The NASCAR Cup Series took its second trip to Talladega Superspeedway in the second race of the Round of 12. With no playoff drivers yet able to win a playoff race, the 12 drivers that have staved off elimination were all surely chomping at the bit to be the first one to break through.
Coming into the race however, the big point of discussion wasn’t the playoff picture, or the chance to have another new winner – instead, it was safety concerns, with that discussion reaching a fevered pitch.
Following a seemingly run of the mill crash last week, Alex Bowman was ruled out for the race this week with concussion like symptoms, causing the Next Gen car’s perceived lack of safety to once again return to the spotlight. Some drivers made their concerns public, with veteran driver and team owner Denny Hamlin going as far as saying “It needs a full redesign. It needs to be redesigned everywhere – front, middle, rear.”
One can imagine that with safety concerns being as central as they are right now, a trip to Talladega would be the last thing anyone would want – and they’d be right. Fans and drivers alike were voicing their worries and concerns all week in the leadup to the race, fearing that just one more bad wreck at a track as fast as Talladega could be tragic.
Thankfully, none of those fears were recognized.
When it was all said and done, only one large wreck occurred all day, when Harrison Burton was turned off the front end of Ricky Stenhouse Jr’s Camaro in the race’s first stage, collecting a handful of cars including Ty Gibbs, Noah Gragson, and Joey Logano. Even that wreck, though, was not that severe with only Burton and Gibbs sustaining day-ending damage, and Burton stating in an interview that the hit was not too bad.
One other particularly hard hit went to Corey LaJoie who suffered a right front tire failure that sent him into the turn two wall – however, he was able to climb from the car without issue. Outside of those two incidents, the race was incredibly tame, being one of the rare superspeedway races without a “big one”. It wasn’t necessarily through lack of trying, as there was some aggressive pushing throughout the day – but nearly everyone was able to keep their cars pointed in the right direction.
Ultimately, the race came down to the exit of turn four on the final lap, as superspeedway races so often do. Following a late caution caused by Daniel Hemric’s car stalling on pit road, the field lined up for a green white checkered finish. Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney made up the first row, followed by Ross Chastain and Michael McDowell respectively – with Chase Elliott lurking one row further back.
There was some jockeying for the lead, but ultimately Blaney was out front at the white flag being pushed by McDowell. However, Chase Elliott – who had jumped to the front of the outside line on the backstretch with two to go – pulled even with Blaney using a push from Erik Jones. The two ran neck and neck down the backstretch and into turn three, but Elliott used a huge push from Jones in the exit of turn four to surge to the lead and grab the win – his fifth of the 2022 season.
As for Blaney, despite having a particularly solid season that very well may see him into at least the Round of 8, he is still yet to secure a win on the year. Michael McDowell, Ross Chastain, and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-five. For McDowell, the finish marked his 12th top-10 of the year, far surpassing his previous career high of five last season. Chastain did some very aggressive pushing all day, and was thankfully able to avoid adding to his reputation while simultaneously continuing his recovery from his mid-season cold streak with his third top-10 in the last four races.
Next week the series heads to the Charlotte Roval for the cutoff race to determine the Round of 8 participants. The action around the cut line is interesting, with Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric currently tied for the eighth and final spot. William Byron (-11) is the only other driver below the cut line that could point his way in, with Christopher Bell (-33) and Alex Bowman (-54) in must win situations.
Featured photo from Hendrick Motorsports on Twitter.