Virtually every driver and team still involved in the NASCAR Playoffs came into this current stretch of three races that make up the ‘Round of 12’ pointing out that they wanted to jump start their efforts in this segment by scoring a good finish at Dover International Speedway in the Drydene 400. The emphasis on Dover was born out of the fact that the next event for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will take place in the wildcard race at the ever treacherous Talladega Super Speedway coming up this weekend.
However, one of NASCAR’s power teams now finds itself in the very position of having to hope for good runs, and perhaps even a win, on one of the series most unpredictable speedways. Team Penske left the ‘Monster Mile’ with none of its three drivers earning a top-10 finish as Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney each suffered mechanical issues that landed them in 34th and 35th places respectively.
The third Penske car, Brad Keselowski, eventually came home with an 11th place result after a somewhat up and down day.
The races at Talladega often feature massive wrecks that seem to be quite random in regard to who gets swept up in them. Drivers who left Delaware with top-5 or top-10 finishes have to feel more comfortable going to Talladega than those who used up their so-called ‘Mulligan’ in the first race of this three-race segment. Being caught up in a ‘Big One’ and winding up 34th or 35th again could very well leave Logano and Blaney heading into the third event of this grouping at Kansas Speedway needing nothing less than a win to advance to the ‘Round of 8’.
The drivers who have amassed greater numbers of playoff points throughout the season can better withstand disaster in one race than those who have not done so. However, two poor finishes in three races would almost certainly doom anyone’s playoff chances unless that third result is a victory.
As things stand right now, Blaney is in last place among the remaining twelve contenders with a deficit of 22 points below the cut line. Logano, due to the number of playoff points he accrued coming into the final ten races, is tied with William Byron for the final transfer spot. Keselowski sits sixth in the standings with a cushion of 20 points over the cutoff position.
Despite the broken axle his car suffered during the pace laps at Dover, Logano remains optimistic but also realizes the difficulties his team now faces.
“Something back there wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do, so we had to fix that and we were 20-something laps down from there,” the defending MENCS champion said after the race. “You can’t make up 20 laps, that is for sure. Maybe you can get one or two back if things go right. It was a bummer. Things happen. We definitely used our mulligan. We used the playoff points we accumulated, we just have to be perfect now. We have two really good race tracks coming up though. Talladega is arguably one of our best race tracks and I would say Kansas is as well. We just have to be perfect from here.”
While it is certainly not inconceivable that most of the title contenders could find trouble in the 1000bulbs.com 500 at Talladega, no team wants to be in the position of having to rely on such. However, if trouble befalls two of the three Penske pilots, that is exactly where they will be on Sunday afternoon in Alabama.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
Respond to this piece on Twitter –> @RichardAllenIDR
or on Facebook –> InsideCircleTrack/Facebook