Keselowski moves on while Johnson, Earnhardt, Kahne and Busch fall out of the Chase.
TALLADEGA, Ala. – Entering the Geico 500, the only way Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson or Dale Earnhardt Jr. could continue on in the Chase for the Sprint Cup was to win.
Throughout much of the battle at Talladega Superspeedway Johnson appeared unbeatable. Earnhardt, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, also looked competitive as he took the point twice for 31 laps.
But with the title on the line, Keselowski stepped up again and foiled his rivals in the closing laps.
His third win at Talladega Superspeedway provided an automatic entry into the Eliminator Round. And Keselowski's 16th career Cup win locked the Team Penske racer in and Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Earnhardt and Johnson out of the Chase.
On Lap 103, Busch, who entered the race second in points, took a nasty hit on the backstretch. The damage forced the No. 18 to the garage for a 50-minute repair job. He finished 40th in the race and dropped to ninth in the point standings.
Kahne kept his nose clean and was able to take the lead twice. But when he was shuffled to 12th and Matt Kenseth rode the draft with Keselowski to the front and finished second, the 10 positions was what the No. 20 car needed to transfer into the next stage. Kenseth jumped up to fifth in the standings, Kahne dropped to 14th.
With three laps remaining in the race, NASCAR called the fifth caution for debris. Keselowski was running second despite contact in a wreck 60 laps into the race. Johnson lined up behind him with Ryan Newman in the lead. When the race restarted at the first attempt of a green-white-checker finish, Earnhardt had dropped to 18th. As the pack came around to the backstretch, David Gilliland got into the back of Greg Biffle, who clipped the No. 88 Chevy and sent Earnhardt on a wild ride.
We had a good car when we could lead and be up front.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"We had some red gauges there were different things doing some different stuff at the last probably 60 laps of the race," Earnhardt said. "Some gauges weren’t really reading really good. I don’t know if that was costing us any power, but we had a good car when we could lead and be up front.
"It’s just so hard once you get shuffled to the back. Just tried to make some moves just couldn’t really get anything put together to get back up there.”
Earnhardt finished 31st. Although he entered the Chase as one of the favorites, Earnhardt dropped to 15th in the standings. He took the disappointment in stride.
“Well we will just go try to win some more races before the year is out," Earnhardt said. "That is all we have left.”
While elimination was not easy for any of the four drivers, Johnson put up the best fight. His 84 laps led were the most in the field and before the final caution, he was running fourth with a solid shot at the win.
I looked in the mirror and I had no friends. It’s how plate racing goes.
“ I really felt like I played things out in my mind and if I pushed the No. 2 (Keselowski) to the lead there, there wasn’t enough time to get back by him," Johnson said. "I thought my best opportunity was to get to his outside and hope that a fellow Hendrick car in the No. 41 (Kurt Busch) would kind of fall in behind me and I could tow the lane and get around the No. 2 and have the outside lane and hopefully run down the No. 31 (Ryan Newman).
"I made my move, I got to his outside and I looked in the mirror and I had no friends. It’s how plate racing goes. If I knew there was a second green-white-checkered I probably would have stayed in line, but you just don’t know how those things are going to develop.
After the final caution, Johnson had dropped to ninth and settled for a 24th-place finish. Johnson is 11th in the standings. Despite having the fastest car in the field for most of the race after finishes of 40th at Kansas and 17th at Charlotte, Johnson couldn't close at the end.
“I really wanted to enter today’s race feeling like I was playing with house money," Johnson said. "I was given an opportunity today to get back in the championship battle after two bad races. We tried our best. They gave me a great Lowe’s Chevrolet today and unfortunately we just didn’t get it done. Playing with house money and lost.
“This year for sure there is disappointment. But to be honest with you, the disappointment has been the weeks leading up to right now. We just had a very competitive race and had a shot to win. So, we have dealt with that.
"You are not going to win every championship battle you enter. We would like to. I’ve raced for 30 something years and I’ve really only won six big championships, so the numbers show that you don’t win a lot of championships. We will be back next year.”