Race Capsule: Truex Jr. opens Chase up front, but illegal at Chicagoland; Elliott so close again
What an opening round! The 2016 Chase for the Cup standings are going to be hard to predict - they already are. We know the Joe Gibbs/Furniture Row cars and Harvick
Flag to Flag: This 270-lap race (267 scheduled, three overtime) is divided into four phases. There's the pole sitter Kyle Busch (finished 8th) and Truex Jr.-dominated first run. A caution for a loose tire during green flag stops on lap 50 shook up the lineup and put the day's dominator, Jimmie Johnson (12th) in the lead. Johnson led 118 laps in the middle part of the race, only losing the lead during pit sequences.
The third phase of the race is Chase Elliott's (3rd) assumption of the top spot on lap 178 and for the next 57 laps. The final green flag pit stops saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. substitute Alex Bowman (10th) wait a long time out front in the lead before pitting, as the team hoped for a yellow flag to gain them track position. When he pitted, Kevin Harvick (20th) tried the same strategy.
Harvick had been trapped a lap down since that first caution, because crew chief Rodney Childers called for the No. 4 team to make a two-tire stop under green as the yellow came out, to try and beat leader Truex Jr.'s car across the start-finish line. They were hoping to stay on the lead lap and then pit again for the much-needed other two tires under yellow. But NASCAR ruled that Truex Jr. beat him to the line and Harvick, who started in the back of the field for unapproved pre-race adjustments and then promptly drove into the top 5 in the first 50 laps, got stuck a lap down in traffic and out of contention most of the rest of the day,
Truex Jr. had to pit under the next green flag for a flat tire and ended up chasing down and passing Harvick for the free pass position. On one restart, Harvick got into Truex Jr., making the No. 78 driver livid.
Bad fortune also struck Johnson on the last green flag pit stops, as he sped on pit road and had to make a pass through penalty. Matt Kenseth (9th) also sped on a yellow flag pit stop, as did his teammate Ky. Busch, who had hung around the top 5 up until that point. Kyle Larson (18th), appearing in his first Chase, pitted with what he thought was a flat tire in the closing laps, but did not lose much ground to the other drivers in the Chase.
Elliott kept the lead after the last green flag pit stops and with the win in sight and only three laps to go, his advantage on a closing Truex Jr., whose car was shot out of a cannon in the closing stages, evaporated. A caution for Michael McDowell's (37th) cut tire forced NASCAR Overtime and brought most leaders to pit road.
Elliott's crew could only must a
The race went green with two laps to go and Truex Jr., lined up 4th on the outside, launched three-wide and was in the lead by the end of the lap. Elliott got stuck behind Blaney and a surging Joey Logano (2nd) and couldn't get up and claim his first win.
Chicagoland's older racing surface meant drivers could use multiple grooves and had to, as the tires wore quickly. While the field did get spread out, good cars (like Harvick's early and Truex Jr.'s all day) could pass at will. This and the drama at the end made for a great race to watch.
After the event, NASCAR announced that both Truex Jr.'s car and Johnson's failed post-race tech laser inspection. NASCAR had just put in place an escalated penalty system for winning cars that fail, one in which cars with "egregious" penalties will still keep the win, but the win won't count toward advancing in the Chase. The frequency of past penalties also will reflect on the harshness of the punishment.
While penalties haven't been announced, Johnson and Truex Jr.'s penalties likely will be classified P2: around 10-15 points and a monetary fine. That will have worse effects Johnson and put him near the bottom of the Chase
NASCAR also announced after the race, under this new penalty structure that Aric Almirola's and Greg Biffle's cars each were missing a lugnut. They will receive a smaller penalty than what had been a one-race crew chief suspension per
Things got very confusing post-race. NASCAR needs to clean this up.
Top 10 and the Chasers: Truex Jr.; Logano (hung in the top 10 all day and popped out on the podium at the end); Elliott (had the race won, until the last yellow); Blaney (much-needed good run after strategy play on old tires); Brad Keselowski (ran third almost the entire race); Denny Hamlin (finished a spot or two better than he ran most of the race); Kahne (finished where he ran all day, after gaining spots by not pitting); Ky. Busch (rebounded from speeding penalty); Kenseth (same); Bowman (first-career top 10 in his third race in the No. 88 car).
Chasers outside the top 10: 11. Jamie McMurray (ran in the top 15 all day without incident or notice); 12. Johnson (led, sped, rebound, points penalty will lose him ground); 13. Kurt Busch (will need to run better each week to run deep in the Chase); 14. Austin Dillon (ran in top 15 all day, but never near the front); 15. Edwards (struggled with a vibration much of the day, got burned on the old tire strategy); 16. Stewart (got two free passes and finished two spots better than where he ran most of the race); 18. Larson (final caution saved him a few positions); 20. Harvick (gambled for the late yellow, but had to pit before it came out); 28. Buescher (fell down a lap early and is in a big hole now in inferior equipment).
The points: Truex Jr. has a one-point lead on Keselowski for now, but will probably lose 10 in a penalty and has clinched a spot in the next round, so the points don't matter. Johnson is 8th in points, but could end up as far back as 12th or 14th after a penalty. The four drivers outside the top 12 that will advance
RaceTweet: Chase Elliott
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Jimmie Johnson - Johnson had the race won before Elliott did, easily leading the most laps and gaining the top spot by taking advantage of the untimely early yellow. Johnson's dominance and Elliott's after him send a strong message that Hendrick Motorsports can and will factor in this Chase. While the Toyotas ran well and Truex Jr.'s was the fastest most of the race, HMS cars all were at or close to the top 10 and Johnson's and Elliott's are primed to make some noise.
