Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway provided plenty of drama for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup even without the so-called “Big One” taking place.
Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr., many believed to be the favorites for the Chase this year, had their championship hopes dashed as they were eliminated in the Round of 12.
Truex went into Sunday’s race as the pole sitter. Barring anything catastrophic occurring, he was going to cruise into the Round of 8. However on Lap 41, the No. 78 had an engine failure that took Truex out of the race for the rest of the day. Finishing 40th, Truex was unable to sneak into the Round of 8.
“It hurts to go out like that,” said Truex after running most of the race inside the top 10. “We could have raced all day, gotten in a big wreck and still not made it... but it sure would have been nice to at least find out, at least play the whole game, so to speak, and see what happened. To barely make it to the first pit stop stinks.”
Keselowski, who led a race-best 90 laps on Sunday, knew he had a shot at winning and advancing to the Round of 8. Unfortunately, his engine also expired after completing the first 144 of the scheduled 188 laps.
"We came here to win and we were doing what we needed to do to win, and it just didn't play out," said Keselowski. "It just wasn't meant to be.”
It was the second straight week that Keselowski was unable to finish the race, as he was turned by Denny Hamlin in Kansas and suffered irreparable damage after spinning out into the grass.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship is unobtainable for either driver but Truex and Keselowski still have a lot to race for this season.
“Hopefully we can go win these next four (races),” said Keselowski. “I want to finish the season with the most wins and we've got a great shot at that, leading it right now. Cars that ran like this one did today, it'll all work out."
Keselowski and Truex are both tied with Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch for most wins in NASCAR this season with four each.
“We have four more races we can go out and win, and we plan on doing that,” said Truex. “We'll hold our heads high. It's disappointing, but all in all, you can't do nothing about it."
The other two drivers eliminated on Sunday, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott, also have plenty to drive for in these final four races. A win for Dillon or Elliott would be their first in their NASCAR Sprint Cup careers. Of the 16 original drivers in the Chase, only Jamie McMurray had also failed to reach victory lane this season. Finishing the year strong with a win would validate the year and give the driver momentum heading in 2017.
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup continues this Sunday at Martinsville. Tune-in to NBCSN at Noon CT to find out which drivers will inch closer to the Championship race at Homestead.