Who’s in the headline – Dave Rogers made a call to stay out on a late-race caution and Denny Hamlin restarted the race in third with five laps to go. He went three-wide on the bottom of the track, cleared Jeff Gordon in turns 1 and 2, passed Kurt Busch as they spilled onto the back straight and went on to win the race despite leading only nine laps all day.
What happened – Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson got together on a restart on lap 134. The resultant tire rub for Harvick resulted in a spin that seriously damaged the rear of his car and resulted in him spending more than 50 laps in the garage. The 42nd-place finish for Harvick puts him 22 points below the cutoff line for round two of the Chase and probably in position of needing to win to advance. Kyle Busch led the most laps in the event but didn’t have the car to contend at the end. His brother Kurt was poised to take the win when the caution flag flew with nine laps to go but stayed out on old tires and came home in third place. Joe Gibbs Racing continued their strong effort at this point in the season with all four cars in the top 10, although they weren’t as dominant as they had been as a team.
Why you should care – Harvick has shown to be the class of the field for much of the season and was still finishing near the front when Gibbs and Team Penske put on their late-season run. Unfortunately for Harvick, this Chase format could see him going home after round one if he can’t win a race and none of the other Chase contenders above the cut line have the same kind of difficulty he did.
This incident could also be a huge problem for Johnson because Harvick wears his emotions on his sleeve, as could be witnessed in the motor coach lot after the race. If Harvick drops out after round one, he could certainly hold it against Johnson and bring some retaliation later in the Chase. Everyone else in the Chase finished in the top 20, so the points are tight among the rest of the field.
What your friends are talking about – For the 10,000th time in the last 10 years, NASCAR threw a completely ridiculous caution with 10 laps to go to bunch the field back up. As a result, a car that was not in contention for the win took the victory and drivers who were at the front of the pack for much of the last 100 laps finished third, ninth and 14th. The sport had begun to make legitimate caution calls late in the summer and let several races run to the finish when people had issues late in the event. Then at Darlington they threw an unwarranted caution when Jeb Burton spun off of the track. Then at Richmond, with 24 laps left in the event, another mysterious debris caution flew and led to the restart discussion late in the race. You can teach an old dog new tricks, but you can’t change a leopard’s spots.
Restarts are still the talk of the sport. It is time to put this to bed. There are three options to eliminate all of this wasted hot air. They can go back to the rule where the leader has to get to the line first. They can have the starter restart the race every time and take it out of the drivers hands, or they can go to Delaware restarts, where the leader is in the first row alone and second and third are the first cars side-by-side. Whatever the sanctioning body chooses to do is fine, but they cannot continue with this farce after this season and will hopefully change it sooner.
The emotions of the Chase are already amped up. As mentioned before, Harvick and Johnson made contact on the track and Harvick ended up with a terrible finish. Johnson went to Harvick’s motor home after the race to try and talk to him and Harvick immediately gave Johnson a mild punch in the chest and wanted to mix it up. The six-time champ walked away against Harvick’s protestations. We saw it last year and it appears like it will be the same this year. The urgency of the Chase is going to have emotions right below the surface and that could end up resulting in major confrontations before the end of the Chase.
NASCAR likes to tout that winning is the most important thing with this Chase format. However, the bonus points that people earn for winning only apply in the first round of the Chase. As a result, the only round where the people who have run well all season really don’t need bonus points is the one round where they receive them. If NASCAR really wants to make this Chase about winning, then let the bonus points carry through every round and let the winners during the Chase have the bonus points and keep them the rest of the remaining races.
The review of Austin Dillon‘s impact with the catch fence at Daytona has resulted in a decision by the speedway to repair the fence and make no changes to the design or implementation. The investigation confirmed that the fence functioned as it was designed and there is no need to change it. The movement of the seats back from the track and the installation of an additional fence, both part of the Daytona Rising project, will have the fans further back from the track and provide additional safety.
Who is mad – Kurt Busch was there, counting down the laps and looking forward to being locked into the second round of the Chase. Then the caution flew because Matt DiBenedetto brushed the wall in turns 1 and 2. It went in the air to look for possible debris. Unfortunately for Busch that put his crew chief Tony Gibson in the position to have to make a call. He left Busch on the track with old tires and on the restart he ended up being pushed a little high while Hamlin went low and ended up in third. While it was a good points day, he has to be thinking what could have been.
