The Frontstretch: Thinkin’ Out Loud: Chicagoland Race Recap by Mike Neff -- Monday September 17, 2012

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Thinkin’ Out Loud: Chicagoland Race Recap

Mike Neff · Monday September 17, 2012


Key Moment – Brad Keselowski took the lead after the final round of green flag pit stops and had a car that was simply better than everyone else for the final run to the checkered flag.

In a Nutshell – Another insomnia curing mile-and-a-half race starts off the Chase with a handful of “title contenders” already all but out of the hunt. Jimmie Johnson dominated the race but when it came time to claim the big, fake check his car just couldn’t keep up with the blue deuce.

Brad Keselowski drew first blood in the Chase, using a solid late-race pit stop to surge past Jimmie Johnson and take the win Sunday at Chicagoland.

Dramatic Moment – Jeff Gordon proved once again that the kill switch on the steering wheel isn’t really a viable alternative when the throttle sticks. He killed the wall when his hung on lap 189, easily the most serious accident of the race.

For some, Brad Keselowski jumping up the blend line and “impeding” Jimmie Johnson’s momentum was a close second. But when the most dramatic moment is a car coming off pit road…

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

For those conspiracy theorists who think team orders exist at Hendrick, think again; this weekend proved it’s not the case. During a lap 72 restart, Kasey Kahne was in perfect position to lead a lap without having a negative impact on Johnson’s race; however, the No. 48 didn’t yield an inch. In the end, the No. 5 never led a lap all day, and that point very well could come back to haunt him come Homestead.

NASCAR Non-Stop coverage from ESPN debuted during the second half of the race. Apparently, someone at Sprint finally listened to the fans and came to the realization that seeing commercials every 20 laps really won’t keep people glued to the television during the “playoffs”. Here’s hoping that all of NASCAR’s broadcast partners can see the forest from the trees and figure out how to make it happen on their telecasts as well.

Amazingly, NASCAR resisted the temptation to throw a phantom debris caution during the final, 73-lap green-flag run to add to the “excitement” of the first race of the Chase.

ESPN saw a need to have Marty Smith in the elevated pit studio because, apparently, four people behind the desk wasn’t enough.

NASCAR’s wave-around rule isn’t exactly new. But for some reason, the race officials haven’t figured out that they need to wave the cars around a little bit sooner when there are going to be around 20 of them taking advantage of the rule. Instead, they have to extend caution periods by a lap while the cars all play musical chairs figuring out where to line up.

A giant lizard in Victory Lane is admittedly a little creepy, but at least we didn’t have to listen to that crappy accent in postrace interviews.

ESPN went for a real stretch having Kid Rock rambling on about the patriotism of the Chase before the race started. Thank God they didn’t have Lady Gaga trying to convince us the Chase is good for everyone.

Try as Dale Jarrett might to convince the fans that Brad Keselowski is the second coming of David Pearson, he’s got 97 more races to win before anyone is really going to buy into that line of malarkey.

The Hindenburg Awards for Foul Fortune

Jeff Gordon was all the rage after battling his way into the Chase at Richmond and celebrating like it was 1999 as he climbed out of the car. But after a hung throttle at Chicago resulted in a 35th-place finish, Gordon will be enjoying some lovely parting gifts but he won’t be hoisting the shiny silver trophy.

Casey Mears lost a right-front tire and totaled his car; he finished with a DNF in 36th. The folks at Germain have been having a pretty decent year, considering they’re just a single-car team but tough breaks like that continue to make their efforts more and more difficult.

A bad shock left Matt Kenseth in a bad way after race one of the Chase. He’s dropped to 11th in the standings.

Making the Chase as a “lame duck” driver was an impressive feat for Matt Kenseth, but having the right front shock fall off of his car is certainly not a positive omen for their upcoming run to try and win the title (he finished 18th). Kenseth’s comment on the radio that a lot of stuff has been falling off his cars lately can’t be good for team morale, either.

