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NBC Sports Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin returns to No. 1 after Talladega

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The chaos of Talladega has come and gone and with the dust settling the NBC Sports Power Rankings have a familiar face at the No. 1 spot.

Denny Hamlin is back at the top of the mountain after his third-place finish in a battered No. 11 Toyota.

Hamlin returns to the top spot after previously having a five-week reign there, which ended in September.

This week’s rankings have two different ties, including a three-way tie for seventh.

Here are the power rankings ahead of this weekend’s playoff elimination race at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC).

1. Denny Hamlin (37 points): Third-place finish gives him three top fives in the last four races. He’s surging just like he did on the last lap before Ryan Blaney broke his momentum.

2. Ryan Blaney, (34 points): Followed in Kyle Larson‘s wake as a playoff driver earning his first win of the season in the playoffs. Has three tops 10s in the playoffs

3. Chase Elliott (26 points): Like Hamlin, bounced back from a wreck to finish in the top 10, but he’s still outside a transfer spot to the next round. Likely needs to win at Kansas to stay alive in these playoffs. He won there last fall.

(tie) 4. Joey Lognao (21 points): The 18 stage points he scored at Talladega created the gap he has over those outside a playoff spot. Kudos to his team for the repairs so he could finish the race.

(tie) 4. Kyle Larson (21 points): Despite a 39th-place finish at Talladega he has eight top 10s in the last 11 races and he’s already set for the next round.

6. Kevin Harvick (20 points): Even with a 17th-place finish at Talladega, he has 10 top 10s in the last 12 races. Don’t overlook him.

(tie) 7. Martin Truex Jr. (12 points): Steak of four straight top 10s ended at Talladega. Kansas provides a chance to start a new streak for this team, which has won two of the last four races on 1.5-mile tracks.

(tie) 7. Ryan Newman (12 points): Still showing some fight despite being eliminated from playoffs. Has three top fives (none in 2018) and 12 top 10s (nine in 2018).

(tie) 7. Kyle Busch (12 points): Has had a less than stellar playoff run so far, but a strong regular season has him in position to advance to the next round.

10. Brad Keselowski (9 points): His 25th-place finish was the first time in the last five races he’s placed worse than 11th.

Others receiving votes: Aric Almirola (5 points), William Byron (4 points), Alex Bowman (3 points), Michael McDowell (3 points) and Clint Bowyer (1 point)

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Despite being 18 points above cutoff, Joey Logano in ‘not a very comfortable situation’

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Somehow, someway Joey Logano left Talladega Superspeedway Monday with an 11th-place finish

He also left the 2.66-mile track with two runner-up stage finishes and an 18-point advantage on the cutoff spot to advance to the Round of 8.

But his No. 22 Ford left looking like it had gone through the spin cycle at Martinsville Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway all in one day.

It had instead survived involvement in an eight-car wreck at Talladega and thanks to the MacGyver-like skills of his Team Penske crew, finished ahead of eight other less fortunate playoff drivers.

“Everyone fought hard. My whole team fought hard today. I made everyone work,” Logano said after the race won by his teammate Ryan Blaney. “Things were going well, we had two second places in the stages. … And that’s really what gets us 18 points above the cutline right now. That was huge for us.”

A three-time Talladega winner, Logano entered the race tied with William Byron in points for the last transfer spot, but Byron owned the tiebreaker (best finish in this round). That was after a mechanical failure right before last week’s Dover race began and resulted in Logano finishing 25 laps off the lead.

As Logano said, things were going well for him Monday until he was involved in a crash with 24 laps left in the race, a wreck which “scared the crap out of me.”

“Just bam in the middle of the straightaway,” Logano said. “All things considered, the hood was blown up, I got hit in it felt like all the corners. The team did a good job. We lost one lap fixing our car. Then we got the lucky dog and got a few more (spots) before the end there. Proud of everyone to get what we can out of that. It’s what we needed to do. We’re 18 points ahead of where we were when we came into this on the cutline. That’s important. You want to be better than that, but considering the situation it was an OK day.”

Now Logano’s attention shifts to Kansas Speedway – where he’s won twice – for the second elimination race.

Logano doesn’t feel safe at all, even with the 18-point advantage. He’s ahead of Alex Bowman (-18 points), Chase Elliott (-22), Clint Bowyer (-24) and William Byron (-27).

“It helps,” Logano said. “Does it mean we’re in? Absolutely not. We’re far from it. We don’t have many cars behind (us). We’re the last car in. If one of those guys wins, we’re the first one out. So we just got to be mindful of that next week because there’s a lot of cars back there that have some speed and can possibly win. It’s not a very comfortable situation, but it’s better than where we were when we came in here. The way we control our destiny is go out there and win and bring a fast car next week.

