TALLADEGA, Ala. -- For all the talk about Talladega Superspeedway being the one race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup that could create wild swings in the standings, the top three coming into Sunday's race remained in the same spots when the checkered flag finally flew.
And for as much carnage as race-winner Matt Kenseth dodged all day, he's still mired in 12th, 62 points behind Brad Keselowski.
I just feel lucky to survive Talladega. There's still a lot of racing left. At least we're not fighting from a hole.
|Keselowski was one of the 10 Chase contenders caught up in a final turn, 25-car pileup but felt fortunate to leave Talladega still holding a 14-point advantage over Jimmie Johnson. He was credited with a seventh-place finish, while Johnson wound up 17th.
"That's pretty big," Keselowski said. "I just feel lucky to survive Talladega. There's still a lot of racing left. At least we're not fighting from a hole."
Denny Hamlin was another Chase contender who turned a potential disaster of a day into a blessing when he somehow threaded his way in and around spinning and crashing cars to finish 14th.
Hamlin was running at the tail end of the pack when Tony Stewart drifted down in front of Michael Waltrip in Turn 4 and made contact, sending Stewart's car spinning into the middle of four-wide racing.
"Once they started crashing, I immediately stood hard on the brakes and waited for everyone to kind of wash down the track," Hamlin said. "Then I drove around them. We don't have a scratch on our car, and it sucks to get a good finish that way, but that's the strategy in which we played [Sunday] is to not get into a wreck."
It was an unusual race for Hamlin, who in recent restrictor-plate events has been one of the stronger tandem-drafting pushers. Instead, Hamlin rode in the back nearly the entire race and was content to try and leave Talladega without tearing up his car -- or his title hopes.
"We were all saving fuel to try to make it all the way," Hamlin said. "I felt if you were in the lead pack there, it was more than likely you were not going to make it there, or some of them weren't. The wreck was going to start because some guys were going to run out of fuel, or guys were going to have to pit and we were going to improve our position that way.
"With this strategy, you're basically conceding a chance at a win, but you're just trying to do damage control not to finish in the 20s and 30s."
The big winners and losers on the day all were driving equipment from Rick Hendrick Motorsports. Jeff Gordon's second-place finish moved him up four spots in the standings, and Kasey Kahne leapfrogged two other drivers by finishing 12th.