As if it wasn’t a slap in the face enough to Marcos Ambrose to have his entire team taken from him to try and help make the No. 43 more competitive, his car was plagued with some sort of electrical issue during the race that resulted in him slipping to 27th, four laps down. He also had to spend some quality time on pit road with a crew member in the car with him.

Regan Smith and Dave Blaney both had engine issues which brought their trips to Chicago to an early end. They were 33rd and 34th, respectively and left the track still without the long-term contracts they’re seeking for 2013 and beyond.

Denny Hamlin’s crew didn’t put enough gas in the car on their final pit stop, so he ran out of fuel coming to the checkered flag. Trying to save gas beforehand, as well as running out cost him more than ten positions, dropping him 15 points behind the new point leader Keselowski.

”The Seven Come For Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Interestingly, before Jeff Gordon was the recipient of the Hindenburg award, he was lucky enough to catch a caution as his car was beginning to overheat thanks to trash on the grill. His luck appeared to be turning around the last few weeks and the fortuitous yellow looked to be another instance before his throttle hanging turned his luck sour.

Travis Kvapil drove an entire lap with a jack stuck under the side of his car and didn’t have anything catastrophic happen. The odds of that jack not catching and rolling out from under the car and doing major damage are pretty slim. While the finish for Kvapil wasn’t great – he fell off the pace in the final five laps and wound up 31st – it could have been much worse.

After a day where they both struggled mightily with their cars, the two Michael Waltrip Racing drivers (Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex, Jr.) managed to come home inside the top 10 – a fine effort for their Chase debut.

Brad Keselowski will tell you it was playing by the rules because he wasn’t called for a penalty but it was good fortune that NASCAR didn’t throw a penalty flag on the No. 2 after Chad Knaus gave his pit official an earful about how Keselowski blended onto the track.

Worth Noting

  • Brad Keselowski is now tied for the most wins in the series this season with Denny Hamlin at four.
  • Keselowski has eight career wins in Sprint Cup, with seven of them coming in the last two years.
  • Keselowski is leading the points for the first time in his career.
  • Keselowski, Johnson, Stewart, Hamlin, Kenseth and Bowyer are the only Chase drivers to lead a lap after race one of the postseason.
  • Jimmie Johnson has now won 20 Chase races and finished second in 14 others.
  • Kyle Busch was the highest finishing non-Chaser, crossing the line in fourth.
  • Ryan Newman (fifth) has top-11 finishes in six of the last eight races.
  • Martin Truex, Jr. (ninth) has been 11th or better in eight of the last nine Cup events.
  • Carl Edwards (19th) has now gone 22 races without a top-5 finish in the Cup Series (Fontana – March).
  • Three of the four drivers who won races, but did not make the Chase finished inside the top 10 on Sunday (Busch, Ryan Newman, and Joey Logano). They were also the only non-Chase drivers to leave Chicagoland with a top-10 result.
  • Jeff Gordon’s average finish since the return of the bad porn ‘stache is 35th.
  • There were 16 lead changes during the race, but only one of them actually took place as a pass on-track for the lead.
  • The top-10 finishers were comprised of five Chevys, four Toyotas, and Brad Keselowski’s winning Dodge. Greg Biffle was the highest-finishing Ford in 13th.

What’s the Points?

Brad Keselowski started the Chase tied for second thanks to his three wins during the “regular season”. Winning at Chicago allowed him to overcome the three-point deficit that he had to Denny Hamlin and he now leads the standings by three over Johnson.

Johnson may not have won the race but he led the most laps and scored the most points you can possibly score without winning. He is second and just three points out of the lead.

Tony Stewart didn’t replicate his start to the 2011 Chase where he won at Chicago for the first of his five wins in the “playoffs.” However, he did end up in the top six and he’s only eight points out of the lead in third.

Denny Hamlin’s looking up at his competitors in the standings this Monday after a pit road mistake at Chicagoland left his car running out of gas on the last lap.

Denny Hamlin was on the highest of highs coming into the Chase having won back-to-back races at Bristol and Atlanta followed up by a dominating run at Richmond that didn’t quite end up like it should have. Now he’s tied for fourth, 15 points out of the lead after Sunday’s gas can debacle.

