Skirts and Scuffs Takes on the Chase: 'Dega Has Big Implications for the Chasers

Talladega - that word can send shivers up the spine of a driver, especially if you are contending for the Sprint Cup championship. Many title contenders will opt to play strategy, falling to the back of the pack and hoping, even praying, to avoid the dreaded "Big One."

How did the 12 Chase contenders fare this time around? Let’s just say it was a crapshoot, as always. Let us recap it all in case you missed any of the action in Sunday's Good Sam 500.

1. Carl Edwards - Leaving Talladega with a sigh of relief - By Amanda Ebersole

Heading into Talladega as the points leader by just a narrow 5 points, Carl Edwards needed to escape the mayhem of crashes that occur. Edwards and tandem partner Greg Biffle chose the strategy to run near the tailend of the field, but within striking distance of the lead cars.

Edwards and Biffle were clear on the strategy - avoid the wrecks - and each time Edwards called to Biffle on the radio that he was worried about the racing ahead of them, the yellow flag flew and a wreck happened. Edwards' gut feeling paid off; he avoided becoming another Chase contender to be wrecked.

With less than 10 to go the final caution came out; on the radio of Edwards and Biffle came Jack Roush telling them not to wait too long to make their move to the front. At that point, the duo was still riding around back in 28th but when the green flew with just two laps to go, Edwards and Biffle knew it was go time. In just those two laps, Edwards made it to 11th and Biffle to 14th. More importantly, Edwards crossed the finish line unscathed and would remain the points leader, actually gaining points over the new second-place driver, his RFR teammate Matt Kenseth, who is now 14 points behind.

“I don’t know that I have ever been so excited about 11th place,” said Edwards of his finish. “This race was one that was nerve-racking for everyone but we came in here with a small point lead and that was a huge day for us. I cannot believe how much Greg helped us today. I owe him a lot. Greg stuck with me all day. On the last lap he was driving my car from back there. We got separated and he was screaming, ‘Go, go, go.’ Somehow I found him and he pushed us back up there a little bit. It was a very good day.”

2. Matt Kenseth (-14) A disappointing finish yet rises in the Chase standings - By Lacy Keyser 

Matt Kenseth started off having a great day at Talladega Superspeedway, as he was up front most of the day with his teammate David Ragan. Kenseth lead a total of 21 laps Sunday and looked to be a big threat in the race. Then the final restart cost Kenseth his dancing partner - he got shuffled away from David Ragan. Kenseth finished a disappointing 18th, but was able to advance to second in the point standings behind teammate Carl Edwards.

Matt Kenseth said of his finish, “It was disappointing to run in the front all day and then finish where we finished, but we made it through, so I guess the damage could have been worse.” 

3. Brad Keselowski (-18) Keselowski has some fight left in him with 4 races to go - By Katy Lindamood

Six weeks ago, any one of 12 drivers had the chance to leave Homestead-Miami Speedway with the Sprint Cup Series trophy, but now with only four races left, only a couple are still real contenders. Among the men still fighting it out is Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski, who at the beginning of the 2011 season struggled to perform. Pushing Dave Blaney to a third-place finish, the No. 2 proved on Sunday that he's still got some fight left in him.

Although Penske Racing has two cars in the Chase, the driver of the Blue Deuce decided early in the weekend to work with Dave Blaney rather than his teammate Kurt Busch. Busch paired up with Regan Smith, but hard crashes took both out of the race as the laps wound down. Staying paired up for nearly the entire event, the Blaney/Keselowski tandem played it cautious and were able to avoid getting caught up in any of the wrecks. On Lap 81 the combo moved to the front, allowing the Miller Lite team to lead one lap and earn one bonus point toward the championship.

The No. 2 team didn't take any unwarranted risks on Sunday and that paid off. Moving to third in the standings and only 18 points back from leader Edwards, Keselowski's fourth place was the highest among the Chase drivers. 

4. Tony Stewart (-19) A successful race despite losing his dancing partner - By Holly Machuga

Talladega proved to be a successful race for Tony Stewart and the No. 14 team. After starting 12th, the team was up to 8th by Lap 10. All was well in the Stewart-Haas camp as Stewart and teammate Ryan Newman drafted together … until Newman spun. Tony was left without a drafting partner.

Declining the offer to work with Jeff Gordon, he chose to work with Paul Menard, which was proven as a successful duo and brought Stewart home a seventh-place finish.  

5. Kevin Harvick (-26) Not ready to throw in the towel just yet - By Amanda Ebersole

Kevin Harvick headed into Talladega just five points behind the lead, but in leaving, he cannot say the same thing. Harvick got collected in a wreck initiated by Marcos Ambrose and AJ Allemdinger’s bump drafting gone awry. Harvick had nowhere to go and suffered extensive damage to the No. 29 car.