North Korean Missile Dud: Kevin Harvick - Harvick started in the back of the field and passed about 35 cars by lap 50 - that was incredible and fun to watch. After he got trapped a lap down, his car struggled with a bad set of tires and all the wind seemingly left the No. 4 team's sails. With only four cautions all day, Harvick just never could get back on the lead lap and run the leaders down.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Martin Truex Jr. - He had patented Truex Luck when he pitted with a flat tire early in the race's second run. But Truex Jr., who had already driven to the lead once, recoiled and chased down Harvick for the free pass spot, and then
Ghost Driver: Tony Stewart - The main reason anyone noticed Stewart in the race was that he got two free passes. Otherwise, the No. 14 Chevy struggled just enough to confirm that they are mainly a low-tier Chase team.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Alex Bowman - After having top-10 cars, but bad luck in his first two races in place of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88, Bowman got a top 10 with a car that was more 15th-looking. He's an underdog driver with a big time race team and is performing better in that ride than Jeff Gordon (and sometimes even Dale Earnhardt Jr.) had. Cheers.
Wheel of Misfortune: Chicagoland Speedway - The racing was great, the points are close, a rookie almost won, and a new contender is solidifying his spot up front. But why are they unfortunate? Because NASCAR's new, even
There is no elementary way to understand when a post-race laser inspection failure will actually cost a driver the benefit of the win moving them ahead in the Chase or not. And common sense also is stopping many fans from understanding how a driver can still keep the win in the record
So, Chicagoland loses out on some of the good vibes after a great race, because penalty talk will overshadow it and throw some shade on the race winner. That's racing, as they say.
Jimmie Johnson Golden Horseshoe: Kyle Larson - He would have lost many more points with his flat tire, had the race had more cautions and, thus, more drivers on the lead lap. But Larson pitted late and then got a yellow and finished 18th. That's not a great finish, but the good breaks mean his deficit in the Chase standings is much less than it could have been.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: What exactly happened on that first caution? NASCAR threw a yellow flag in
The inconsistency is
Something seemed to be wrong with the scoring or officiating system during the sequence of stops. NASCAR announced pit road speeding penalties late and there was an unclear transmission from the front trailer (where officials watch pit stops for penalties) right before the yellow came out.
NASCAR did have to review the scoring anyway, as Harvick's team though he had gotten back on the lead lap. But there were seemingly other scoring/officiating errors. Paul Menard got a speeding penalty, was asked to start in the back of the field, and got black flagged for not starting in the right spot. After serving the
With all of the head-scratching on the inspection penalties, having these kinds of officiating problems live in the tower during the race just cannot happen. NASCAR will continue to lose the faith of many involved, especially the
Georgia On My Mind: Chase Elliott impressed again and drove from 14th at the start to 3rd at the race's end. He is now 6th in the standings, 11 points out of the lead and 12 points ahead of the cutoff. He also is the first Georgia driver to ever make the Chase.
David Ragan and Reed Sorenson each got speeding penalties, but had miserable races anyway, finishing 35th and 39th respectively, each several laps in arrears. The lack of yellow flags put their slower cars behind the eight ball early.
Georgia drivers performed well in Saturday's Drive for Safety 300 Xfinity Series at Chicagoland Speedway. Brandon Jones and Ryan Sieg finished 10th and 12th and each qualified for the inaugural NXS Chase. Sieg entered the race with a decent points cushion and finished better than he had to and Jones had a solid race and was already assured a Chase spot. They each will have to step up their game to really knock off the drivers ahead of them.
Garrett Smithley finished a decent 19th in the No. 0 car, ahead of several bigger race teams.
Friday's American Ethanol E15 225 Camping World Truck Series race was going well for John Wes Townley - until the end. He started 2nd and was running in the top 10, when tried to slide in front of Chase contender Tyler Reddick, but didn't clear him. The contact sent him driver's side first into the outside wall and damaged Reddick's left-front with just a few laps left. Townley finished 20th and did not come close to making the inaugural NCWTS Chase.
NXS RaceTweet: Erik Jones and Elliott Sadler battle late for the Chicagoland win, with Jones taking it and starting the Chase as the favorite. Kyle Busch wrecks, not wins.
NCWTS RaceTweet: Kyle Busch wins Chicagoland crash fest and then fails inspection. Reddick, Custer, and Hayley just barely miss the Chase. Hemric and Hayley almost win the race.
Next: The NXS heads to Kentucky Speedway Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN on TV and PRN and Sirius/XM Ch. 90 on radio. I get to join Doug Rice and the PRN team in the booth for the call for the first-ever NXS Chase race. This is the last standalone NXS event of the season, so it's a big proving ground.
Sunday the Sprint Cup Series runs at New Hampshire Motor Speedway at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN, and Sirius/XM 90. The NCWTS takes to the track in its first-ever Chase race Saturday at 1 p.m. on NBCSN, MRN, and Sirius/XM 90. New Hampshire is a tough track and often is a tricky one - it could really shake up the Chase standings for both series.