Two big names fall at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Contender Round.
As widely expected, Chris Buescher proceeded no further than the NASCAR Sprint Cup Challenger Round in the playoffs, falling alongside fellow single-race winners in Tony Stewart and Kyle Larson, and the highest scoring winless driver from the regular season, Jamie McMurray.
Brad Keselowski had enjoyed a strong summer, with two wins and three more podium finishes, but his machinery was no match for the likes of Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson. His elimination came as no major surprise, but by contrast, Martin Truex Jr will be ruing another season of missed opportunity.
A finalist last year, Truex had overturned the odds in a surprisingly strong #78 car which flew the Furniture Row Racing flag with pride and determination. With two Challenger Round wins this time around, Truex boasted by far the best driver average from that phase, but after failing to breach the top ten in the first two Contender Round races, it was do or die at the Hellman’s 500 in Talladega.
Knowing what was at stake, another vulnerable driver in Brad Keselowski duelled with Truex closely throughout qualifying, and it was Truex who eventually claimed pole by less than 0.2s.
After trailing Truex in the early stages, Keselowski took the lead several times what began as a quiet affair. That would change spontaneously on lap 41 when Truex’s engine blew up at Turn 2, and the 2015 finalist was consigned to 40th place – and elimination from the Sprint Cup.
The initial laps after the restart were dominated by Keselowski, and he remained in contention until making the decision to use Blaney as a shield for a grille-cleaning air pocket. It was a manoeuvre which ultimately backfired, and he too would experience an engine blowout as he became the second big name to fall that day.
Joey Logano eventually emerged the winner after a shrewd late manoeuvre from the restart.
Logano’s eventual inclusion in the final four at the Ford Ecoboost 400, alongside Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch, came as little surprise, but it was the victory of Carl Edwards at the AAA Texas 500 which created the biggest talking point…