After initial repairs, Harvick was back on track quickly, though subsequent pit stops were required and eventually Harvick was black-flagged by NASCAR for fluids leaking onto the track. This was not the race Harvick wanted or needed to contend for the championship. Finishing in 32nd, Harvick now drops to 5th in the Chase standings heading into Martinsville.

After the race Harvick said, “... Obviously that wasn't the day we wanted. But, but the way the rest of those guys raced, it didn't devastate us. We wanted to be in the front. We thought that was the safer place to be in case the thing went green. I thought I was around a pretty good group of cars there. I don't know what happened. It is just one of those deals.” 

6. Kyle Busch (-40) Nightmarish day for M&M’s Halloween Toyota at Talladega - By Carol D’Agostino 

Kyle Busch’s weekend went from bad to worse, ultimately losing him two spots in the standings. He now sits in sixth place 40 points behind leader Carl Edwards.

His woes came early as on Friday he was in a backup car after blowing a tire and scraping the wall with only 20 minutes left in the second Sprint Cup practice. Miraculously his crew got him back on the track in the new car with four minutes remaining in practice.

He ended up qualifying in 34th.  Despite starting in the back, Kyle led twice for five laps and was in the top 10 for much of the first half of the 188-lap race. Then on Lap 104 while being pushed by JGR teammate Denny Hamlin, he got caught up in a A.J. Allmendinger/Marcos Ambrose wreck, where he lost control of his car and then got slammed by the nose of Allmendinger’s car. The accident pushed him into the path of Jamie McMurray, who was being pushed by his Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing teammate Juan Pablo Montoya. 

After a brief stop on pit road, Kyle headed to the garage for extensive repairs and later returned to the track in 38th-place, 11 laps behind the leaders. By the race’s end he managed to gain five positions to finish 33rd.

“We just got caught up in an accident,” Busch said. “It’s part of racing at Talladega. The M&M’s Halloween guys worked hard to get it back out there. It’s disappointing, but we’ll move on.”

7. Jimmie Johnson (-50) It's not over until it's over - By Genevieve Cadorette

Jimmie Johnson started the weekend off on the right foot: with a fast My Lowes Chevrolet and in the second starting position. To his luck, his partner in crime (or as the rest of the NASCAR community called it, his prom date) Dale Earnhardt Jr. was not far behind him in sixth position. After the drop of the green flag, Johnson was able to connect with Earnhardt quickly and the two moved ahead for the lead. It was communicated on the team radio that Johnson stayed up front and Earnhardt Jr. does all the pushing. 

After the lead, they agreed that they hang low and race in the back, they slowly dropped back, and their hopes were that they would stay out of wrecks. Although that did work, what didn't work was their plan to move ahead in the last 20 laps. The magic they had last April was not there on Sunday and the two settled for what seemed to be an uneventful race. The few wrecks that did happen on the track didn't affect Johnson's car too badly; however, he didn't have the power, nor the time, to move ahead to the front to top off last spring’s finish.

The two finished in the back, Johnson in 26th, and he's only moved forward one spot in points, now trailing points leader Carl Edwards by 50 points.

"As we went to make our switch, the pack was organized and with the green-white-checkered situation, there's not a lot of time to get organized," Johnson said to the press after the race. "We lost our momentum there and got to the outside and kind of stalled out up on the top and finished far worse than we had hoped to."

The 48 team may struggle in the next four races and the season may end quietly for them. For today, the wild-card race, the race that could've catapulted the Lowes team ahead to a competitive spot for the Sprint Cup title, didn't push Johnson ahead very far. But it's important to remember in racing, it's not over until it's over.

"We'll just keep fighting," Johnson said. "Every position counts. Every spot counts. And I want to finish as high as I can in the points. If it isn't the championship, I want to finish as high as I can possibly finish." 

8. Kurt Busch (-52) "Our championship hopes are done ..." By Amanda Ebersole

“Our championship hopes are done just because of this two-car Talladega draft,” said Kurt Busch after a disappointing 36th place finish following a late-race wreck. 

Busch summed up the accident and his day, saying “We were doing really well all day, running with Regan Smith and there in the crash, we just had nowhere to go. The 47 got flung by Michael Waltrip, he went low, we went high, and he was starting to come back up when I was zigging and zagging.”

Smith and Busch both took hard hits to the cars that ended their day just six laps short of the checkered flag.

Busch has dropped to 8th in the points standings and is -52 behind Carl Edwards with just four races to go.  

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-74) Time was not on his side - By Rebecca Kivak

Dale Earnhardt Jr. entered Talladega, one of his best tracks, with the possibility of ending his winless streak. Earnhardt Jr. and drafting partner Jimmie Johnson looked to recreate their success from the spring race, where Earnhardt Jr. pushed Johnson for the win. Would Johnson be able to return the favor for Earnhardt Jr.? The duo never had a chance to find out.

