Race Capsule: Hamlin fights back to win Chase opener at Chicagoland, Harvick fights
The MyAFibRisk.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway was largely a mundane event, as leaders quickly lapped most of the field and seemingly delivered big hits on several Chase drivers' title hopes. The 267-lap affair saw qualifying
The race went green for a season-long 117
Harvick hung around in the top 5 all race-long, but on lap 139, his day went sideways, literally. Joey Logano (6th) aggressively pushed Jimmie Johnson (11th) on a restart and Johnson wiggled out of line and onto the apron of the track. As the No. 48 entered the track surface, it made contact with Harvick's No. 4. Harvick got away from
Leader Ky. Busch started on the outside for the lap 145 restart, when controversy ensued. For weeks, drivers have been campaigning NASCAR to better patrol restarts. The lead driver has to start the race in the "restart box" and some have been alleged of starting early. In this instance, 2nd-place Jeff Gordon (14th) appeared to start before Busch. NASCAR reviewed the start and determined that Busch had already started going and Gordon simply beat him. No penalty.
Ku. Busch got a flat tire and pitted under green, losing a lap. But he had been in the top 10 and drove all the way back to the front. When the final caution flew, his crew chief Tony Gibson elected to keep him out front. Gordon and Hamlin did the same. But Ky. Busch pitted, along with most of the other lead cars. When the race went green with five laps to go, Hamlin dove to the bottom three-wide into Turn 1 and snagged the lead from Busch. Hamlin drove off and Edwards, on fresh tires, also got by the No. 41 car. Gordon struggled horribly on old tires and faded back to 14th. Ky. Busch also had a bad restart, as he had all day, and lost spots at the end.
Hamlin drove to his second win of the season and guaranteed himself a spot in the Contender Round in three weeks. He also showed that Joe Gibbs Racing is still the Sprint Cup Series team to beat, for
The top 10 were Hamlin, Edwards, Ku. Busch, Ryan Newman (literally made me go "Huh?" when I saw where he finished), Matt Kenseth (same reaction as Newman), Logano, Kyle Larson (almost won this race a year ago and came from a lap down to score solid finish), Brad Keselowski (quiet day in or near the top 10, never a lead factor), Ky. Busch, and Aric Almirola (first top 10 that was not also a top 5 this season).
Most of the rest of the Chasers were not far back: Johnson (11th - car came to life near the end of the
RaceTweet: Hamlin and Edwards come back to go 1-2 at Chicagoland. Harvick delivers bus lot punch heard around the NASCAR world.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Kurt Busch - His brother led the most laps (121), by far, but Kurt had the race won. He executed the pass for the lead with 23 laps to go and did so after being a lap down. Those three cautions in 15 laps just after halfway saved a lot of team's days and Busch executed everything to a tee to make the comeback. If only he had not gotten out-muscled on that restart…
North Korean Missile Dud: Kasey Kahne - Someone pressed the sleep button on the No. 5 Chevy Sunday. Kahne never saw the light of day in the Great Clips car, getting lapped early and staying there. While his teammates ran in the top 15, with Gordon even leading laps, Kahne started 8th and finished 24th. Kahne's team's performance raises the question yet again about what is missing from that bunch.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Aric Almirola - Unlike Kahne's team, Almirola has not faded after missing the Chase. The No. 43 car ran in the top 10 a year ago, but an engine failure derailed their first Chase run together. This year, Almirola was strong again and notched his third top 10 of the year.
Ghost Driver: Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Neither driver really got much TV coverage, but at the end, both had decent finishes. In fact, Kenseth came out of nowhere to place 5th, after running about 12th all day. Earnhardt Jr. ran near all day and finished 12th.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, and Kurt Busch - The race's top three finishers each were a lap down and drove back to the lead. Cautions made that possible, but they each still had to pass some cars and hold a bunch more off to make that happen. This is possibly the best trait to win a championship: don't fold when the odds are against you.
Jimmie Johnson Golden Horseshoe Award: Jeff Gordon - Gordon slid back so drastically on the final restart, he should have wrecked. Gordon was so off kilter, he looked like he had more than a tire problem. But drivers kept off of him and, while disappointing, Gordon finished the race, instead of finishing on the hook.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: As tantalizing as a small case of fisticuffs is, did Harvick really have to jab Johnson in the chest? The two are friends and semi-teammates. They both came through the ranks at the same time and are from the same part of California. Emotions do spill over in the heat of the moment, but Harvick had a half a race to cool off and could have seen the video at some point in the garage. And Johnson felt bad enough about it to
Georgia on My Mind: David Ragan had a decent showing at Chicagoland, coming from starting 28th and being a lap down to finishing 15th and on the lead lap - and four spots and two laps ahead of his teammate Bowyer. Ragan got bad news last week, with Aaron's announcing it would not sponsor
New dad Reed Sorenson piloted the Premium Motorsports No. 98 Ford to a dismal 40th-place finish Sunday, which is only surprising if you have not followed the No. 98 and No. 62 teams all year.
The Xfinity Series race Saturday night saw Kyle Busch win just ahead of Matt Kenseth and two Georgia drivers factor in the finish. Chase Elliott struggled mightily with the No. 9 Chevy all race and was in a good 13th-place battle with fellow Georgian John Wes Townley as the leaders, in their own battle, caught them in the closing laps. Elliott raced hard with
Elliott's sluggish finish leaves him 3rd in the standings, 28 behind leader Chris Buescher, erasing the gains he made by winning at Richmond two weeks ago. Elliott had Jeff Gordon's spotter Eddie D'Hondt on his radio, likely in preparation for his 2016 move to Gordon's No. 24. Jimmie Johnson's spotter, Earl Barban, had been Elliott's spotter most races before that.
The Camping World Truck Series race at Chicagoland ran Saturday morning, instead of Friday night. John Hunter Nemechek, who has raced a good bit at Georgia's Gresham Motorsports Park, won the race. Townley finished a solid 10th and he stands 8th in points - 12 behind Timothy Peters and 12 ahead of Spencer Gallagher. Brandon Jones finished five laps down in 17th and Korbin Forrister retired early and placed 27th.
Next: The Sprint Cup Series and Camping World Truck Series drive to New Hampshire. The NSCS cars race Sunday at 2 p.m. on NBCSN and PRN, while the NCWTS runs Saturday at 1 p.m. on FS1 and MRN. The Xfinity Series runs at Kentucky Speedway Saturday night 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN and PRN. I'm excited, as I get to help call the action on PRN from the booth with Doug Rice. So, listen in!