NASCAR News Week of September 17th
The first race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase is in the books and things are already looking quite interesting. Some drivers have stayed at the top, others have made tremendous leaps forward and others have fallen back. Here's how it all shook out out after the Gieco 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, race 1 of the 10 chase races.
Not surprising to many are the names on the top of the list. By driving a tremendous race, Brad Keselowski, driver of the Penske Dodge, won the race in easy fashion and secured the top spot as the Chase point leader.
Brad benefited from a strong car all day, and once he was able to get out in front of the pack no one really had any way of challenging him. With three races won prior to the Chase, it wasn't surprising to see him taking the checkered flag.
Jimmie Johnson also put in a good effort. Looking like the car to beat most of the day and leading the most laps, he looked like he was headed to victory lane. Later in the race, however, he didn't have anything for Keselowski and finished a respectable 2nd.
The biggest mover in the Chase for the Cup was Kasey Kahne. The newest addition to the Hendrick stable got off to a rough start at the beginning of the year, but thanks to two wins and a lot of consistency, he was able to work his way into the chase using the first of two wildcard entries.
Starting 11th in points for the chase, Kahne improved his points ranking significantly with a strong 3rd place finish in Chicago. While Kahne never really was the car to beat, he never fell very far out of the top 3 all day. This allowed him to move up six positions in the Chase standings, and he now sits in 5th place. This is just a mere 15 points behind points leader Brad Keselowski. Given that Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis have a good record of consistency in the later half of the season, Kahne could be a contender for the Cup title.
All, however, was not good. Joe Gibbs Racing Driver Denny Hamlin came into the Chase with two wins in the past four races. He also came in as the Chase points leader. While never having a winning car, Hamlin certainly had a top five car. However, due to a two tire pit stop, the car didn't get enough fuel and he ran out of gas on the last lap giving him a 16th place finish and dropping him three spots to the 4th in points. While still only being 15 points back of the leader, it wasn't the type of start to the Chase that he wanted.
The driver that took the biggest blow was Jeff Gordon. After riding the momentum of barely getting into the chase by one point and securing the last wildcard spot, Gordon would see his chances at a strong top five or top 10 finish beginning to shape up.
Like most, he wasn't going to touch the top three cars of Keselowski, Johnson and Kahne, but he was running in the top 10 and top five all day. On lap 188, however, heading into turn one his throttle held open causing him to slap the outside wall. The heavy hit caused significant damage to the A frame and the right front hub assembly. His teamed made repairs and got him back out on the track but Gordon came home a disappointing 35th. More significant, however, is that he is still in 12th place in points, a distant 47 points behind the points leader with only nine races left.