What Cup drivers said after Talladega

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Here’s what Cup drivers said after a chaotic playoff race at Talladega

Ryan Blaney, winner – “I know a lot of guys had their problems today.  But we had our problem last week (at Dover), a bad problem.  We have kind of been saying all week, we’ve been wanting to win races all year.  Why have any different mindset? This was a huge, huge race for us.  I’m pumped up

Ryan Newman, finished second – “I told Aric (Almirola), I said they spent $50 million redeveloping this place.  I should have threw in 50 bucks for them to move the start/finish line, repainted it or something. It was a great run for our Wyndham Rewards Ford.  Everybody at Roush‑Yates, Roush Family Racing.  All the team effort that went into it was good.

“I mean, we just came up that little bit short.  I don’t know what else to say.  I could have pinched him some more.  I could have probably took the aero.  You can go back and bench race that three weeks from now.  It was a good race until the end.

“I saw the guys spinning in the back.  I was hoping for a yellow, but there wasn’t.”

Denny Hamlin, finished third – “(Our agenda) changed with every caution.  It changed with every car that fell out.  I mean, just a game of chess all day.  Sure, we could have got up there and raced, got in the middle, but we would have been in all those wrecks.  Didn’t make sense to me. I knew the statistics, the odds, the chances.  I looked at how many cars were on the lead lap if we were to crash at that point in the race.  It just wasn’t worth the risk.  There wasn’t enough to gain with cars still crashing. We waited till the bulk of them got out, then went up there and tried to win.  We almost did.”

Aric Almirola, finished fourth –  “Obviously, when you get that close to the end and you feel like you’re in position you want to win.  Man, it’s hard.  It’s hard to make the right move and do the right thing at the right time.  It’s so situational.  There’s maybe a couple of things, maybe one thing I could have tried to get up in front of (Ryan Newman), but he was coming so fast.  There was no way I was gonna block that run.  He was just gonna get to my outside and then I was gonna be stuck in the middle three-wide.  All in all, it was a good day.  We needed a good run.

Michael McDowell, finished fifth – “You’re always looking for anything to build momentum.  Results always do that and that’s always part of it.  Talladega and Daytona in particular are unique race tracks and a unique style of racing.  I don’t know how much it helps you going into Kansas, but it’s always good to get a top five and to have a strong day and be in position to push a Ford to Victory Lane.  That’s good, too.”

Austin Dillon, finished sixth – “It pushed really well and to get up through there at times, it just didn’t seem to be able to maintain the lead. But I’m glad we were able to get a good finish. Sixth place, we needed that. The No. 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.), he had a heck of a run down the backstretch. If he could have picked me up, it would have been nice. We did everything we could for what we had, and the race was very close.”

Corey LaJoie, finished seventh – “We call that stacking pennies.  You take a 33rd-place car and finish seventh with it, so we’ll take it and run.”

Chase Elliott, finished eighth – “We had our ups and downs for sure today. Got caught up in that crash but my guys did a nice job of putting it back together as best we could. Just head out West to Kansas now and try to get a win out there. That’s about all we can do now.”

“You have to have the mindset to go out there and control what we can control and do everything we can to get a win. That’s all we can do.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished ninth – “It’s nice being that close.  We put ourselves in the right positions, got to control the race for a little while.  I felt like my spotter and I did a really good job blocking the right lines at the right time and just trying to learn for the end of that race.  That one restart we picked the bottom and I don’t know if that hurt us and it let (Kurt Busch) get to the outside and the third lane formed, so, all in all, we had a really fast car.  I’m bummed we couldn’t finish it off.  There at the end I felt like we were still plenty fast enough to get the job done, but I just ran out of laps to get back up there.”
Ty Dillon, finished 10th – “When there’s so few cars left running at the end of the race, the top just seemed to never really go. On the last restart, there were only eight or nine cars running, so I knew we were in a little bit of trouble. I needed a push in the outside line as far as I could to try to get us in position where we were in second or third and I just couldn’t get any help from behind. We had a nice, big run there at the end, but couldn’t really do a whole lot with it. Another top-10 finish for our team, which is good at the superspeedways. A top-10 finish is always good for us.”
Joey Logano, finished 11th – “It scared the crap out of me because it came out of nowhere.  I was riding around and everything was good in second place and, ‘Boom.’  The next thing I know I’m sideways and up in the air.  My team did an amazing job today because when we got done with the crash the hood was up and I couldn’t see.  The thing was barely rolling with four flat tires and everything else, and they got it to where it would run and then got through another crash to get the lucky dog and finished 11th on the day.  Two second places in the stages and an 11th-place finish with a crashed race car isn’t ideal, but it’s way better than it could have been, so I’m proud of that.”
Kevin Harvick, finished 17th – “You always want to do better.  I would have loved to have scored stage points and finish better, but we didn’t.  You can’t put much merit into this.  It’s kind of like bumper cars with your friends that don’t know how to drive at the go-kart track.”

