• It seemed more like a marathon than a race, but Sunday night’s Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway ended just as NASCAR needed – controversy-free. One clean race won’t erase a week’s worth of bad headlines about fixed races, but it is a successful first step on a long journey to recover some lost confidence of fans and some participants. Yes, it was the first race in this year’s Chase, but to many drivers it seemed like the most anticipated race of the year – simply because by returning to the track some of the open wounds of the past week could start to heal. For the fans who stuck it out in person and on TV, Sunday’s race offered plenty of drama and none of it contrived.
• The three drivers who have won the most races this season – Matt Kenseth (six), Kyle Busch (four) and Jimmie Johnson (four) – find themselves in the top three spots in the standings. That’s not by accident. There still is plenty of time left for a surprise player to show his hand, but it certainly looks like this year’s battle will feature some familiar faces.
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• Even he isn’t sure why, but rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has upped his performance recently. He has won a pole and posted a pair of top-10 finishes over the past three weeks, including a career-best eighth Sunday night.
How the Chase drivers faired
Matt Kenseth, 2,063 points : Sunday night’s win was Kenseth’s sixth of the year – the most he has earned during a Cup season. His previous best was five victories during 2002 while with Roush Racing.
Kyle Busch (-8): Busch took full advantage of NASCAR’s new restart policy, passing then-leader Jimmie Johnson on a restart on Lap 38 to earn a bonus point.
Jimmie Johnson (-11): Johnson was not without problems. He had a slower-than-usual pit stop because of an official’s mistaken call of a loose lug nut and broke a car jack on another stop. Yet he continued to rally each time and ended up fifth.
Kevin Harvick (-15): Thanks to the five-hour rain delay, Harvick and his team had plenty of time to improve the handling of his car. Harvick’s car also got some damage after getting collected in a pit-road fender bender.
Carl Edwards (-23): Edwards had an incident-free race but never seriously contended. His 11th-place finish keeps him in the hunt for the championship, however.
Kurt Busch (-23) : A costly pit-road speeding penalty early dropped Busch a lap down, but a timely caution got him back on the lead lap and he eventually finished fourth.
Jeff Gordon (-24): Only added to the Chase field Friday, Gordon showed he could be a contender. He led 22 laps and finished sixth, despite having to make a pit stop under green for a flat tire.
Ryan Newman (-28): Like Gordon, Newman was a late addition to the Chase field and made his appearance count. He was consistently fast and stayed out of trouble, ending up 10th.
Clint Bowyer (-28): While Bowyer had more attention than he cared for over the past week, he drove under the radar during the race, never challenging for the victory but avoiding many of the problems other Chase participants encountered and wound up ninth.
Kasey Kahne (-31): Kahne was one of several drivers to have damage to his car from the pile-up on pit road that also collected Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Many pit stops and repairs later, he managed to work his way through the field and finished 12th.
Greg Biffle (-31): Another Chase participant with pit-road issues, Biffle got sent to the rear of the field for driving over an air hose. Later, he was certain his engine was going to blow but managed to make it the distance and finish 16th.
Joey Logano (-52): The race’s pole winner got off to a great start, leading the first 32 laps. He reported engine problems just after the halfway mark of the race and fell off the pace and finally was forced to the garage after 175 laps.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-53): A potentially devastating start to the Chase for Earnhardt, who earned a 35th-place finish after the engine expired in his No.88 Chevrolet after 224 laps.
Five key moments
1 . Rain showers delayed the start of the race by 11/2 hours, but Logano got off to a good start by leading the first 32 laps before rain halted the race again on Lap 130.
2 . It was more than five hours later when the race resumed about 10 p.m. Temperatures had dropped significantly and Logano’s car was the first of many to develop engine problems as a result.
3 . Matt Kenseth took control of the race on Lap 83, taking the lead during green-flag pit stops. He had a fast car before the rain delay (when he led 47 laps) and after (when he led 42).
4 . Kyle Busch took the lead during pit stops on Lap 172 and built up a sizable advantage.
5 . Kenseth, then second, powered past Busch on a restart with 22 laps remaining and went on to claim his career-best sixth victory of the year.
Unofficial results and points standings
|8||5||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Ford||267||36||$158,976|
|18||14||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota||267||26||$132,555|
|21||13||A J Allmendinger||Toyota||267||23||$124,438|
|32||3||Juan Pablo Montoya||Chevy||261||12||$116,794|
|35||18||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Chevy||224||1||10||$106,945|
Average Speed: 125.855 mph. Time of Race: 3 hours, 10 minutes, 56 seconds. Margin of Victory: 0.749 seconds. Caution Flags: Nine for 46 laps. Lead Changes: 25 among 16 drivers. Lap Leaders: Logano 1-32; Cassill 33; Johnson 34-36; Ky.Busch 37; Johnson 38-74; Kenseth 75; Gordon 76-77; Harvick 78; Edwards 79; Newman 80; McMurray 81-82; Kenseth 83-112; Keselowski 113; Kenseth 114-148; Almirola 149; Yeley 150-151; Gordon 152-168; Keselowski 169; Biffle 170-171; Ky.Busch 172-219; Harvick 220; Earnhardt Jr. 221-222; Ragan 223; Gordon 224-226; Ky.Busch 227-244; Kenseth 245-267. Points leaders: 1. Kenseth, 2,063; 2. Ky.Busch, 2,055; 3. Johnson, 2,052; 4. Harvick, 2,048; 5. Edwards, 2,040; 6. Ku.Busch, 2,040; 7. Gordon, 2,039; 8. Newman, 2,035; 9. Bowyer, 2,035; 10. Kahne, 2,032; 11. Biffle, 2,032; 12. Logano, 2,011; 13. Earnhardt Jr., 2,010. *Reason out: 1-engine, 2-vibration, 3-brakes.