Kasey Kahne’s strong, third place, run at Chicago vaulted him from his Wild Card position in the Chase to a tie with Hamlin and Clint Bowyer for fourth in points.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle are at the top of the second half of the Chase drivers, sitting seventh and eighth but can’t afford to lose any more ground if they want to stay in the discussion at this point of the race.

The drivers behind Biffle are all but done, sitting over 20 points out of the top spot. They are, in order: Martin Truex, Jr., Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon.

Meanwhile, for those of you keeping track of the “battle” for the top 35, the No. 36 car, sitting 35th is 115 points ahead of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford in 36th. Basically, the top 35 in owner points as of now will be the top 35 at Daytona in February.

Overall Rating: The Chicagoland Speedway has been known to produce fuel mileage races, and that would have been a welcome change to the race Sunday. In a race where there was a grand total of one pass for the lead on the race track, the only real drama involved a heated debate about when drivers should blend onto the track after a green-flag pit stop. Even for a person who once lived in Chicago it is impossible to give this race more than one, single can of “vintage” Natty Light. For those of you who weren’t in the campground at Bristol a few weeks back, vintage means the beer is about seven years old and you will probably have to hold your nose just to choke it down. Knowing that half of the races in the Chase are on mile-and-a-half tracks, it does not bode well for the intrigue of the race to the championship in Homestead.

Next Up: The series heads back to Loudon, New Hampshire next weekend to the track known as the Magic Mile. The racing will certainly be more competitive than Chicago but honestly, there’s nowhere to go but up. On the plus side, the lobster bisque will be outstanding…

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Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
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Pace Laps: Swan Racing’s Future, Fast Females and Dropping Out
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Carl D.
09/17/2012 07:37 AM


A lot of the things you pointed out in your recap I didn’t even know had happened. I fast-forwarded through the boring parts of the race so it went something like this… green flag, Kenseth loses a shock, Gordon wrecks, #17 team replaces lost shock, Keselowski passes Johnson, Knaus whines to Nascar officials, checkered flag – Keseloski wins.

For this I missed a Storage Wars marathon.

Having Joliet host the first Chase race is a major buzz-killer. Way to go, Nascar.

09/17/2012 08:36 AM

this non-football fan watched the raven’s game and flipped back and forth during the game/race. didn’t need my specs to see who was leading. was very happy when i flipped over and saw brad leading, then i watched the race. was soooo sure a mystery debris caution was going to be thrown to tighten up the and and let mr. 5 time retake the lead. guess the hendrick check hadn’t cleared brain fart’s bank account yet.

09/17/2012 08:36 AM

As always, thanks Frontstretch for watching the race so I don’t have to.

Ten years ago at this time of the year, I turned to football during the commercials. About five years ago, I started turning to the race during the commercials. Now, unless they’re at a good track, I just check here Monday morning to see what happened.

09/17/2012 08:39 AM

humm….where the info on princess sparkle pony’s best finish in cup start this year? someone at espn wrote an entire article about her 25th finishing spot. she finished that high cause of the start and parkers and the misfortunes of the series regular drivers.

09/17/2012 09:38 AM

Sorry nas$car. The joke is on you. To start the chase at this boring, sleep inducing track is typical of your refusal to give the fans real racing. And guess what. There’s a few more of these 1 1/2 mile parade tracks coming up. I watched very little of this farce once it settled in the usual non stop parade that define these tracks. I’ll give this race a rating of 1 24 ounce can of Hurricane malt liquer because that’s what you needed to watch this race.

09/17/2012 09:40 AM

Bravo to Mike Neff for doing an admirable job in place of Matt. Bravo also to JavaGuy and Janice – your posts were spot-on. “Princess Sparkle Pony” – now THAT’s funny (I don’t care who you are). And I knew this race would be BORING so we never even turned on the RADIO, let alone the TV. We went out to eat, and the wife checked on her blackberry every so often and SURPRISE: every time it was the same running order! How fabulously exciting! (NOT)

09/17/2012 09:44 AM

Totally agree with Javaguy. It’s Football season and even watching my Titans totally suck is better than Chicago.

