TMS Media Relations | Oct 21, 2014
And then there were eight.
In January when NASCAR announced sweeping changes to the new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format, their hope was for the dramatic. Last Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway was the embodiment of what they were looking for in the new format.
With some of NASCAR’s most successful drivers in danger of elimination, many teams found themselves in a win or go-home scenario. As if that didn’t warrant enough anxiety, the addition of the ultimate wild-card, Talladega Superspeedway, only magnified the drama.
Brad Keselowski’s thrilling win on the second attempt at a green/white-checkered finish sealed his bid into the final eight for the Eliminator 8 Round and doomed both NASCAR’s 11-time most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and six-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.
“I know there’s probably some people out there that aren’t really happy I won,” Keselowski said. “I can understand that. But I’m a man like anyone else and not real proud of last week (referring to his scuffle with Matt Kenseth following the race in Charlotte). But I’m real proud of today (Sunday).
“It was very easy to write ourselves off after the last two weeks. We had one job to do and that was come to Talladega and win, and we did it. We treated this race like (the season finale at) Homestead and if these guys can keep it up at this level, we’ve got a shot at it.”
Following his victory at Talladega, Keselowski took Monday off and visited Texas Motor Speedway to promote the Nov. 2 AAA Texas 500 while letting loose with some fans in the “Who’s Got Game?” video game challenge on “Big Hoss TV.” Prior to competing against fans and Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage in NASCAR ’14 and Madden NFL ’15, Keselowski took questions from media and supporters in attendance about what to expect at Texas and throughout the Eliminator 8 Round.
“Certainly coming here to Texas in a week-and-a-half to start that race weekend, we are looking forward to that,” Keselowski said. “This type of track is really one of our strongest tracks. We are really, really looking forward to coming back here. I’m looking forward to a big weekend in Texas and looking forward to four weeks to hopefully win a second championship.”
While Keselowski has had success at 1.5-mile tracks, Chicagoland Speedway and Kentucky Speedway specifically with four wins in 10 races, Texas Motor Speedway has not embraced him as yet. In 12 starts, Keselowski just three top-10 finishes, with a best of second, and an average finish of 19.5. In fact, all the tracks in the Eliminator 8 Round, which features the AAA Texas 500 sandwiched between Martinsville Speedway (Sunday) and Phoenix International Raceway (Nov. 9), have been less than kind to Keselowski. In a combined 31 starts, he has no wins, 12 top 10s and a 16.2 average finish.
Statistically, Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) has been the most consistent competitor of the eight remaining contenders at the three Eliminator Round tracks with seven wins, 31 top-10s and a 10.3 average finish in his 52 starts.
“I have said it all year that if we made it to the final eight, to this Eliminator Round, that we suddenly had a good shot at this championship,” Hamlin said. “This round has three tracks that our FedEx team has had a lot of success at over the years.”
Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet), the lone Hendrick Motorsports driver remaining and four-time Sprint Cup Series champion, is just behind Hamlin statistically with 11 wins and an 11.8 average finish. Gordon finished 26th at Talladega, narrowly qualifying into the Eliminator Round by three points over teammate Kasey Kahne, who finished 12th.
“If I never have to come back to Talladega, I’ll be fine with that,” Gordon said. “I’m just excited about our chances to get to Homestead, and those chances come in the next few races – Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix. Those are great tracks for us.”
Combined average finish rankings at the Eliminator tracks continue with Matt Kenseth at 13.4, then Kevin Harvick (13.7), Carl Edwards (14.4), Joey Logano (16.3) and Ryan Neman (17.6).
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