In the two years prior to 2013 — since the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup has kicked off at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. — the winner of the Chicagoland race has gone on to claim the Sprint Cup title. Matt Kenseth hopes that trend continues.
Kenseth got by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch on the final restart of the Geico 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday and drove on to his sixth win of the season to kick off the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup NASCAR post season.
“I thought the conditions tonight — we were going to be off a little bit,” Kenseth said. “We were a little tight there at the end. I didn’t think we’d get by Kyle.”
Busch, meanwhile, had to settle for second, one spot shy of a weekend sweep after winning the Camping World Truck Series race on Friday night and the Nationwide Series race on Saturday at the track. Despite just missing out on the personal sweep, he and Kesneth did give JGR a sweep of the top-two spots in the finishing order on Sunday.
“The 29 (Kevin Harvick) pushing him,” Busch gave as the reason Kenseth was able to get by him late in the race. “That’s 1600 horsepower versus 800. Kurt (Busch) didn’t get a good enough restart to push me.”
The start of the race was delayed by nearly an hour-and-a-half by rain. Once the race did get underway, 109 laps were completed before rainy weather returned, halting action for just over five hours, making the second half of the race a nighttime affair.
Throughout both the daytime and nighttime segments of the event, Busch and Kenseth were mainstays up front. Several other drivers ran up front for short stretches because of pit strategy. Late in the race, Kevin Harvick made his way toward the front, getting up to third soon after a restart that followed a caution with 40 laps to go. In the closing laps, Harvick and Kurt Busch battled for the third spot — a battle that was won by Harvick. Kurt Busch wound up fourth.
Busch got caught speeding on pit road during a cycle of green-flag pit stops just before the five-hour rain delay and wound up a lap down. He took the wave-around to get back on the lead lap when the race got back underway Sunday night. The yellow flag waved soon after, giving him an opportunity to pit and get back on sequence with everyone else and work his way back toward the front.
Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top-five. He ran up front early in the race before a mistake by a NASCAR official during a pit stop on lap 76 resulted in a 20-second pit stop for Johnson’s No. 48 team. Johnson worked his way back up toward the front only to fall back through the field again because of a slow pit stop during a lap-149 caution when his team had an issue with a jack. And, again, Johnson worked his way back up toward the front for a fifth-place finish.
Jeff Gordon went a lap down after falling off the pace and then heading down pit road because of a tire issue on a restart that followed a caution with 99 laps laps remaining. He eventually got back on the lead lap and drove up to a sixth-place finish.
“That was an incredible accomplishment,” Gordon said. “That just shows you how great this team is.”
The entire top-six of the finishing order was claimed by Chase drivers. Two non-Chasers finished in the top-10 — reigning series champion Brad Keselowski in seventh and rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in eighth. Chase drivers Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-10.
While some Chase drivers — like Gordon, Johnson and Kurt Busch — were able to overcome problems they experienced in the race, some of their fellow-championship contenders had problems that were more terminal, specificially engine issues. Several drivers fell out of the race because of blown engines. Among them were Chase drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR