A multi-car crash in the closing laps of Stage 2 wound up having huge playoff implications for NASCAR Cup Series drivers in Sunday’s YellaWood 500 Round of 12 race at Talladega Superspeedway.
The big wreck occurred on Lap 108 when Jimmie Johnson got a huge shove from Clint Bowyer toward the front of the field. The push upset Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, causing Johnson to lose control and slide into Kurt Busch’s No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in the tri-oval. That contact veered Busch’s car head-on into the outside wall, landing on top of Cole Custer in the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.
Busch also retired from the race, finishing 32nd. A win in last Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway had automatically advanced him into the Round of 8.
“Yeah, it was a wild ride,” Busch said to NBC after the crash. “That’s the nature of this sport. You’re on top one week with a win and everything’s fantastic. And then this week here at Talladega, we were hoping for a nice, smooth run and to gain some points. I was just doing my job as a Chevy helper running top five and next thing you know, I’m going for one of the wildest rides I’ve ever been in.”
Bowyer was unable to continue due heavy damage on the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, finishing 33rd. Bowyer is now 38 points below the cutline heading into the Round of 12 elimination race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.
“You’ve got to go,” Bowyer told NBC of the wreck. “You’ve got to push him. The 22 and the 21 were trying and obviously they gave up on it for some reason. As soon as I got to him I push him in the front and the whole rear of the car went down and I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ and before I know it he was tank swapping all over the place. I don’t know if that was how they had their cars built or whatever, but as soon as you got close to him he was all over the place. Obviously didn’t mean to wreck him, but you’re going hard and three-wide and people are behind you pushing. I was hoping he would save it, but he didn’t and we all wrecked.”
The melee collected a host of playoff drivers, including Brad Keselowski, Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch. All three were also involved in other incidents later in the race. Dillon recovered for a 12th-place finish, while Keselowski finished 18th and Kyle Busch came home in 27th.
While Keselowski has a 41-point advantage on the cutline, Kyle Busch and Dillon are tied with a 21-point deficit below the bubble.
Dillon was upbeat despite the misfortune, acknowledging the tall task that lies ahead for the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing team at the Roval.
“That was a fun race,” Dillon said. “We got our stage points in the first stage even with a little bit of damage. In the second stage, we just couldn’t keep up with the damage we had gotten, but to come back to 12th says a lot. …
“I hope that we can make something happen at the Roval. We’re a little too far back in points, but we’ll see what we can do. A lot of things can happen. It’s easy to miss a shift. It’s easy to jump a curb and wreck. We need those guys in front of us to help us out and see if we can help ourselves out a little bit, too.”
Johnson made multiple pit stops for repairs after the crash, eventually going to the garage for a number of laps. He tried to make a return to the track, but debris from the back bumper of the No. 48 led to a caution on Lap 149, leading to a retirement for a 29th-place result.
Among other drivers involved in the incident were Ryan Preece, Brennan Poole, Brendan Gaughan and Daniel Suarez. Preece was the highest-placing driver out of the group, finishing 10th after competing for victory as the laps wound down.