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X’d Out: Charlotte Out-Talladega’s Talladega

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 10 2016
Martin Truex Jr. was one of a large handful of Chase drivers who ran into trouble at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo)

Martin Truex Jr. was one of a large handful of Chase drivers who ran into trouble at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

CONCORD, N.C. – Prior to Sunday’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, several drivers pointed to the Round of 12 as the toughest in the Chase because of Talladega Superspeedway and the “big one” that’s always expected.

sprint-logo-08However, Sunday the 1.5-mile Charlotte track showed it could be just as unpredictable as the 2.66-mile Talladega speedway.

Five of the drivers bidding for the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship finished 30th or worse. Two were the victims of faulty engines and three were involved in accidents. Jimmie Johnson, who broke a 24-race winless streak with his victory, was the only one who could breathe a sigh of relief after the 334-lap event since he’s now guaranteed a position in the Round of 8.

“It lets me go to Talladega (in two weeks) and not worry about anything, which is fantastic,” Johnson said after his eighth Charlotte victory and the 78th of his career. “I can just get up in the race and mix it up and race hard.”

For 11 other drivers, however, the next two races at Kansas and Talladega will be more stressful.

An engine issue after 155 laps left Kevin Harvick 38th in the rundown and 12th in the standings. Joey Logano cut two tires and hit the wall both times. He was running at the checkered flag for a 36th-place finish, but found himself 11th in the standings. The other two drivers comprising the bottom four in the standings – Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon – were eliminated from the race in

Charlotte Motor Speedway took a big toll on Sunday.

Charlotte Motor Speedway took a big toll on Sunday.

a 12-car accident on lap 259.

That wreck occurred when Dillon, who was on the inside of the front row on a restart, got hit in the rear by Martin Truex Jr. That turned Dillon sideways to the inside. At the same time, Kyle Busch caught Elliott in the right rear and turned him into the outside wall in front of the field.

“We had such a good car and I am devastated that we didn’t get the result that the guys deserved,” said Elliott, who led three times for 103 laps.  “Hopefully, we can just try to have another car like we had today and not make any mistakes next week.”

Dillon described the incident as a “heartbreaker.”

“We are good at finishing races and this isn’t what we’ve done all year long,” Dillon said.

Matt Kenseth, brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Truex and Denny Hamlin were above the cutline for the next round. Hamlin, however, had engine failure in his Toyota on lap 308 and that left him only three points ahead of Dillon and Elliott, who were tied for ninth.

“I’ve been doing this 11 years and I can’t name anyone else who has had as bad of luck as I have in the Chase, but it’s just part of it and it’s part of racing,” said Hamlin, who finished 30th in the 40-car field. “You have to have every piece of the puzzle just perfect to win these championships and this is just a hiccup.”

Edwards, who’s now sixth in the standings, said his nerves were “shot” at the end of the race.

“I thought at any moment that thing was going to blow up,” said Edwards, who finished 12th.

Truex managed a 13th-place finish despite not having a clutch in his Toyota for the final restart on lap 317.

“I had the clutch on the floor, sitting there in first gear when they dropped the right side and the clutch just pumped up and pushed my foot all the way up,” said Truex, who’s seventh in the standings. “I had to start it in gear and luckily we were able to get it started. Not sure what happened, just one of those freak deals.”

Hamlin believes there will always be a “handful” of Chase contenders who have issues during an event.

“Kansas, I don’t think, will be any different and Talladega, we know will be crazy,” Hamlin continued. “That’s why we’re not out of it my any means. We just have a little hole we have to dig out of.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 10 2016
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