TALLADEGA, Ala. — Two of the heavy favorites to win the championship going into the Chase won’t continue on in the pursuit of a championship in 2016 following mechanical failure in Alabama.
Martin Truex Jr. – who entered the race in seventh, 13 points above the cutoff – started the race on pole position and had a strong car in the first quarter of the Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, leading two laps while staying near the front.
Rounding turn 2, however, his Chase hopes went up in smoke when his engine blew up, his first since the 2014 Daytona 500.
“Just developed a vibration and started to lose a little bit of power,” Truex said of what happened to take him out. “Originally I thought it could have been a tire because it was shaking worse and worse and worse until it was time to pit. I slowed down to hit pit road and felt the vibration still there and knew it was the engine. Definitely not the way we wanted today to go – it’s a tough way to go out, but proud of the effort and proud of all the guys.”
This relegated him to a 40th place finish, his fifth in 401 Sprint Cup Series starts and first since the 2014 Daytona 500.
He’s also the first pole sitter to finish last in a race at Talladega since Stacey Compton in April of 2001 and the first driver to finish last after having led a lap since Michael McDowell at Texas in November of 2013 (LASTCAR.info).
He leaves Talladega ninth in points.
Truex wasn’t alone in the engine failure department.
Brad Keselowski, entering Talladega 11th in a seven-point hole, worked his way to the lead on the first lap and led 90 laps on nine different occasions.
In the final quarter of the race, Keselowski allowed Ryan Blaney to take the lead so he could get behind him and clear off trash that was stuck on the grille of his car. The debris flew off, but a lap later, his engine blew up, eliminating him from Chase contention.
“It looks like we lost an engine,” Keselowski said when asked what happened. “I’m pretty confident I lost a rod or something in the lower end. That’s just the way it goes.”
He said he didn’t know if the engine got too hot from the debris on his grille.
“I’m not an engine guy, but the car was really strong and we definitely kept finding debris,” he added. “I thought I got it cooled off and only got it slightly over, but I don’t know.”
Keselowski finished 38th and leaves Talladega 10th in the standings.