Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Chicagoland – Brad Keselowski Threads the Needle to the Second Round of the Chase

Key MomentBrad Keselowski was running in second when he made a yellow flag pit stop on lap 183. His team felt they did not properly secure the right rear tire to the car on the stop so they returned to pit lane and changed the tires again. As a result, Keselowski restarted behind all of the other lead lap cars and had to race his way back to the point.

In a Nutshell – The harsh winters of Chicago have aged the race track to the point that it is lacking in grip and sporting quite a bit of character. As a result, a tire that gave up a second a lap within 10 laps and the bright sunshine of a daytime race resulted in tremendous racing from the bottom to the top of the 1.5-mile track in Joliet, Il. The resulting two, three, four and five-wide racing was spread throughout the pack for much of the race. In the end, the Chase contenders made up the majority of the top 10 because they are the better drivers on the circuit.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
Clint Bowyer’s bad luck continued on Sunday, but it set up an exciting battle to the finish. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Dramatic Moment – The penultimate caution of the race flew for Clint Bowyer smacking the outside wall when his right front tire blew on lap 245. The restart from that caution saw Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick duke it out for three laps, swapping the lead on each circuit. As they went back and forth, Brad Keselowski dove between the two of them and took over the top spot from third place, never to lose it again.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler

Kyle Larson is the next big thing. Jeff Gordon was the next big thing 22 years ago. Over the final five laps the two of them put on a racing display that had everyone on their feet. They took turns running the bottom and the top, crossing over on each other without ever making contact. Larson brushed the wall on the next to last lap and that allowed Gordon to secure the runner-up position but it was an unbelievable display of driving by two supremely talented wheelmen.

Marcos Ambrose announced that he is returning to his homeland of Australia for 2015 to get back into Australian V8 Supercar racing. Ambrose made the decision for personal reasons. Sunday evening a release came out that announced Ambrose will be the driver for Roger Penske‘s new foray into V8 Supercar racing after buying into Dick Johnson Racing. Ambrose is a two-time champion in the series and was the defending champion when he came to the United States to run in NASCAR.

Speaking of Ambrose, his current sponsor is rumored to be heading to Joe Gibbs Racing for 2015. Frontstretch is hearing that Stanley is heading to Gibbs to put their familiar yellow and black scheme on the cars of Carl Edwards for part of his inaugural season at JGR.

David Ragan is being rumored to fill the seat at Richard Petty Motorsports that is being vacated by Ambrose. It is sad to think that a talented driver like Corey LaJoie, who is already on the Petty payroll, isn’t going to be given a shot to show what he could do in that machine.

The pit crews of the Nos. 4 and 14 were swapped before the race in Chicago this weekend. Kevin Harvick had one hiccup on pit lane during the event but didn’t have repeated instances of losing multiple spots while in the pits.

The investigation into the tragic incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park that took the life of Kevin Ward, Jr. has been completed. There will be a statement issued this week with regards to what action will be taken by the District Attorney.

The NASCAR fans in the greater Chicago area have not been the staunchest supporters of the Cup Series over the years. There have been rumors that the track’s future could be in doubt if the crowd didn’t improve. The fans showed up on Sunday in strong numbers to prove that they want to keep their race date and their race track.

Frontstretch is also hearing that there is a possible agreement in the works to bring a handful of racing events to Mansfield Motorsports Park in 2015. The track has been dormant since 2010.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Aric Almirola almost went a lap down early in the event but was saved by a caution flag. His team tweaked his car and he was able to drive to the top 5. He was looking to set himself up for a strong start to the Chase when the power plant in the No. 43 gave up the ghost with just over 30 laps to go. A 41st-place finish has all but doomed his title hopes unless he can win one of the next two races.

Clint Bowyer‘s year has been far from ideal. The No. 15 missed the Chase and has yet to visit Victory Lane. On lap 245 Sunday he lost a right front tire and took a Top 10 car out of the race. The team is looking to build momentum for next season but can’t seem to catch a break in order to finish out strong runs.

Carl Edwards has two wins this season but has not looked too competitive for many races. He looked to be poised to turn things around on Sunday, starting in the third position. He managed to stay in the top 10 for the first 50 laps of the race, but his slide backwards picked up momentum at that point and didn’t stop until he was out of the top 20. While he rebounded for a 20th-place finish that is not the kind of run his team needs to make it out of the first round of the Chase.

The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

2014 Chicago CUP Joey Logano car CIA
Joey Logano taking 4th at Chicagoland (Credit: CIA)

Joey Logano worked his way to the front of the pack thanks to some team strategy and a good car. He was poised for a top-5 finish as the field was coming to the checkered flag. Out of turn four the No. 22 began spewing plumes of bluish/white smoke when the power plant expired in his car. Fortunately for Logano, he was able to keep his foot in it and cross the finish line in fourth position to avoid a disastrous start to the Chase.

