Joey Logano etched his spot in the 2014 Chase by notching his second victory of the season after a rocketing restart that carried him into the lead and safely ahead of the competition. The frantic finish carried over to the cool down lap and into the garage as the frenetic racing rattled tempers and boiled emotions.
Saturday night was a struggle with tires for many teams, many running right-fronts down to the carcass. The troubles generated fires and contact, ruining the night for more than a few. Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and others fell victim while others battled chassis handling to work their way forward or fall behind. The incidents made for exciting racing, and the final restart was hectic to say the least.
Matt Kenseth appeared to have an edge in the closing laps, with Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the mix most of the night, but it was Logano that forced the breakthrough. While Brad Keselowski and Kenseth battled on the final restart, Logano took advantage and sailed ahead to ease to victory. The Keselowski and Kenseth disagreement was joined by Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears who brawled after the race, the Australian landing a hook to the jaw that would impress most professional boxers.
Tempers will have to cool before heading to Talladega Superspeedway this week for the Aaron's 499, though the racing is expected to be just as engrossing.
Joey Logano - Logano looked like he was fired from a cannon on the final restart Saturday night in Richmond. He came forward and made big passes in the final laps to score his second victory of the season, essentially securing a spot in this season's Chase for the Championship. Penske Racing has been strong just about every week, and this week at Talladega shouldn't be much of an exception. Logano will be riding high after such a confident win last week, which could be enough to turn around his Sprint Cup Talladega statistics. In the Nationwide Series Logano has an average finish of 2.0 at the track, but that falls to 19.6 from 10 races in Sprint Cup competition.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - It would be difficult to look ahead to the season's second restrictor-plate track without spending time looking at the Daytona 500 champion. Earnhardt started his 2014 season off in the perfect manner by scoring victory at Daytona, and his results haven't been disappointing since, either. He has only finished outside of the top 10 three times this season, and is currently on a run of back-to-back top-10s with his impressive seventh-place run on Saturday. Earnhardt's average Talladega finish of 18.7 in his last 18 tries isn't bad and includes two top-10 finishes in the last five races there. Couple the No. 88 team's top performances this season with Earnhardt's return to Victory Lane at a superspeedway, and you have a stout fantasy combination for this week.
Jeff Gordon - Another second-place finish from Gordon makes it two in the last three races where he has been just one position away from victory. Gordon has been consistently fast this season, and has a worst finish of 13th in the first nine races. Gordon appears to be quite serious about making the Chase this season by winning races, and he just needs a slight edge to make it happen. He led 173 laps in Richmond, more than any other driver. His second-place finish in the 2012 fall race at Talladega is his only top finish at the track in his last five tries, but he finished in the top 15 in both races there last season. With Gordon's fourth-place finish in February's Daytona 500 we would expect another strong run from the No. 24 this week.
Matt Kenseth - In the closing miles of Saturday night's race it appeared as though Kenseth might be just able to hold off challengers to win. He led 35 laps by the time the checkered flag flew, but he was looking at the bumpers of four other drivers by that time as well. It was a good top-5 run for Kenseth, especially considering Toyota-powered cars didn't show much strength in practice. Of the drivers who have started each of the last five Talladega races, Kenseth has the best average finish. Extend that span to 18 races, and Kenseth still ranks near the top. His most recent five races at the track have produced an average finish of 10.0, with a win, three top-10s, and no finishes off of the lead lap.
Brad Keselowski - Another driver with impressive results in his last five Talladega races is Keselowski. His fourth-place finish at Richmond was solid, and it gave him a boost by notching his first top-5 result since visiting Las Vegas. Looking to Talladega, his win and three top-10s in that span give him an average result of 11.2. He only finished off of the lead lap once, showcasing his consistency at a pretty unpredictable track. Keselowski demonstrated he expects to be a factor the rest of the season on Saturday night, leading four times for 114 laps. Only Jeff Gordon led more laps than the No. 2 on Saturday, but it was Keselowski's teammate that found a way to win. Penske Racing is a team fantasy players have to pay attention to each week.
Clint Bowyer - Bowyer's Saturday night was off on the wrong foot before he even exited the first corner. As he nosed into the first turn of the race he came into contact with leader Kyle Larson, spinning the rookie and bringing out the first caution before even a single lap was complete. Later on, an issue on his right front caused a fire, which ended up engulfing the entire right fender, knocking him out of the race before the halfway mark. Bowyer, despite having competitive lap times, hasn't converted that speed to many top finishes this season. Just two top-10s to show from the first nine races are a bit surprising for this team, and until the problems dissipate fantasy owners may wish to play Bowyer sparingly.
Kurt Busch - The elder Busch was virtually absent Saturday night in Richmond. It was a very quiet race with little success to take forward into Talladega. Busch finished 23rd after starting 21st Saturday night, and was never a factor in the race. This team would be an afterthought if they hadn't picked up their Martinsville win, posting just two finishes inside the top 20 season to date. Only one lead-lap finish in the last five Talladega races would push a driver's average result downward, and Busch is no different. His average result in that time is 28.6, and he also tallied three DNFs in that time. While Busch has a new lease on life with Stewart-Haas Racing he still holds relatively low value for fantasy rosters.
Jimmie Johnson - While it might be difficult to believe, there are a few reasons fantasy owners should be a bit more cautious than usual with the No. 48. First, the team has yet to find Victory Lane this season. That is expected to change at some point. Additionally, Johnson suffered tire problems Saturday in Richmond, which held the team down and relegated them to a 32nd-place finish after starting from 10th position. All things told, everyone expects the No. 48 team to win races and be a title challenger, but fantasy owners may want to temper their expectations until some better results start flowing. Johnson has an average finish of 15.2 in his last 18 Talladega races, and fantasy players may want to wait for a week where there is better value to play him.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - Contact with the wall and a right-front fire ruined Stenhouse's opportunity to shine Saturday night. After scoring a second-place finish at Bristol we expected more from Stenhouse in Richmond. Everything went up in smoke, though. Stenhouse was classified in the 38th finishing position after his struggles. In his last two Talladega races the young driver posted an average finish of 8.0, which is quite good. Unfortunately, the lack of production so far in 2014 should have fantasy owners concerned about his ability to turn in a top run this week. Since a lot can happen in restrictor-plate races Stenhouse could outperform expectations, but results this season suggest that would be an anomaly.
Martin Truex Jr. - Truex finally found something to smile about in Richmond. The race was his best of the season so far, and he finally opened his top-10 account for 2014 with solid racing through all of Saturday night's miles. He rarely dropped from contention, and put together a consistent performance to finally finish a race with a performance to be proud of. His results prior to Saturday night have been terrible, failing to deliver on the promise he seemed to show prior to Daytona, but this week might be the perfect chance to reclaim even more integrity. Truex has an average Talladega finish of 21.2 in the last 18 races there, and 13.2 in the last five. With four lead-lap finishes in his last four tries True might be worth the gamble this week.