Kyle Busch, finished 19th – “Everybody starts getting more aggressive towards the end and some guys just started pushing and I got pushed. I don’t know if (Kurt Busch) was getting pushed from behind him or what, but just got turned sideways the wrong way on the straightaway and that was it.”

Clint Bowyer, finished 23rd – “I brushed the wall.  I got into (Daniel Hemric) and was just pushing like I was all day long.  I don’t know.  He ran up too high and when you push you’ve got to kind of be to the outside and run me into the wall.  I was afraid it was gonna go flat, so I bailed out of there and, sure enough, it went flat.  And then I just got stuck down there.  I couldn’t get those guys to cooperate.  They stared at me for a lap.  I was like, ‘Boys, we’ve got to figure this out.  We’ve got to push this thing off.’  I don’t know that they knew I was stuck.  I shut it off and was trying to scream, but it is what it is.”

Brad Keselowski, finished 25th –  “I got wrecked, but I haven’t see the replay.  We were about to take the lead. I was pushing Brendan Gaughan and was really excited about how it was looking there for a minute and it just didn’t work out.”

Martin Truex Jr., Finished 26th – “Obviously we tried to find a safe place there and chill out and ride. That’s kind of what our plan was and we couldn’t even do that. Wrong place, wrong time, which seems like about every time I come here. I feel like I should just race as hard as I can race because I’m probably going to get wrecked anyway.”

Brendan Gaughan, finished 27th –  “It was okay, it was just one easy, quick flip and we put it down. The only thing you worry about then is somebody hitting you.  That is what you don’t want and that is where the fear comes in. Other than that, I am fine and like I said, some people would argue that I have anything up there that’s going to hurt. Thank you to Chevrolet and thank you to the Beard family, love you guys, and yes, I will see you at the Daytona 500. Mom, sorry.”

Kurt Busch, finished 28th – “I was just trying to make the middle lane work and all hell broke loose. I was having a lot of fun out there. Just trying to hold it steady and gain some points. I don’t even know who is left. It was pretty wild. These cars are so unstable in those big packs pushing hard. It just takes the smallest little mistake.”

Daniel Suarez, finished 29th – “I don’t really know what to say.  I don’t know what we could have done different.  We were just racing hard and then went straight to the back.  We were coming back to the front and then the whole mess started in front of me and I turned the wheel a little bit too hard to try to avoid the wreck and I ended up spinning out myself.  It was either spinning out myself or wrecking, so nothing really I could have done there.”

Matt DiBendetto, finished 30th – “I saw a car go up in the air and over. It’s just crazy. I don’t know. The car was fast, pushed great obviously. … I wanted to get this car to victory lane so bad for Toyota and LFR (Leavine Family Racing). It just stinks being that close. Man, that’s insane. I was pushing Kurt (Busch) earlier before that all happened and was just focused on pushing ahead of me because my car did it so well locking on the guys in front of me. I don’t know. Seems like a dang routine. We run a superspeedway race and then I meet you guys here for an interview after the care center. These races are crazy.”

David Ragan, finished 32nd – “Everybody just got to pushing and shoving and that’s just a product of speedway racing.  These guys race extremely hard.  The cars are really safe.  I don’t really think anyone is gonna get hurt, so that probably makes everyone drive a little bit more crazy than they should and when you’re pushing and shoving at 200 miles an hour eventually you’re gonna wreck people.  I think most of the big wrecks today were because of that and that’s just the way it is, so you get out there and you tear all of these race cars up.  I hate it for the car owners, but the fans saw a lot of great racing today.  Our Envision USA Ford Mustang was fast.  It was fun, but it just didn’t last to the end.”

William Byron, finished 33rd – “Obviously, our noses are pointed and it just jacked me right up and turned me around. I have to look at it. Yeah, it just turned me to the inside first. I don’t know what to do different there to get the push better. Just unfortunate for us. We had a really good run going. I felt like we were going to at least finish pretty solid. Our car was good, just trying to bide our time. Just unfortunate, for sure.”

Erik Jones, finished 34th – “It looks like the 1 (Kurt Busch) turned the 24 (William Byron) and kind of caused that wreck, so it’s unfortunate. We had a really fast car today. It’s one of the best superspeedway cars we’ve brought as far as single car and pack speed. It’s disappointing. The DeWalt Camry was definitely a contender, I thought, for a win today. We battled back from a lap down and got right back to the front. It’s unfortunate. We’ve just been on a bad streak and we haven’t been able to shake it. Hopefully next week at Kansas – it’s been a good track to us – we can get things back going again.”

