The Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway marked the end of the road for four Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup contenders. With four weeks left in the season, the field running for the title has now been narrowed down to eight.
When the checkered flag fell after 188 laps on the 2.66-mile Alabama race track, Austin Dillon, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski were eliminated from championship contention.
Throughout the bottom half of the race, the Chase standings looked like a border war between Dillon, who was sitting ninth and No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota driver Denny Hamlin at eighth. After Hamlin finished third and Dillon finished ninth in final race results, it was the driver of the No. 3 American Ethanol Chevrolet who found himself south of the cut line.
“It’s really close. I guess it wasn’t our day to do it,” Dillon said in a Team Chevy post-race transcript. “It wasn’t planned for us to do that. We tried. We didn’t really have enough speed all day to do much. I’m proud of my guys and all my teammates helped me as much as they could. We just couldn’t get another spot.
On a day when fellow Chevrolet driver and rookie contender Chase Elliott needed a win to advance to the ‘Round of Eight’, the driver of the No. 24 NAPA Auto Parts machine finished 12th, not enough to move on. Although he led nine laps, Elliott got shuffled in the pack and was not able to make it back to the front where he needed to contend for a victory.
“We just came up short,” Elliott said, also in the Team Chevy release. “We had a really good car again. You try to make stuff happen and I felt like we were pretty aggressive trying to get to the bottom and try to make things happen there when it was at the top. I just couldn’t find myself in the right spot at the right time with the right folks behind us, or at least enough folks. We had some great pushers all day, and they knew our car was fast. It was helpful. We just came up short.”
After winning Chicago and Dover in the ‘Round of 16’, most expected Truex Jr. to be a strong favorite when Homestead rolled around. Unfortunately, that all changed on lap 41 when the engine expired on the No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats Toyota.
“Just developed a vibration and started to lose a little bit of power,” Truex explained in the garage and in a Toyota post-race transcript. “Originally I thought it could have been a tire because it was shaking worse and worse and worse until it was time to pit. I slowed down to hit pit road and felt the vibration still there and knew it was the engine.”
Colorado’s Furniture Row Racing will not be making a run at the championship like they did a year ago. However, for the rest of the 2016 season, they are now spoilers.
“It’s been a roller coaster that’s for sure,” Truex Jr. said of his run in the Chase. “I wish we could have done a better job at Kansas and Charlotte and maybe had a free pass coming here. That certainly would have been big knowing the circumstances, but we did the best we could. We have a great team and we’ve had a great season and we’re going to go out and try to win the rest of the races and see what we can do. It’s definitely disappointing, but what else can you say. We had a team capable of competing for the championship and unfortunately we’re not going to be able to show that.”
Keselowski came to Talladega in the bottom four and in a must-win situation after an incident in Kansas one week ago put his hopes of a second Sprint Cup title in jeopardy. The driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford looked to be turning things around, dominating the field and leading 90 laps, the most out of 40 drivers on the day. Unfortunately, disaster struck for the Team Penske driver on lap 145 when his engine smoked, dragging oil on the track and bringing out the third caution of the day.
“Something let go,” Keselowski explained in a Ford Racing advance “I’m not sure exactly what, but it’s unfortunate. We had a really fast Miller Lite Ford and that kind of ended our day. It was a lot of fun to be leading at Talladega. I really like this track. It’s been good to us and there are a lot of great fans here today. We were doing the best we could to make a show of it and have some fun and lead some laps and just happy and proud to have a fast car.”
Keselowski’s championship hopes may be over for 2016 but the spring Talladega race victor still has one goal for the season’s final few weeks – “win more races.”