In the end, that’s all it came down to for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Those few inches made all the difference in whether he would progress to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Going into the 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Earnhardt knew that the only way he’d remain in contention for the championship crown was to win the race. And it looked like he was going to make it happen.

On Lap 185 of the 196-lap event, the engine of Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 Cessna Pink Chevrolet blew, bringing out the yellow flag. The caution lasted until Lap 194 and the race was set to end with green-white-checkered finished. But shortly after the final restart began, the “big one” happened when the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet of Kevin Harvick got into the side of Trevor Bayne’s No. 6 AdvoCare Ford.

Some drivers believed Harvick initiated the final wreck intentionally because his car was struggling to keep pace and knew that he’d get passed, potentially knocking him out of championship contention.

NASCAR, who had said earlier in the week that they were changing the normal three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish to only one attempt for the Talladega race, decided to freeze the field and call the race when the accident occurred.

Logano was just barely ahead of the hard-charging Earnhardt, who most likely would have passed the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil car if the race was extended. Earnhardt had the fastest car at Talladega and led a race-high 61 laps. Instead, Logano walked away from the wild race with his third consecutive win. He swept the entire three-race Contender Round.

As a result, Earnhardt’s second-place finish knocked him out of the Chase and dashed his hopes of winning his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. After the race, the Chase field was narrowed from 12 to eight.

Going into the race next weekend at Martinsville Speedway, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth all join Earnhardt on the outside looking in. Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Harvick and Kyle Busch moved on to the Eliminator Round, along with Logano.

As for the battle in the In This Corner challenge, Alex Pohlman dealt a devastating blow to John Farrell’s chances at winning the first-ever In This Corner title. Pohlman, who selected Earnhardt, captured the week’s point and extended her lead to 12-8.

Farrell’s pick didn’t do too shabby, but when Pohlman’s choice finishes in second, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for error for Farrell. If Farrell had gone with Logano, he would have scored the point, but instead he went with Logano’s teammate, Brad Keselowski. The driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford finished a respectable fourth.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t good enough for Farrell.

With only four races remaining, the only way Farrell can win the championship now is to win out, which would leave them tied at 12 points apiece. Then Harvick would have to finish ahead of Kyle Busch in the final points standings. If Pohlman wins once during the last four weeks, it’s all over for Farrell.

Joins us next weekend at 1:15 p.m. EDT when the drivers attack the smallest track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, Martinsville Speedway, for the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered by Kroger. It will be aired on NBC Sports Network.

Gage – 12; Farrell – 8