Observations• The checkered flag in Sunday’s race had barely stopped waving when some fans on social media were already complaining about NASCAR waving the caution flag for an accident on the last lap. In my opinion, cautions should be called for the same reasons at the end of a race as they are during a race, although NASCAR has made distinctions in the past. In this case, Austin Dillon’s car got airborne on the backstretch and at the time there was no way to tell whether he was injured or not. NASCAR should never put itself in position to leave driver safety to chance.
• It’s been a big month for owner Chip Ganassi. In the last 30 days, Ganassi’s Grand Am team won a series championship, his driver Scott Dixon clinched this year’s IndyCar Series championship Saturday night in Fontana, Calif., and NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray ended his two-year winless streak with a victory Sunday at Talladega.
• Jimmie Johnson is the Sprint Cup Series points leader and the next race on the schedule is at Martinsville, Va., where he has won an astounding eight times in his career. We’ve seen this move before – many times.
How the Chase contenders faired:
1 Jimmie Johnson (2,254): Johnson, who swept both Daytona races this season, appeared ready to collect a victory at Talladega as well, leading a race-high 47 laps. He got shuffled back to 13th but still finished seven spots better than Matt Kenseth and took over the series points lead.
2 Matt Kenseth (-4): Kenseth clearly had one of the fastest cars in the race but late in the event he struggled with the handling on his No. 20 Toyota. “It was really bizarre, typically handling is a non-issue here but we got so loose I couldn’t even hand on to it,” he said.
3 Kyle Busch (-26) : Lately restrictor-plate races haven’t been good experiences for Busch, but that changed Sunday even though he missed his pit stall during the first round of green-flag stops. He ended up fifth and moved into a tie for third in the series standings.
4 Kevin Harvick (-26) : Harvick spent much of the race running near the back of the field, hoping to make a late charge to the front. A slower-than-usual green-flag pit stop left him further back in the field than he wanted and didn’t have enough time to all the way to the front. He finished 12th.
5 Jeff Gordon (-34) : Gordon called Sunday’s race pretty much “a wash” as his position in the championship race barely changed. Gordon said he was shocked more drivers didn’t attempt to make a run on the leaders before the final lap unfolded.
“I’ve never seen guys have that much patience here in my life,” he said.
6 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-52): Earnhardt was in prime position to make a run on race leader Jamie McMurray on the final lap but a caution robbed him of the chance of any last-lap dramatics.
7 Greg Biffle (-53): Biffle was never in contention but pleased to get out of Talladega without getting involved in a wreck. “That is all I really care about,” he said.
8 Clint Bowyer (-57): Bowyer actually took the lead briefly midway through the race and ended up finishing 10th – tied for his second-best finish so far in the Chase.
9 Kurt Busch (-61): Sporting a Wonder Bread paint scheme reminiscent of the “Talladega Nights” movie didn’t help Busch’s fortunes much this week. He finished 18th.
10 Carl Edwards (-68) : Edwards made a move to the front late in the race but it may have been too soon. He ended up getting shuffled back to 17th. “I thought he were in a really good spot but it just didn’t work out,” he said.
11 Ryan Newman (-72): Newman never got to the front to contend for the win but did manage to earn his fourth Top-10 finish of the Chase.
12 Joey Logano (-75): Logano tried to get a run started in the bottom groove in the closing laps but not enough cars joined in to make any significant progress.
13 Kasey Kahne (-101) : A bad day just kept getting worse. Kahne fell a lap down riding near the back of the field and was later penalized for speeding on pit road.
Five key moments
1 . Early in the race, it appeared Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson had the fastest cars. They ended up leading 79 of the 188 laps.
2 . Kyle Busch missed his pit stall and was forced to make two stops during the race’s first round of green-flag pit stops.
3 . Kasey Kahne had a bad day. First, he fell a lap down racing in the back of the field, then on Lap 122, he was penalized for speeding on pit road.
4 . Jamie McMurray moved into the lead with 15 laps remaining and runs the high line – the fastest way around the track – and has no intentions of giving it up without a fight.
5 . McMurray takes the white flag as the leader so when a caution is displayed by NASCAR for an accident, his victory is assured.