Thank you Brad K. for speaking up about those Hendrick cars. Now go win the championship.

09/17/2012 10:55 AM

While Mike did an admirable job with this recap the retired fire horse would like to add a few points:

Having watched the truck race at Iowa (with three and four wide racing) and Joliet via the DVR (and my thumb is still aching from hitting the FF button) it seems if NASCAR wants to serve the Midwest market and get the Chase off to a good start a change of venue to Iowa is in order. What to do with Joliet? I’d say stage a 106 mile race each year with a Petty prepared 74 Dodge Monaco 440 pursued by local law enforcement agents in modified cop cars competing for the Honorable Richard Daly trophy.

If NASCAR’s “rules clarification” on those truck arm bushing was supposed to cripple the 48 team, it seems more like it winged them than laid them low. But time doesn’t stand still. Keso and the 2 team watched that magic 48 car dominate at Dover and esp. Indy and came up with a “funny car” of thier own in response. That blue Dodge was just bad fast and it seemed that Brad didn’t lay down his hand till the stretch run. The problem with being King of the Mountain is there’s only one way to head…down.

I wonder if Dodge is sheepishly reconsidering thier decision to leave NASCAR with a strong chance a Dodge driver and team could win this year’s title. On a similar note, Penske had to be doing a little second guessing as well as lame as the Fords, even the Fords with thier shock absorbers bolted down tight, ran Sunday. Of course the Cap was probably still stinging a bit from the Will Power debacle Saturday night as well.

I was working our badly understaffed parts house until 8 Sunday night. During the course of the evening at least ten customers came in and announced that the NFL Philly Iggles had scored an comeback win, badly irritating several co-workers who had DVRed the game and planned to watch it when they got home. Curiously nobody ruined my evening by telling me who won at Joliet. Remember when cartoonist Gary Truedue used to depict GW Bush as an asterick with a big white cowboy hat? NASCAR is an asterick with a big hat once NFL play commences, Chase or no Chase. As we used to say, “All hat and no cattle.”

Note to ESPN: Thanks for the side by side coverage. We got to see the 24 wreck live while being urged to buy some fast food or another. BUT a turn of events this momentous, esp in light of Gorodon’s amazing rally at Richmond, deserved a cut back to the track immeadiately. Meep, meep, what a strange place this is. The one thing that looks more ridiculous than Gordon with the cheesy stashe is Marty Smith with horn rim glasses. Bro, I’m thinking lasik.

So are Gordon’s title hopes done? I’m not ready to stick a fork in him yet. Many of you will recall the year JJ wrecked out at New Hamster in the first round of the Chase then went on to win the title anyway. Now if I were Kevin Harvick I’d be laying awake every night this week wondering where the old RCR magic went. Perhaps one of the Dillon brothers will get pop pop to lend him some.

Speaking of which it seems Elliott Sadler and RCR are just riding this one out until it crashes. It was rather odd hearing Austin Dillon being told not to help the 2 car Saturday.

bill sprehe
09/17/2012 10:58 AM

Java guy is right on —- thank you Matt for watching race for me!
I now DVR race and don’t even watch it. NASCAR needs to change the format of a day at the races or it is just going to melt away.
It sound like it already has.

09/17/2012 11:17 AM

Count me in as “bored now” and the final 10 races have just begun. It was too nice a day to spend indoors being bored silly, so I was in and out – mostly out – once Gordon pounded the wall, I was completely “out” and achieved my goal of getting lots of things done.

Yes, it is ever so awesome that NASCAR moved the 1st race of the final 10 to a place so exciting as Chicago.

How many more boring races will there be before the season is over? Count ‘em, 9 to go. Do I really care who wins the 10 race trophy? No, although I’d rather it be someone other than Weasley in the 48 car.

