E.A. Sports Today

Logano wins wild finish

Logano completes sweep of three-race Contender Round at Talladega; Junior knocked out of Chase, Harvick absolved — for now

Dale Earnhardt Jr. addresses the media after finishing second in the campingworld.com 500 Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. On the cover, Joey Logano talks about winning the race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. addresses the media after finishing second in the campingworld.com 500 Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. On the cover, Joey Logano talks about winning the race.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA — Joey Logano was in Victory Lane, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was out of the Chase and everybody around the track was trying to figure out what the heck happened.

Just call it another wild finish at Talladega.

Logano won the CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway Sunday to complete a three-race sweep of the Contender Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

He picked up his sixth win of the season with Earnhardt right on his tail in the only formal green-white-checkered restart of the race after an apparent earlier attempt was waved off when caution came out before any cars reached the start-finish line.

There were even theories one of the contending driver’s created the final caution in order to maintain his position for advancing in the Chase, a charge which so far NASCAR officials have debunked.

The chaos at the end forced NASCAR officials to go to the tape to determine not only the race winner, but the eight drivers who’ll advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase.

The unofficial order of finish (top five): Logano, Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards.

After declaring Logano the race winner, the Chase standings have Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch moving on. It took some 35 minutes after the race before Kyle Busch was confirmed for the final spot.

That left Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Earnhardt and Matt Kenseth out. Newman missed the cut by three points.

Logano brought out the broom at Watkins Glen in August to punctuate his sweep there. He could have done the same here, having swept all three races in this second round of the Chase.

“I didn’t think it was possible, I’ll tell you that much,” he said. “When it comes to Chase time everybody brings their A game, bringing everything they’ve got, the best they can — not only with their race cars, but every driver is trying to find that extra little bit.

“To see what this 22 team has done coming into the Chase … it sets a statement and that’s what we tried to do. We were in situations throughout the Chase that maybe we didn’t have to win, but our job is to win. That’s what (owner) Roger Penske expects of us. He expects excellence … and I want to produce. If there’s a trophy, we’re supposed to get it. That’s our job.”

Logano already was guaranteed a spot in the next round, but Earnhardt needed to win the race to advance and made a strong bid with the car that won here in the spring to do it.

He said earlier in the week he wanted to lead with 30 laps to go and coming out of the final green-flag pit stop. He did lead with 30 to go – in fact, he led the most laps (61) — and held the lead going into the final green-flag pit stops, but he cost himself when he locked up the tires – for the third time – entering the pits burning precious time as the crew had to replace the rubber.

He came out of the stop in fourth place and despite trying to make a couple moves, spent the rest of the race chasing Greg Biffle and Logano.

He also had to work through an early vibration and a pit penalty that sent him all the way back to 29th position. Eleven laps later he was in the lead.

For a time it looked like Biffle was going to steal the race, rolling the dice on fuel. He had been on the track since lap 138 — 50 from the scheduled finish — and as the race came down to the finish people wondered how close the needle was to the E.

Biffle appeared in even better shape with five lap to go when the caution came out after Jamie McMurray lost his power steering. It was the second caution of the race and brought out the pre-announced singular attempt at a green-white checkered.

Biffle peeled off before the restart, leaving it to Logano, Junior and the rest. But that restart never materialized as Jimmie Johnson spun out behind them and race officials said there was no official attempt at a restart because no cars had reached the start-finish line when the caution came out.

TV relays showed the green light was lit as the cars approached the start-finish line.

The winning team begged off an explanation.

“You have to ask somebody in race control,” Logano crew chief Todd Gordon said. “I thought it was over at that point. Fortunately, we got a second opportunity and did the same thing.”

During that caution Harvick radioed to his crew that he was having acceleration problems and said he would try to stay out of the way. When the official restart ended in chaos behind the leaders there were claims by several drivers – including Kenseth and Hamlin — Harvick created the mess to maintain his position to stay in the Chase.

Harvick made the cut by six points. He acknowledged his car wasn’t “running well on the restarts” and claimed at the end he was trying to get out of the way.

Kenseth wasn’t buying it.

“They basically said they were going to do that, so I kind of knew it was coming, but it doesn’t really make it any easier,” he said. “He knew if he put (Trevor Batne) in a slow spin the race was over and he’d make it. … It was a little but of a circus there at the end.”

NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton absolved Harvick of any wrongdoing – for now.

“Procedurally we don’t see anything there that’s suspect,” Helton said. “As of right now, with reviewing what we did and with a couple teams that questioned it, we’re comfortable with the way we handled everything. We believe so far we did everything procedural correct and the 4 car (Harvick) did nothing wrong.”

Helton said NASCAR was prepared to make a decision if further evidence was uncovered.

For his part, Earnhardt was convinced “I was going to win the race for sure,” if the caution hadn’t come out, but he was “fine” with the one-attempt rule as long as everyone played by it. His fans, however, expressed their displeasure at the way the race ended by pelting the track with beer cans and other debris, similar to what they did when Gordon nosed out their man here in 2004.

“I just wanted to go out there, whatever happened, and put forth a good account of myself (and) my team,” Junior said. “I’m real proud of what we did today … I’m more proud of the drive I had today than the two wins this year; they came a lot easier than this second place did. We got shuffled out. We can sit here and pout about this day, but we didn’t do good enough in the first two races in this round.”

So for now Harvick and the other Eliminator Eight have a series championship to chase. For Earnhardt, this last month of the season is a race for some personal satisfaction.

“The best thing that could happen for us is the same thing that happens last year – go win,” Junior said. “We’re disappointed today. We were disappointed last year when we left Talladega. But we went to Martinsville and sort of surprised ourselves with our win there.

“You know, when I look at that video of all of us jumping up and down on that trailer like idiots, that’s a team that’s not too bothered being knocked out of the Chase right there. If we can go to the race track and win, it certainly makes our situation much more bearable.”

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