The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has rolled into Alabama for the final event in the second round of the 2016 Chase. The bottom four drivers of the twelve remaining in playoff contention will be eliminated at the conclusion of Sunday’s Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. For the Chase drivers that are not locked into the next round – excluding Jimmie Johnson (winner at Charlotte) and Kevin Harvick (winner at Kansas), Sunday’s race will be one both full of nerves and excitement.
“This is no doubt one of the toughest races there is just to stay mentally focused,” said Martin Truex Jr, who heads into Sunday’s race a slim 13 points ahead of the cutoff. “It’s not a physically demanding race, but the mental side is pretty insane to be three or four wide all day long, especially if you decide to try and stay up front all day and try to race all day and not ever go to the back and try to be in a safe spot. It’s definitely difficult, but look forward to the challenge.”
Aside from being deemed the “wildcard” playoff event, Talladega Superspeedway has always laid claim to being the wildest track on the NASCAR circuit – and rightfully so. The 2.66-mile track has been home to some of the wildest finishes and biggest crashes in the history of the sport. From one of the closest finishes in NASCAR history in 2011 as Jimmie Johnson narrowly edged out Clint Bowyer by 0.002-seconds in a near four-wide finish, to over 30 cars in the 40 car field being involved in wrecks in this year’s race here in May – you learn to expect the unexpected at Talladega.
One of the drivers who has experienced the Talladega craziness is Chase driver Carl Edwards, who in the 2009 May race got spun from the lead coming to the checkered flag on the last lap and flipped through the air into the fence.
“You’re just so close and you’re in a pack and I think that’s what makes this race interesting to watch is that truly anything can happen,” said Edwards, who enters Sunday’s race 24 points ahead of the cutoff. “I mean, I’ve been staring at the checkered flag thinking I was going to win and then been upside down in the fence. I mean, it’s – and that was just two of us messing around. If you get the whole pack in there, it can get crazy.”
The driver who will be in the best position at the start of the Hellmann’s 500 is Truex, who on Saturday evening qualified his No.78 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats Toyota on the pole. It is the Mayetta, NJ native’s fourth pole of the 2016 season and his first career pole at Talladega Superspeedway.
“It’s the place to be at the start of the race and I think the key is just trying to stay there as long as you can – we will see what happens,” said Truex after qualifying. “It’s obviously a big race with a lot on the line, but looking forward to it. So proud of the guys, everybody back at Denver and everybody here at the racetrack for what they did here.”
Brad Keselowski enters Sunday’s race currently in one of the four elimination spots, as he sits seven points out of the cutoff. The No.2 machine needs to have a good run on Sunday, and courtesy to a great qualifying effort on Saturday, they will have a good start at it. Keselowski landed his No.2 Miller Lite Ford second in qualifying for tomorrow’s race.
“I feel like qualifying well is certainly a very strong omen for Talladega and Daytona,” said Keselowski after qualifying. “I think all the races I have won here – we’ve had good starts. And the races that we haven’t won or haven’t been super competitive – we usually don’t have any speed in qualifying. Certainly a confidence builder. Not a guarantee by any means, but a confidence builder that you carry into this weekend and tomorrow’s race.”
Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliott, Greg Biffle, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon and Paul Menard rounded out the rest of the top-10 qualifiers for Sunday’s 500-mile event.
Sunday’s race is an event that fans and NASCAR alike have been looking forward to all week, and if the 500-mile event lives up to the hype, we could be in store for one of the greatest races in racing history. Catch all the action on NBCSN on Sunday – the green flag is set to wave around 2:00 p.m. ET.