Ryan Newman saw his Chase almost fall apart 100 laps into the race on Sunday when he had a flat tire that dropped him two laps down. With some strategy calls by his team and some hard racing he was able to claw his way back to one lap down and then grab the Lucky Dog on the final caution. The result was a 15th-place finish that has him 13th in the points but far better than he could have been.

Kurt Busch made it into the Chase by virtue of a win at Martinsville early this season. Since then bad luck has found him more races than not. Looking to prove the naysayers wrong by advancing to the second round of the Chase, Busch nearly shot himself in the foot on Sunday, spinning coming to the pits for a stop on lap 46. He went a lap down having to serve a pass through penalty for hitting the commitment cone. Busch put himself in position and grabbed the Lucky Dog on the second caution of the day. He then fought his way from the low 20s all of the way to an eighth-place finish and now finds himself ninth in the points heading to Loudon.

Worth Noting

Brad Keselowski’s win was his fifth of the season and leads the series in that category.

It is his 15th win in 188 career Cup series starts. That ranks him in a tie for 51st on the all-time wins list with Ernie Irvan.

This is Keselowski’s second career victory at Chicagoland Speedway.

Jeff Gordon’s second place finish is his fourth career top-2 run at Chicagoland.

This was Gordon’s eighth runner-up run of the season and his second in a row.

Kyle Larson came home in third for his third top 3 of the season. Larson finished third at Loudon in the first race of the season at the Magic Mile.

Larson was also the highest finishing rookie to claim the Rookie of the Race award.

Half of the 14 races at Chicagoland Speedway have been won by Tony Stewart (3), Kevin Harvick (2) and Brad Keselowski (2).

On track passes for the lead: 9 out of 18

Joliet Penitentiary was built in 1858 and operated until 2002. It did not have running water or toilets until 1910.

What’s the Points

The points matter now that the Chase to the Cup has begun. Up to three drivers can advance to the next round by winning races in this segment. The other drivers making up the 12 who make it to round two will do so on points. The 16 drivers in the Chase are listed below with their point total after round one of the Chase. Brad Keselowski, by virtue of his win at Chicago is already assured of moving on to segment two of the Chase.

  1. Brad Keselowski 2059
  2. Jeff Gordon 2052
  3. Joey Logano 2049
  4. Kevin Harvick 2047
  5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2042
  6. Denny Hamlin 2041
  7. Kyle Busch 2041
  8. Jimmie Johnson 2041
  9. Kurt Busch 2039
  10. Matt Kenseth 2034
  11. Kasey Kahne 2034
  12. Carl Edwards 2030
  13. Ryan Newman 2029
  14. AJ Allmendinger 2025
  15. Greg Biffle 2021
  16. Aric Almirola 2007

Overall Rating(On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic)

A great finish does not a great race make, but it sure helps. 18 lead changes among seven different leaders saw the majority of those stints last less than 30 laps. The tires giving up and changing the balance of the cars resulted in half of those 18 lead changes taking place under green. The multi-groove racing coupled with the cars using every inch of asphalt they could throughout the event certainly made the event an outstanding show. It isn’t an instant classic but it receives four frosty Old Styles for old time’s sake from a former resident of the greater Chicago area.

Next Up

The Cup Series heads back to Loudon, New Hampshire to run for another giant lobster. The constant battle to be able to roll the center of the corner faster than everyone else will be won by the driver who takes the checkered flag first. If it is a Chase driver, they’ll automatically punch their ticket to round two of the Chase. All of the action can be seen at 2:00 p.m. Sunday Sept. 21 on ESPN. It can also be heard on PRN affiliates and NASCAR SiriusXM satellite radio.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Bill B

I can see my way to giving that race 4 beers but man, does ESPNs coverage suck. I don’t believe they showed intervals at all during the last 70 laps of the race. I had no idea who was moving up or back, how close they were, or what cars were a lap down. I was livid trying to follow the race. How f-in’ stupid can they be?


Coverage was not the best, but as my Grandfather used to say, “Boy it could always be worse”. You can rest assured that when Fox returns with the Waltrips and Larry McCommercial it will be. Enjoy the respite while it lasts.

Jim M.

Amen. Endless blabber about Sun-NO-CO racing fuel, crab cakes at Dover, and “the night time is the right time.” I swear they could tape-record Larry Mac and play back his stock 12 comments at the appropriate moment and save a ton on airfare and meals.


I actually like the new Fox ticker a lot and this is one of the reasons why. Not only does it always show intervals, but the intervals between the top three are always on the screen, so there’s always a sense of how the lead battle is shaping up. Not that they always use this effectively; they’ll often be showing something else just as the lead is about to change hands and I’ll be like, “show the damn battle for the lead, you morons!”

But the best way to truly track intervals is with the live leaderboard on the NASCAR site (though they just redesigned it in a way I don’t like) or via the mobile app. That way, you can see where your favorite driver is at all times, as opposed to waiting three laps for the ticker to cycle through. But given that not everyone has a smartphone or a computer in the same room as the TV, broadcasters should never assume that they can let their viewers rely on that.