After spending most of the Good Sam 500 in the back of the pack to avoid trouble, Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson ran out of time to move upfront as a series of late-race cautions disrupted their efforts. Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson were also plagued by individual issues in the last laps, as Earnhardt Jr. ran over some debris and Johnson faced overheating after accumulating grass and trash on his grille. As a result, Earnhardt Jr. was relegated to a 25th-place finish, maintaining his 9th-place standing in the points but increasing his points deficit to 74 behind the leader.

The 88/48 tandem looked to have two of the fastest cars in the field, qualifying 6th and 2nd, respectively, for Sunday’s Good Sam Club. When the green flag dropped, Earnhardt Jr. pushed Johnson to lead the first lap. But shortly after, the two joined Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin in dropping back through the field. The No. 88 of Earnhardt Jr. didn’t make another appearance in the front until Lap 77, when Johnson pushed him to the lead for two laps.

Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson continued to hang around the middle of the pack, staying together and pitting together. But with about 25 laps to go their problems started. On Lap 163, Terry Labonte turned Andy Lally into Johnson, who sustained only minor damage. Earnhardt Jr. restarted 24th side by side with Johnson. With Junior at the lead of the tandem, the duo got up to 11th and 13th, respectively, with 18 laps to go. Johnson and Dale Jr. pondered when they should make their move to the front. With 17 laps left, Dale Jr. said he wasn’t in a hurry yet, but also pointed out they couldn’t “mess around too much” longer. After the eighth caution came out, Dale Jr. pitted after running over debris, and Johnson pitted with him. Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson restarted 24th and 25thand stayed mired in traffic when Regan Smith brought out the final caution with nine laps to go. With the extended cleanup, the laps whittled down. With just two laps left, Dale Jr. restarted 17th and Johnson 20th.  The 88 dropped back to get the 48, but Johnson was having his own issues as he battled debris on the grille and possible overheating. The two lost their momentum on the final lap and with it Earnhardt Jr.’s chance of ending his winless streak at Dega.

Did Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson wait too long to make their move? Hindsight is 20/20, but in my opinion, yes. Waiting too long is what doomed the pair at Daytona in July. However, traditionally at Talladega you can wait longer to make your move, as the track is wider than Daytona and you have more lines to take to get to the front. This strategy worked at the spring Talladega race for Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson, but it didn’t work this time: the late cautions meant less green flag laps for the duo to try and move upfront, and they ran out of time. Had they made their move earlier, it’s possible they would have been upfront and in a better position to deal with the cautions, thus ensuring better finishes for both.

Dale Jr. described the 88/48 strategy: “Whenever we thought they were getting a little bit crazy, we'd move into the safe areas and we road there most of the day with a lot of other people doing the same thing. Then at the end, we had a lot of cautions late, we wanted to try to work our way toward the front in the last 20 laps. The cautions kept coming out and we ran over some debris and we had to come to pit road. We just didn't have the track position at the end to make a run with two laps to go. Just not enough time." 

10. Jeff Gordon (-82) Championship hopes dashed at 'Dega - By LJ Cloud 

Jeff Gordon's dismal 27th-place finish at Talladega effectively ended the four-time champ's hopes of adding a fifth driver's championship to match his five owner championships. It also put him squarely in the middle of a controversy over team orders, or in this case what seemed to be manufacturer's orders. Starting fifth, Gordon hoped to close the points gap between 11th and first, and while he somehow managed to gain one spot. with only four races to go it would take divine intervention to overcome what is now an 82-point deficit.

Gordon and his drafting partner, Hendrick teammate Mark Martin, hung around the middle of the pack most of the day, running about 25th or so most of the race. Martin deferred to Gordon throughout the race, letting the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger team control the pace. Gordon's crew chief Alan Gustafson kept the duo about 4.5 seconds off the leaders. The veteran pair worked well together avoiding wrecks and debris throughout the race, though Martin seemed to be in a bigger hurry to get to the front than Gordon, who was wary of many of the drivers in front of them.

But on Lap 168 the champ said, "Let's go!" Martin quickly responded, "All right! Let's go!" and began to push the team toward the front. "I'll push you, Jeff, until you tell me not to, unless you tell me you're too loose," Martin said. Gordon replied, "No, don't lift, don't lift because I'm loose unless you see my number."

