Last weekend, a rash of flat tires meant that the normally docile Texas Motor Speedway hosted one of the most chaotic NASCAR Cup Series races in years. This weekend, the series came to Talladega, home of pack-sweeping "Big One" crashes. Despite the widespread expectation that the chaos would continue, drivers put on a relatively clean race.
Just one notable multi-car wrecked marred the event, an incident halfway through the day's opening stage caused by a push between Harrison Burton and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. gone wrong. While involvement in that crash did slow Joey Logano, no playoff driver still alive for the championship actually finished off the lead lap. That left a full field to fight for the win at the end of both stages.
In stage 1, Ryan Blaney got past Denny Hamlin to collect the maximum total points for the period. In stage 2, Chase Elliott beat out teammate Kyle Larson. The two stayed toward the front, and after Elliott made his move with two laps to go the two found themselves each leading a lane on the race's final lap. Blaney had help from Front Row Motorsports driver Michael McDowell, but a more direct push from recent Southern 500 winner Erik Jones got Elliott ahead into turn 4 and allowed the 2020 series champion to take the win.
It means Elliott has already advanced to the next round of the championship and erased any concerns resulting from his early retirement from last weekend's race at Texas. It is also Elliott's fifth win this season, putting him in excellent position to advance to the Championship Four when the next round gets underway in two weeks. As the first active playoff driver to win in any playoff round this year, he's in a unique position to collect even more playoff points and better his position with no risk at the Charlotte Motor Speedway's "Roval" infield road course next weekend.
Blaney is not quite so comfortable yet, but he head into the Roval in the most comfortable position of anyone but Elliott. While still winless on the season, he's 32 points clear of the cutoff line and should be able to make the next round with a clean race next weekend. Ross Chastain and Denny Hamlin are the only other drivers more than 20 points above the cutoff line, while Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, and Daniel Suarez remain on the good side heading into the next elimination round. Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric are tied on either side of the elimination line, while William Byron is 11 points back and Christopher Bell is a distant 33 back. Alex Bowman, who missed today's race with concussion-like symptoms, is 48 back and would need to both return by next weekend and win the race next Sunday if he hopes to advance to the Round of 8 this season.
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