For better or worse, Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway certainly lacked the on-track fireworks that characterized the Kobalt Tools 500 in March, better known in the Keselowski family as “The day Brad flew.” No, the Emory Healthcare 500 will be remembered more for Tony Stewart ending his 31-race winless streak, and pole-sitter Denny Hamlin blowing his engine after leading most of the early going. Still, this race was not crash-free, and may end up deciding the last man in the Chase.
What Happened: On lap 151, Ryan Newman slipped between Jamie McMurray, and Greg Biffle to race three-wide coming down the straightaway just before turn 3. Unfortunately, Biffle was the only driver not to realize this, as he tried to come down the track, oblivious to Newman’s No. 39 car directly on his inside. Unaware of Newman until it was too late, the left side of Biffle’s 3M car hit Newman’s Chevy, sending Biffle spinning down the track. Somehow Newman and McMurray escaped the crash unscathed. There was, however, one other casualty of the crash, Eliot Sadler’s No. 19 car, which was running behind Biffle. After the initial spinout, Sadler opted to go low and sneak under Biffle’s smoking car before it hit the infield, only to be unintentionally boxed in from going lower by Kevin Harvick. Biffle’s car hit Sadler’s quarter-panel, causing him to crash into the turn 3 wall before settling back down toward the infield. Heady driving by Harvick and Jeff Burton prevented more participants from getting involved in the crash. Unlike Sadler, Biffle was eventually able to reenter the race but finished 80 laps down in 35th. Sadler finished 41st.
The Aftermath: Actually, none. It was Biffle’s mistake and only he and Sadler suffered any consequences. Sadler is the only driver who could get upset but there have been no reports indicating that he was.
The Verdict: Another fairly clear-cut decision. Newman’s driving was aggressive (much to Joey Logano’s surprise, I’m sure ), but Biffle absolutely should have seen him before he decided to go low. As for Sadler, there’s no question he was unlucky, but he was far enough behind the No. 16 car that he, like every other car trailing Biffle, could have avoided a crash. The crash was Biffle’s fault, but only he will suffer the consequences should he repeat his dismal finish next week at Richmond.
Biffle is currently 11th in the Chase standings, 44 points ahead of Clint Bowyer and 161 points ahead of Ryan Newman, who has a shot – albeit a small one- of stealing a spot in the Chase. Regardless of how Newman finishes Saturday night, Biffle needs only to finish 42nd or better, or lead one lap, in order to clinch a spot, while Bowyer can clinch by finishing 28th or better. Biffle’s mistake in Atlanta won’t hurt his spot in the Chase in all likelihood, but you can be sure he and the No. 16 crew would all be able to rest a little easier this week with a spot in the Chase already locked up.