The 43-year-old ranks tied with Jimmie Johnson for the lead among active drivers with eight wins at Martinsville and a trip to Victory Lane this weekend would advance him to the championship race at Homestead. Other than Gordon, Chase-contending drivers who own checkered flags at the .526-mile oval include: Denny Hamlin (four), Ryan Newman (one) and Kevin Harvick (one). … Needing a victory to advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Brad Keselowski came up clutch at Talladega, taking the checkered flag. The triumph set a Team Penske record for wins in a season by its drivers with 11. Keselowski’s six victories are the most in the NSCS, while teammate Joey Logano’s five wins rank second.