Gordon was running in second and looked all but locked into that spot had the caution flag not flown. When he, like Busch, stayed out on old tires, he ended up in the middle when Hamlin made the move to the lead on the apron. Once he slipped into that slot he quickly dropped through the field and had to battle to end up in the 14th spot.
Kyle Busch led the most laps at Chicago, but at the end of the race he didn’t quite have the car to contend. He’d resigned himself to a good finish, running third behind his brother and Gordon when the caution flag flew. Unlike the others he came for tires during the final caution but got shuffled during the restart because his line didn’t move at the drop of the green and he ended up in the ninth spot. A good point day but very frustrating after leading and contending all day.
Who is happy – Unlike Hamlin and Busch, who had fast cars all day, Matt Kenseth was struggling to run near the front of the pack. He spent most of the race in the mid to low teens but took advantage of the scramble on the final restart and managed to come home with a fifth-place finish. As a result, Kenseth now leads the point standings after Chicago.
Ryan Newman spent nearly the entire race in the back half of the top 10. He never pushed to the front and seldom fell too far back. However, near the end of the race he did slip and was in the middle teens for the final restart. Like Kenseth, Newman was in the right place at the right time, and jumped up to fourth place in the final running order.
Carl Edwards had a speeding penalty, then he ran out of gas coming to pit road, and finally was sitting in seventh place as the laps were winding down. The caution flag flew, Edwards put on four tires while the people who restarted in front of him had four old tires or only two new ones. As a result, Edwards was able to make the necessary moves to work his way to the second spot when the laps ran out. Edwards car was strong during the race, but not that strong. The finish was certainly a blessing.
When the checkered flag flew
Hamlin scored the 26th victory of his career in his 353rd start. The win is Hamlin’s second of the season. This is Hamlin’s first career triumph at Chicagoland Speedway. Hamlin is now tied with Fred Lorenzen for 27th on the all-time win list.
Edwards finished runner-up in Chicago for the second time in his career. This is Edwards’s third top-two of 2015. Edwards has 21 career second-place finishes, which ties him with Kurt Busch and Ernie Irvan for 37th on the all-time list.
Kurt Busch rounded out the podium at Chicago for his first career top-three run at the speedway. Busch’s third-place run was his fifth top three of the season. The third at Chicago was Busch’s 76th top-three run of his career, which puts him 30th on the all-time list.
Brett Moffitt finished 31st and won the Rookie of the Race.
Race one of the Chase is in the books and Hamlin is locked into round two by virtue of his victory at Chicagoland. While Hamlin is locked into the next round he is not the points leader. The top 16 looks like this after the first race:
- Matt Kenseth
- Denny Hamlin
- Carl Edwards
- Kyle Busch
- Kurt Busch
- Joey Logano
- Jimmie Johnson
- Ryan Newman
- Brad Keselowski
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Jeff Gordon
- Jamie McMurray
- Paul Menard
- Clint Bowyer
- Kevin Harvick
Takin’ it to the Bank
Cup winners this year have pocketed $9,164,602 in 27 races, while the last-place finisher has taken home $2,139,647.
In the Xfinity Series it has been $1,851,634 for the winners and $341,455 for last place in 26 races.
After 15 Truck races the winner has $770,919 in his coffers and the last loser has banked $148,832.
What is in the cooler
For those people who thought a Chase race with the same 2015 package on a mile-and-a-half track was going to be something different that we’d seen all year, you were obviously disappointed. For the rest of us that expected an aero dependent parade that saw minimal passing after five laps beyond a restart, we saw exactly that. We were also treated to the third race in a row with a bogus caution at the end of the event. It would have had three cold beers but the attempt to manipulate the finish into some kind of ‘game 7 moment’ ended up dropping another beer from the rating. So it is two lukewarm Old Style Lights after that effort in the Windy City, or at least within sight of Chicago.
Where do you point your DVR for next week
Race number two of the Chase will take place on the flat mile oval of New Hampshire Motor Speedway. To see the action, tune to NBC Sports Network at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday September 27th. To hear the audio of the event you can also turn into your local PRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90. The race will also be live streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra.
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.