Martin almost did see Gordon's number on Lap 180, when Martin got out of shape and clipped the front of Denny Hamlin's car, sending Hamlin into Regan Smith. Smith went into the wall hard, but Martin came out of the wreck with only a bent fender. He had to pit to work on it, so Gordon was left scrambling to find a drafting partner. Historically, that's not been easy for Gordon to do, but this time rookie Trevor Bayne indicated he was available. Gordon planned to go with the No. 13 of Casey Mears, but Bayne lined up behind the No. 24 for the green-white-checkered restart on lap Lap 86 and started pushing Gordon, rapidly advancing through the field.

On the white flag lap Matt Kenseth got separated from drafting partner David Ragan. Suddenly Bayne cut over to help the No. 17 Ford. Gordon, who believed his car was fast enough to win the race, could do nothing but watch as the field passed him. What might have been a one-two finish for the duo that worked together so well in the Daytona 500 resulted in 27th place for Gordon and 15th place for Bayne.

Gordon said, "I think everybody knew coming into the weekend, the Fords made it very clear about what they were doing in working with one another and helping one another out and all those things. I didn’t ... expect him to commit to me on the radio. I expected him to say, ‘Man, I’m sorry; I can’t.’ And when he said, ‘Yeah, I’m pushing you; we’re good’; I believed him. But I think they had a different plan ... We talked on the radio a good bit and agreed that he was going to push me. I came on there and I said, ‘Hey, what’s your deal? You got anybody you’re working with?’ And he said, ‘No, man, I’m pushing you.’ And I went off my radio and talked to my guys and went back to his radio and we talked through it and he said, ‘Yep, yep, yep’. So, Trevor came over to me (in the garage) and said ‘Hey, it wasn’t me; it wasn’t me."

Gordon went on to say, "... Politics play out sometimes. He feels terrible about it. Listen, at that point you work with anybody that you can when you lose your partner then you’re desperate to find somebody. I was going to go with the No. 13 but Trevor lined up behind me and when he agreed to it and I said hey, we can’t go with a better person than that. He’s got a fast race car; we already have history of working well together and I thought it was a no-brainer. But I probably should have known better.”

When asked if Bayne's actions were because of team or manufacturer orders, Gordon said, "It would seem to me like that’s it.” 

11. Denny Hamlin (-84) Top-10 finish just not enough - By Lindi Bess

Sunday's visit to the infamous Talladega Superspeedway was the last chance for several drivers to make a move that would keep them in the Chase. Denny's baby step just isn't going to put him in contention for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. In fact, in my opinion today's race eliminated several drivers from any possibility of driving away with the 2011 trophy.

It seemed to me that the No. 11 Fed Ex Toyota was just left out in the rain. Unable to link up with a partner in the race, Denny was left to fend for himself. Unfortunately, his choice as a partner, Ryan Newman, began the race ahead of Denny, leaving him all alone.

Denny was quoted having said, "The guy we had worked (it) out to work with didn't work out at all," Hamlin said after somehow finishing eighth. "Obviously, there were 43 cars, and I was the 3. I was the odd one (out) for the whole race. The best I can describe is, we were stuck without a date for the prom, so I was just hitting on everyone's mom."

With Talladega the halfway point of the Chase, I'm afraid to say that No. 11 hasn't got what it's going to take to bring home the coveted trophy. But there is also a five-time champion that looks to be out of the running as well.

12. Ryan Newman (-88) Once again the Talladega curse claims Newman - By Katy Lindamood

Ryan Newman and restrictor plate racing have been on the outs for quite some time. Although Newman usually fares well in the beginning of the races he often finds himself a victim of circumstances near the end of the event. Over the last three years, the driver of No. 39 has been struck by the Talladega curse and on Sunday his luck didn't get any better.

Starting the Good Sam 500 from the 10th position Newman had plans to work with Denny Hamlin; however when he got hooked up with teammate and team owner Tony Stewart those plans went to the wayside. The combination of Newman and Stewart was strong as the two worked on trying to earn both drivers an all-important bonus point for leading the race. The tandem was able to pull out to an advantage over the pack and looked as if they might have the Chevy's to beat. Unfortunately for Newman an incident on Lap 81 caused major damage to the front end of the car and forced him to the garage for 16 laps.

His 38th place finish dropped Newman to the bottom of the Chase standings 88 points behind the leader.

As the series heads to Martinsville, can the Roush Fenway Racing duo of Edwards and Kenseth hold onto the points lead and bring home a championship for Jack Roush? It is too early to say - four races is still plenty of time left. Tune into Skirts and Scuffs Friday morning as we preview the Chase drivers as they head to Martinsville. Who will need to be clearing room for that beautiful grandfather's clock? We will tell you who has the best odds.
Skirts and Scuffs Takes on the Chase: 'Dega Has Big Implications for the Chasers Skirts and Scuffs Takes on the Chase: 'Dega Has Big Implications for the Chasers Reviewed by Admin on Monday, October 24, 2011 Rating: 5