Alex Bowman, finished 37th – “My guess is that I threw a block I shouldn’t have thrown a block. I got shoved way out there. I knew the No. 22 (Joey Logano) was coming and I just tried to move down just a little bit. As soon as he touched me, it just turned it sideways. They just had a bigger run than I realized. I should have let them go and shouldn’t have thrown a block. I apologize to all the cars that got torn up, that’s on me. Talladega happens. I hate it for all of our sponsors.”

Jimmie Johnson, finished 38th – “I was just drafting and looking through the window like we do on the back straightaway and I noticed out of the left side of the windshield that the 88 was down there sideways by himself. So, something happened up there that got him pitched out of the line and unfortunately just slid right back up in front of myself and Chase (Elliott). I hope I did not knock Chase into the 88, and I feel like fortunately I may have turned him away from it and down the track. Hopefully he can still get some points here. It’s just one of those plate racing incidents and I hate it for Alex but a few people made it through from the Hendrick side of things in having a couple cars still in the race

Kyle Larson, finished 39th – “I just saw a little bit of smoke. I was in the top lane just hoping to get through it and it all happened quick. I saw the No. 88 (Alex Bowman)’s door numbers and I got into it. Yeah, that was a huge hit on my part. Thankfully, I’m OK and we’ll move onto next week and try to get a run at Kansas.”

Results, playoff standings after Talladega Cup race

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Ryan Blaney barely edged out Ryan Newman to win Monday’s rain-delayed Cup Series race at Talladega.

It’s his first win of the year and the third of his career.

The top five was completed by Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Michael McDowell.

Click here for the results.

Playoff Standings

Blaney is the second consecutive winner who was a playoff driver earning their first victory of the season.

He joins Kyle Larson in having a spot secured in the third round of the playoffs.

Here are the playoff standings heading into the cutoff race at Kansas Speedway.

Kyle Larson – locked in

Ryan Blaney – locked in

Denny Hamlin, +55 points above cutoff

Martin Truex Jr., +48 points

Kyle Busch, +40

Kevin Harvick, +36 points

Brad Keselowski, +20 points

Joey Logano, +18 points

__

Alex Bowman, -18 points

Chase Elliott, -22

Clint Bowyer, -24

William Byron, -27

Click here for the point standings.

Ryan Blaney wins Cup race at Talladega in photo finish over Ryan Newman

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Ryan Blaney won Monday’s rain-delayed Cup Series race at Talladega in a two-lap shootout, beating Ryan Newman in a photo finish by 0.007 seconds, the sixth-closest finish all-time.

It is Blaney’s third career Cup win and his first win of the year. It locks him into third round of the playoffs after he entered the race below the cutoff line.

Newman took the lead on the last lap going into Turn 3 thanks to a push from Denny Hamlin. Blaney then made contact with Newman’s left rear in the middle of the tri-oval. The two rubbed doors as they approached the checkered flag as Blaney barely edged him out.

“There was no blocking (Newman) and (Hamlin),” Blaney told NBCSN. “They were coming so fast and I figured if I’d give up the bottom they were just going to leave me in the middle. So I just decided to stay with Aric (Almirola). Great pusher all day and I kind of went up and pulled (Hamlin) off (Newman) and then he was so far out in front. … (Newman) kind of pushed me below the yellow line and I wasn’t going to go there after what happened in the Truck race. Kind of got forced down and it just worked out.”

NASCAR reviewed the finish multiple times and determined Blaney was forced below the yellow line and therefore it is not a penalty.

Blaney’s win is the second race in a row where a playoff driver has earned their first win of the year after Kyle Larson won at Dover.

For Newman it ties his career-best finish at Talladega.

“They spent $50 million redeveloping this place, I should have thrown in fifty bucks to have them move the start-finish line,” Newman said to NBCSN. “Repainted it or something. It was a great run … We just came up that little bit short. I don’t know what else to say. I could have pinched him some more … you can go back and bench race that three weeks from now. It was good racing to the end.”

The top five was completed by Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Michael McDowell.

The final run was setup by a huge multi-car wreck with seven laps to go.

Parker Kligerman and Chris Buescher wrecked on the frontstretch coming to the checkered flag.

The race was postponed from Sunday after rain paused the action just after the conclusion of Stage 2.

STAGE 1 WINNER: William Byron

STAGE 2 WINNER: Clint Bowyer

MORE: Race results, playoff standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Corey LaJoie finished seventh for his second career top-10 finish … Michael McDowell earned his third career top-five finish. All have been on superspeedways … Chase Elliott finished eighth after being involved in a wreck in the middle of the race.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Playoff drivers Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson, plus Jimmie Johnson, were eliminated in an 11-car wreck with four laps left in Stage 2. … William Byron and Erik Jones were eliminated in a multi-car wreck with 24 laps left in the race

WHAT’S NEXT: Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway at 2:30 p.m. ET Oct. 20 on NBCSN