09/17/2012 11:49 AM

This boring race shows why we don’t need THE CHASE.

Bill B
09/17/2012 12:31 PM

Don’t worry everyone, I am sure that the new cars being brought out next year will fix everything. Just like we were promised the COT would.

I’ll just say I’d rather see a boring honest race than a manipulated exciting one. At least they didn’t throw a bogus debris caution at the end to bunch everyone up. However, as far as I can tell, the first debris caution was total BS. Did you notice that some of the chase drivers were getting close to being lapped when that magical caution flag flew during the commercial.

Kevin in SoCal
09/17/2012 12:41 PM

There were more people in the stands at Fontana than at Chicago. Of course, comparing Fontana to Chicago is like choosing between Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. I dont know why NASCAR moved Chicago to Race 1 instead of its previous summer night race. I’m guessing it had to do with adding Kentucky and removing Fontana’s second race. Still, it probably would have been better to have Chicago as the 3rd or 4th race and leave NH as the first race. Or even better, swap Chicago and Bristol and start the Chase at Bristol!

09/17/2012 12:42 PM

Brad K. might be the guy to keep this Chase interesting. I think the 2 team is starting to get under the 48 team’s skin big time. This is the second race where they beat the 48 out on a late green flag stop. Plus, you had Brad’s shot at Hendrick for “bending the rules”. Brad is a breath of fresh air for the sport. He isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and he is willing to take the fight to the 48. Now that the 24 is done. I want to see Brad win this thing.

09/17/2012 01:16 PM

Meanwhile, the Truck race at Iowa was an absolute barn-burner with 2-3 wide racing all night long and a surprise rookie winner… And Indycar had their most exciting race of the year, finishing out the championship on the very last lap by only 3 points!

And they don’t have Playoffs…

Kevin in SoCal
09/17/2012 02:06 PM

Tell me again how often any championship is decided by 3 points and how often its a runaway by the middle of the season?

09/17/2012 05:11 PM

So tell me again how many leagues changed their format if a team was had a huge lead halfway through the season.

Driver [\] Down
09/17/2012 05:31 PM

Every year at chase time I turn what is left of box racing off. There are to many real athletes to watch in college and NFL sports to waist time on the race game.

Bad Wolf
09/17/2012 11:47 PM

The wife stepped into my shop Sunday afternoon and asked “Do you have the race on?” I answered “No”

Didn’t know what happened until now when I read the recap.

Matt; Thanks for stopping by with your insight.

Mike In NH
09/18/2012 08:27 AM

So Dodge takes two of three races for the weekend and the 2 car is top of the standings at the moment – and Penske said he’s leaving Dodge because not having other Dodge teams puts him at a competitive disadvantage? Riiiight.

Of course, Dodge was dumb for putting all its engine shop eggs in the Cap’s basket, and then not spending enough to either buy the shop or keep Penske on board. And looking at it a different way, Penske never replicated the success of supporting good satellite teams the way Roush has, nor has Dodge put in the effort to support multiple good teams the way Toyota and Chevy have. All in all the whole Dodge thing was a mutual failure.

Kevin in SoCal
09/18/2012 12:28 PM

Don, every sport that has a playoffs does a reset during the season and wipes away any lead that one team has. Just like NASCAR does now. The difference is the non-playoff teams are still racing.

09/18/2012 03:51 PM

Boy watching an Indy Race and a Cup race at Fontana is like night and day. That track is perfect for Indy Cars. Cups cars should not even bother.

Do you honestly think JJ would do something to help benefit another Hendrick team other than his own. I hope when roles are reversed that Kahne does the same thing in return.


Contact Mike Neff

Recent articles from Mike Neff:

Thinkin' Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Special Winter Sprint Car Series set for January debut at Cocopah Speedway
Beyond the Cockpit with Ben Rhodes
Kroger 250 postponed until Sunday afternoon
Denny Hamlin out of the car for the race at Auto Club Speedway

Want to find out more about Mike Neff? Maybe see all the articles he's written here at the Frontstetch? Check out his article archive and bio page then!