Carl D.

There was some pretty good door-to-door racing and the last few restarts were exciting. Some of the best action was just behind the leaders. Best of all, at no time did I think that any one driver had a clear advantage. I think you can chalk part of that up to the fact that most of the chase drivers were content to have a safe points day; only chasers Brad, Jeff, and Kevin seemed to be willing to race hard for the win.

Of all the multi-car teams, only Petty Motorsports seems to be content to settle for mediocre drivers. Really… what does David Ragan have to offer when it comes to competing for wins?

I’m convinced that Carl Edwards’ duck is as lame as they come. He came within one point of being in the bottom four and was not even close to being competitive. I think he’ll be one of the first four drivers eliminated.


carl agree with ya…..brad, jeff and kevin seem to be ones willing to push the car to the limits and then some. even though brad won and is guaranteed an advance, i don’t see him not racing hard the next few weeks. wins are wins and that’s an important stat for any racer (or professional sport team).


If they showed the intervals, the viewers could see who was racing for position and we would know what they were not showing on TV. It would also indicate when she was in position for the free pass… which she got…again.


Danica was one of six drivers that got a free pass Sunday. Two former champions were among them. …but that’s ok sweetie, you believe what you want to about Danica. Facts be damned.

Bill B

I agree. Since they can’t (or won’t) show us what is going on off-camera, the only tool the viewer has is the interval scroll. If they don’t show it we are really at their mercy for following the race; who is racing for position, who is gaining or losing ground, who is racing for the lucky dog, who is a lap down, etc..
Words can not convey how irritating that is for the viewer and how helpless I feel watching the race. I’d complain, but since this ESPNs last year, I doubt they would care.


i can’t read the scroll on the top of the tv any longer…..eyeballs are aging and i won’t spend the money for a new tv until i have to do so.


as typical……i caught the beginning, took a nap, did things around the house and caught the last 30 or so laps. good racing at the end. i was so happy that we didn’t have to learn alan, dj’s or andy’s brackets for the chase.

with jr’s comment last weekend about “being on vacation” and then the car being so out to lunch with the set up, just makes one wonder what’s up with the 88 team. when i saw him with the backwards cap and read that he’s turning the big 40 in a few weeks and how he hasn’t want to grow up…i just shake my head.

i guess the distraction this week will be the results of the crash investigation in upstate ny for stewart.


One of the better races this year. Again, it shows what old pavement and tires can do for the show. Great racing up front at the end with Brad’s three-wide move for the win, and Larson v. Gordon. Also, I was very impressed with Larson running down Harvick during the last long green run. You don’t see that much on the 1.5 tracks these days. It looked like a good crowd was there too.


Great race. We don’t see enough races at 1.5-milers decided on the track, especially not at Chicago, so this was a pleasant surprise. And it goes to show just what an aging surface with multiple grooves can do. Let’s hope that the track owners put off a repave for as long as they possibly can. It almost gives me hope that New Hampshire can pull off the unthinkable and be interesting next week.


Although some of the race was pretty dull, the show that was put on at the end by Kez threading his way (w/o wrecking anyone) thru for the lead and then the slicing & dicing done by Harvick, Larson & Gordon was really fun to watch. I was happy to see decent racing since I expected this track to be pretty much a total loss.

I don’t use the Fox ticker and I can’t read the one on the screen since ESPN is too busy putting so much other stuff on there. I have raceview and rely on that for most of my information. I find that I simply don’t listen much to the announcers on TV any more since whether it is Fox, with the shtick that has really gotten old or ESPN who only wants to talk about the chase or the select few that they like, it isn’t worth much. Even the side by side commercial stuff doesn’t serve the purpose well, but whatever, I really watch the races these days only because Gordon is still racing and he had a good run so I was happy at the end.

Tim S.

Agreed on the end. I walked past the TV with about 30 to go and sat down to watch because I wanted to see what Larson was going to do. I wonder how much of the hard racing among the Chase guys in the top 5 was because they knew Larson was going for it. That segment provided a good diversion from the end result, that clean air ruled the day as usual.


Always enjoy your recaps Mike. Agree that the race was by-and-large full of good racing. Larson is going to be fun to watch the next decade I believe. Still trying to wrap my head around the new Chase format…but can’t say I hate it.


Here’s something interesting to note. Anybody notice that the top five finishers only had the #2 or #4 on the door and no other numbers? 2,24,42,22, and 4.When’s the last time something like that happened?


wow..play those numbers in lottery!


I thought that the race was only good for the last 30 or so laps otherwise it looked like I-395 at rush hour. I know that there were a few tire issues but I feel that the tires that Goodyear brings to the track are still too hard. Teams should be pitting because the tires are falling off, not because they are in a fuel window. Next week is at Loudon which is isn’t exactly known for tire wear so I expect it will once again look like 395 at rush hour. Now if it was a modified race up there then that would be a different story. Maybe on their way back from New Hampshire they could stop at Thompson or Waterford and really put on a show.

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