Drivers Dreams Destined to Die at ‘Dega

That title sounds somewhat dark, doesn’t it?

Well, sometimes the truth hurts, and so does ‘Dega. Being the largest oval track on the NASCAR circuit at 2.66 miles, Talladega Superspeedway shows no mercy, and it never has.

With the final race of the Round of 12 taking place on Sunday in the Hellman’s 500 on Sunday Oct. 23 at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBC, five drivers are essentially fighting for one final transfer spot on the Chase Grid.

When the checkered flag flies, four drivers will be eliminated, and the original 16-driver field will be cut in half. Joey Logano won this race last season in a wild fashion, as the race ended under caution, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed out on transferring by a couple feet.

With close quarters, speeds over 200 mph, zero room for error and the slightest mistake resulting in a multi-car pileup, there is a ton of pressure.

None of that pressure is on Jimmie Johnson or Kevin Harvick. The No. 48’s win at Charlotte and the No. 4’s victory last weekend at Kansas give both of the former champions automatic bids into the Round of 8. They can race with a clear mind, and go for the win.

Doing a complete 180, all of the pressure is on Joey Logano, Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott – the five drivers fighting for one spot to advance. Logano and Dillon are tied for 8th place, but the No. 22 holds the tiebreaker over the No. 3 by virtue of having a better best finish in this round so far.

Hamlin and Keselowski trail Logano by seven and eight points respectively, with the Rookie of the Year contender in Elliott being behind by a whopping 27 points, putting him in a must-win scenario. Although he can mathematically point his way in, for all intents and purposes, the No. 24 car must find victory lane if they want to keep their title hopes alive.

Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch are over 25 points above the cutline heading into this weekend’s race. Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. are in a similar position, 10-17 points over the final transfer spot held by Logano for now.

But here’s the beauty of the beast, nobody is safe at ‘Dega. You can be leading the race going into turn four, or the tri-oval on the final lap, and get wrecked by no fault of your own and finish in the late 20s based on being at the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s happened before, and it’ll happen again. That’s why everyone is on pins and needles for all 188 laps.

Unpredictability, drama, nervousness and biting fingernails, that’s what’s going to be going on Sunday afternoon for 500 miles. The hands down favorite is Keselowski. He’s won four of the last six restrictor plate races, and won at Talladega in 2013 when he had to. His Team Penske teammate in Logano will also be strong. The five drivers fighting for that one aforementioned spot will be fun to watch throughout the afternoon.

NOTE: The Camping World Truck Series is in action this weekend as well. The final race (Fred’s 250) of the first round of the first ever NCWTS Chase will take place on Saturday afternoon. Only Rookie William Byron is safe thanks to his win at New Hampshire a few weeks back. Also, I will be at Talladega this weekend! Be sure to follow me on Twitter to keep up with everything Hellman’s 500 related from the track. Enjoy the racing everybody! It ought to be a good one.