This week’s Chase Tracker after Talladega gave drivers a bit of a shakeup with the last lap wreck involving 25 drivers, including 8 Chase contenders, but left the top-three Chase contenders the same. Keselowski came in the points leader and left as the points leader, with Jimmie Johnson remaining in second place and Denny Hamlin, third in the point standings.
Also, Kyle Busch remains the Best of the Rest non-Chase contenders, after race four of the 2012 Chase season.
Starting with drivers ranked 12th through 1st, the following gives our assessment of each Chase contender after Talladega’s Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500.
Matt Kenseth: His hopes of winning the championship were all but over coming into this weekend and although Matt did all he could this weekend including a win, his title hopes remain the same with his 12th place Chase standing. Sunday’s win was still not enough to get him back in the hunt for the championship. Kenseth leaves Talladega 62 points behind the leader and his Chase average finish of 17th – the lowest of all Chase contenders – is far from what’s needed to win a championship trophy.
Dale Earnhardt Jr: Earnhardt came into Talladega needing a strong finish at one of his best tracks of the season. In the first three races, his best finish in the Chase was 8th at Chicagoland. Although Earnhardt had one of the strongest cars all day, he was caught up in the big one on the last lap, finishing a disappointing 21st. Earnhardt is now 11th in the standings and 51 points behind Keselowski. Earnhardt’s Chase average finish of 13.25 is again far from what’s needed to contend for the championship in 2012. Like Kenseth, even one win will not be enough to get him back in the hunt for this year.
Kevin Harvick: Harvick leaves Talladega tenth in points and 49 points – more than an entire race worth of points – behind the Chase leader. His Chase average finish is actually 12.50 and there are two other contenders with worse average finishes – Stewart and Biffle – but with no wins for the season, Harvick is ranked behind them in points. Kevin Harvick ran up front with the lead pack all day, but was also caught up in the big one on the final lap and finished 14th. Harvick is another driver that will need luck and more than just a win to get back into serious Chase contention.
Greg Biffle: Biffle has struggled since the Chase started including pit stop issues last week at Dover – his Chase average finish is at 13th – just slightly better than Dale Jr‘s. Biffle led many laps Sunday and ran up front most of the day, but was also a victim on the last lap mayhem. He leaves the track Sunday ninth in points and 49 points behind leader, Brad Keselowski.
Martin Truex Jr: Martin has been quiet in the Chase and has not made a strong statement with a convincing finish. Truex never made noise at Talladega either. While included in the big one he came home with a 12th place finish and his Chase average finish is actually better than Stewart’s at 11th. But again with no wins in the 2012 season, his Chase rank is behind Tony’s. Count Truex Jr in the the group of drivers needing more than one win to have any shot of getting back in the Chase for the Cup. He currently sits 48 points behind Brad Keselowski in the point standings.
Tony Stewart: Stewart had the ride of his life at Talladega, while battling for the win on the last lap. He started the “Big One” by turning into Michael Waltrip, collecting 25 drivers and ruining their day. In the process he ended up on his roof and on top of his competitor’s cars. Tony eventually landed on all four wheels in 22nd place. He was checked and released from the infield care center but left Sunday 46 points behind and seventh in the point standings. Although Stewart has three wins for the season, his Chase average finish is actually worse than both Biffle and Truex Jr at 13.75.
Jeff Gordon: Gordon came into Talladega needing luck on his side Sunday, and that luck came when he slipped past the last lap wreck, finishing 2nd. Jeff Gordon made up four spots in the standings and has a 10.5 Chase average finish – better than Clint Bowyer‘s, who is ranked ahead of him in points. Gordon finished the day sixth in points but still finds himself 42 points behind first place. Again, Gordon will also need more than a win, to Chase the championship.
Clint Bowyer: Clint Bowyer has had a strong but quiet Chase. He has consistently finished in the top-ten – up to Talladega – but his post-Talladega average finish is now 11.5 a full position worse than Gordon’s. Unfortunately, Clint was another victim of the “Big One,” finishing the day 23rd. Bowyer currently stands fifth in points and 40 points behind the Chase leader.
Kasey Kahne: Kasey Kahne worked with Jeff Gordon most of the day, including the last lap, until Kahne was collected in the mayhem with a windshield full of Tony Stewart’s chassis – giving him the most spectacular view during the last lap wreck. Kasey’s Chase average finish is tied with Hamlin’s at 9th, but with just two wins to Hamlin’s five, he ranks behind Denny. Kahne finished 13th Sunday, sits fourth in Chase points and is 36 points behind the leader.
Denny Hamlin: Denny Hamlin rode around in the back most of the day. He was so far back in the pack that he was in jeopardy of going a lap down at times. Hamlin spun on the last lap but was able to drive away and finish 11th. He remains third in the standings and departs Talladega on Sunday 23 points behind Keselowski.
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson leaves Talladega retaining his second place in points, just 14 points behind Brad Keselowski. Johnson’s Chase average finish is good at 6.25 but is still 2.5 points behind Keselowski’s. Jimmie Johnson rode in the back of the pack the majority of the day, although he led some laps through a stint of green flag pit stops. Johnson also was caught up in the “Big One,” finishing 17th on Sunday.
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski came into Talladega with two wins already in the Chase and the points lead. Brad’s game plan Sunday was to have no game plan. That game plan worked out as he made his way through the last lap madness and came home with a solid seventh place finish. Brad leaves Talladega Sunday with the best Chase average finish at 3.75, a 14 point lead and a championship that is turning into his to lose.
On to Charlotte Motor Speedway, the fifth race of the Chase, marking the half-way point for all Chase contenders.